I’m excited to continue our journey towards enhancing reading skills and fostering confident, independent readers through our small steps to The Science of Reading. Today, we’re diving into our third small step: explicitly teaching the most common prefixes and suffixes. Let’s explore how this step aligns with Scarborough’s Reading Rope and how it contributes to the broader goal of nurturing skilled readers.
In this blog series, we’ll address the most common questions and concerns when embracing the Science of Reading. We’ll cover everything from understanding the core principles to practical application in the upper elementary classroom. We hope to make this transition smooth and enjoyable for you by breaking it down into smaller, manageable steps.
In addition to this blog post, you will find an accompanying podcast episode to listen to!
Small Step #3: Explicitly teach the most common prefixes and suffixes.
Scarborough’s Reading Rope, like a masterful tapestry, weaves together various strands of skills necessary for proficient reading. Imagine this rope as a symbol of the reading process, composed of two essential strands: word recognition skills and language comprehension skills. Each of these strands, in turn, unravels into a series of smaller strands that intricately combine to create a fluent reader.
Today I will focus on talking about strengthening the “Word Recognition” strand, a pivotal component of Scarborough’s model. Here, the significance of explicitly teaching common prefixes and suffixes shines brightly.
These linguistic building blocks equip students with the tools to unlock the meanings of unfamiliar words. When students understand the meanings behind prefixes (like “pre-” meaning before) and suffixes (like “-ful” meaning full of), they gain insight into the composition of words. This newfound knowledge enhances their word recognition capabilities and empowers them to tackle more complex vocabulary.
But how does mastering prefixes and suffixes align with Scarborough’s Reading Rope and the broader goals of reading instruction?
Let’s circle back to the rope analogy. Just as a rope is formed by intertwining two strands, our reading journey comprises both word recognition and language comprehension skills. As we focus on strengthening the “Word Recognition” strand through teaching prefixes and suffixes, we’re creating a sturdy foundation for the entire reading process.
This step positively impacts language comprehension, another essential strand. A robust vocabulary, one of the smaller strands within the “Language Comprehension” category, is intricately linked to prefixes and suffixes. When students comprehend the meanings and nuances of these linguistic elements, they’re better equipped to grasp the context and depth of written material. This, in turn, enhances their overall language comprehension abilities.
By taking this small yet impactful step, educators are nurturing their students’ growth in both word recognition and language comprehension, ultimately progressing towards the overarching goal of producing confident and skilled readers.
What does explicitly teaching prefixes and suffixes look like in the classroom?
Explicitly teaching the most common prefixes and suffixes can help with word recognition skills:
- Most prefixes and suffixes have predictable sound/spelling patterns.
- When we teach these prefixes and suffixes to our students they have tools to help them decode and read multisyllabic words that include prefixes or suffixes.
Explicitly teaching the most common prefixes and suffixes can help with vocabulary:
- Prefixes and suffixes also contain meaning.
- When students learn the meaning of prefixes and suffixes we are giving them tools to understand the meaning of words that contain these prefixes and suffixes – so students’ vocabulary is expanded as a result of focusing on prefixes and suffixes.
So, when you focus on this one small step, you can get a pretty big return. I would suggest teaching the 10 most common prefixes and the 10 most common suffixes.
Of course there are WAY more than 10 prefixes and 10 suffixes, but the frequency in which they show up in texts is pretty low. So, by leveraging your instruction to focus on the ten most common prefixes and suffixes will be much more effective than teaching EVERY single prefix or suffix your students will encounter.
When you’re teaching an explicit lesson on prefixes or suffixes I like to use the following structure:
- Introduce & Explain: Introduce the prefix or suffix and give the definition. You may want to show an example of a word that has that affix and break the word apart. It can also be helpful to display an image that depicts the word (dismantle, disconnect, etc.) to help students visualize the meaning of the affix.
- Teach & Model: This is where you can give students additional examples of words that include the prefix. I like to give them three additional words with the focus prefix or suffix and break down the words to define the base word and the prefix and the new word and then provide it in a sentence.
- Guided Practice: I like to have students do a variety of activities as a class. You could have them read sentences that include words with the focus prefix. You could have them build words with the prefix. You could have them sort words with the prefix.
- Independent Practice: Anytime you are doing practice for word study concepts, I like to give students practice with manipulating and exploring words with the prefix. It’s also important to give them the opportunity to read sentences with words with the focus prefix or suffix. We don’t just want students to understand prefixes at the word level, but we want to give them opportunities to read and write
We have a weekly prefix/suffix routine that will help your students solidify their understanding and proper usage of the new information they’re learning.
- Monday – Students will read the affix of the week, read the two example sentences, break down the words and predict what the affix means.
- Tuesday – Students will reference a dictionary or other reference material to identify the correct definition of the weekly affix.
- Wednesday – Students draw a picture or symbol that will help them remember the meaning of the affix.
- Thursday – Students come up with a list of other words that have the same prefix or suffix.
- Friday – Students will write 2-3 sentences that contain words that have the prefix or suffix of the week.
When you’re teaching prefixes you want to focus on three extra things:
- Teach multiple meanings of the prefix. Many prefixes will have more than one meaning and we want to make sure that students know all possible meanings.
- Teach prefix imposters. For example, the ‘un’ in uncle is not a prefix. Talk to your students about instances like this to help them better understand the proper usage of an affix.
- Teach students to use words parts + context. Because prefixes can have multiple meanings and imposter prefixes exist, it is important to help our students understand word parts and context. We don’t want students to just look for the letters ‘un’ and assume it is always a prefix. We want our students to understand that having knowledge of affixes is ONE tool they can use to read, write, and figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words.
When you’re teaching suffixes:
- Teach the difference between inflectional suffixes and derivational suffixes. Inflectional suffixes are suffixes that do not change the part of speech of the word. For example, -s/-es, -ed, and -ing are all examples of inflectional endings. Derivational suffixes are suffixes that do change the part of speech of the word.For example, when you add the suffix -ly to a word, it usually changes adjectives into adverbs.
- Teach spelling rules that are common with suffixes. Oftentimes when a suffix is added to a word, it can change the spelling of the root or base. So, when you are introducing suffixes to your students, be sure to explain the spelling rules that go along with it when you add that specific suffix. I talk through several examples of this in the accompanying podcast episode to this blog post – check it out!
By embracing the Science of Reading, we are not only enhancing their word recognition and language comprehension skills but also instilling in them a love for language exploration.
And by focusing on the most common prefixes and suffixes, we’re offering our students a shortcut to unlocking the meanings of unfamiliar words. By explicitly teaching prefixes and suffixes, you’re equipping your students with essential skills that will serve them well beyond the classroom.
Word Lists for Most Common Prefixes & Suffixes
Teaching word study is important in upper elementary. Grab this free download to get a list of the 15 most common prefixes and the 15 most common suffixes. If you teach these prefixes and suffixes to your students, they will have the tools to read and understand over 90% of all words with prefixes and suffixes!
Think about your next Science of Reading steps…
- If you feel inspired by this post, check out Episode 141: Most Common Prefixes and Suffixes to better understand why explicitly teaching common prefixes and suffixes helps your students with their reading skills.
- In addition check out this FREEBIE to get a list of the 15 most common prefixes and the 15 most common suffixes.
- Join us inside The Stellar Literacy Collective, where you will get access to a resource library filled with reading and writing resources that you can use and feel confident that you are taking steps to align your instruction to the Science of Reading.