Word Study Instructions

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Word Study Instruction During the Derivational Relations Stage

          Word study for advanced readers stresses active exploration of words and the use of word knowledge for spelling, vocabulary development, and the investigation of unknown words encountered in reading.  Teachers can inform students that they are now going to be learning how spelling indicates meaning.

Sequence and Pacing

          See the table below for a general progression of word study in the derivational relations stage.  The Greek and Latin word roots that occur with the greatest frequency should be studied initially.  The knowledge of how elements merge within words provides a resilient foundation and prolific strategy for continuing vocabulary and spelling growth.

TABLE 8-1 Sequence of Word Study in the Derivational Relations Stage
Consonant and Vowel Alternations
1.   Consonant Alternations

Silent/sounded             sign/signal, condemn/condemnation, soften/soft

/t/ to /sh/                       connect/connection, select/selection

/k/ to /sh/                       music/musician, magic/magician

/k/ to /s/                         critic/criticize, political/politicize

/s/ to /sh/                       prejudice/prejudicial, office/official

2.   Vowel Alternations

Long to short                 crime/criminal, ignite/ignition, humane/humanity

Long to schwa               compete/competition, define/definition, gene/genetic

Schwa to short              local/locality, legal/legality, metal/metallic

3.  Suffix Study

Explore the addition of -sion, -tion, -ian to basewords.

Greek and Latin Word Elements
  1. Start with Greek number prefixes mono- (one), bi- (two), tri- (three), and move to the Greek roots tele- (far, distant), therm- (heat), photo- (light), and astr- (star).  (See lists in Appendix E. in the WTW Text).
  2. Move to frequent Latin roots with the aim of gaining a working understanding of a few frequent occurring roots with relatively concrete and constant meanings: -tract- (draw, pull), -spect- (look), -port- (carry), -dict- (to say), -rupt- (to break), and -scrib- (to write).  (See lists in Appendix E. in the WTW Text).
  3. Explore additional Latin and Greek prefixes, building on those already taught at the syllables and affixes stage.

Prefix                    Meaning                    Prefix                    Meaning

inter-                              between                                    sub-                              under

intra-                              within                                       pre-                               before

super-                             over; greater                          anti-                              against

counter-                         opposing                                  demi-                              half

ex-                                   our                                             semi-                                half

fore-                                before                                      quadr-                             four

post-                               after                                         pent-                                five

pro-                                 in front of, forward

      4.   Explore common Greek suffixes

Suffix                          Meaning

-crat/-cracy                  rule

-emia                              condition of the blood

-ician                              specialist in

-ine                                 chemical substance

-ism/-ist                        belief in; one who believes

-logy/-logist                 science of; scientist

-pathy/-path                disease; one who suffers from a disease

-phobia                         abnormal fear

Predictable Spelling Changes in Consonants and Vowels
  1. /t/ to /sh/                            permit/permission, transmit/transmission
  2. /t/ to /s/                              silent/silence
  3. /d/ to /zh/                           explode/explosion, decide/decision
  4. /sh/ to /s/                            ferocious/ferocity, precocity
  5. Long to short                     vain/vanity, receive/reception, retain/retention
  6. Long to schwa                    explain/explanation, exclaim/exclamation
Advanced Suffix Study
  1. -able/-ible              respectable, favorable versus visible, audible
  2. -ant/-ance             fragrant/fragrance, dominant/dominance

             -ent/-ence              dependent/dependence, florescent/florescence

  1. Consonant           occurred, permitted versus traveled, benefited

              doubling and accent

Absorbed Prefixes
  1. Prefix + base word                                    in + mobile = immobile; ad + count = account
  2. Prefix + word root                                    ad + cept = accept, in + mune = immune

          The difficulty of the word meanings, rather than the difficulty of reading the words, may restrict decisions about what features are taught in this stage.  At this level it is okay to add some new vocabulary words to sorts, but the majority of words should be familiar in order for students to make generalizations, progressing from known to unknown words.  Unlike the letter name alphabetic stage and the within-word pattern stage, there is less of a sense of urgency to progress through the derivational relations stage due to the fact that students and adults will be in the stage for a long time.  As a matter of fact, word study for derivational relations is generally drawn out over the middle school and high school years and never really ends!  However, it is of supreme importance that students study the spelling-meaning connections in order to boost students’ vocabulary.

Consonant Alternation

          Consonant alternation occurs when there are consonants that are silent in one word, but they may be “sounded” in a related word.  The study of consonant alternations should begin with silent/sounded pairs, for instance hasten/haste and soften/soft.  A good strategy to help students learn to remember the spelling of a word with a silent consonant is to try to think of a word that is related in spelling and meaning.  Another consonant alternation pattern involves alternations which change the consonant sound by adding an ending, such as critic/criticize.

Vowel Alternation

          When affixes are added and the accented syllables change an alternation may occur in the sound of the vowel while the spelling of the vowel remains the same.  This occurrence is called a vowel alternation.  Vowel alternation patterns should be presented in a logical sequence in order for students to benefit most from their studies of these patterns.  A good starting point would be the study of related words which comprise  simple vowel alternations that change from long-to-short vowel sounds as suffixes are added, such as sane to sanity.  Next, students should examine vowel alternations in which the vowel is reduced from the long sound to the schwa sound when a suffix is added, as in invite to invitation.  Finally, students should analyze vowel alternations where the schwa sound is reduced to a short vowel, for instance local to locality.

          To help students learn that vowels are heard most noticeably in the accented syllable, vowel alternation sorts should commence with the pairing of derived words and then grouping the pairs by the changes in the vowel sounds and stressed syllables.  This technique will also help students remember that the spelling of the schwa in an unaccented syllable can be ascertained by thinking of a related word in which that syllable is accented.

Adding -ion to Words

          The suffix /shun/ can be spelled by several means and also influences the base word in fascinating ways.  It could cause a vowel to alternate or a final consonant sound to change.  The ending of the base word must be contemplated when spelling the /shun/ suffix.  Listed below is a synopsis of the rules and the sequence of introduction for students.

  • Base words that end in -ct or -ss just add -ion (traction, expression).
  • Base words that end in -ic add -ian (magician).
  • Base words that end in -te drop the e and add -ion (translation).
  • Base words that end in -ce drop the e and add -tion (reduce/reduction).
  • Base words that end in -de and -it drop those letters and add -sion or -ssion (decide/decision, admit/admission).
  • Sometimes -ation is added to the base word but causes little trouble for spellers because it can be heard (transport/transportation).

          Word sorts should be conducted in which students pair the base word with its derivative, followed by having students group the pairs by the spelling pattern and look for the type of vowel or consonant alternations that have taken place.  Teachers need to develop word sorts that will help students observe the occurrence of multiple alternations in a group of related words.

Greek and Latin Elements

          Typically Greek and Latin elements (roots or stems) do not stand alone as opposed to base words, such as struct (“build”) in restructure.  Greek roots may combine in different places in words; whereas, Latin stems tend to remain in one place, do not move around, and have prefixes and suffixes attach to them.  The term “word root” can be used to introduce the concept of Greek and Latin word parts to students.  Then, upon comprehension of the word parts and how they work, teachers can point out the distinction between Greek roots and Latin stems.

          Word roots rest inside a word and can be a much needed anchor to which prefixes and suffixes may attach.  The spelling-meaning principle applies to roots in which words with similar meanings are usually spelled similarly.  Also, it is essential that students know that spelling visually signifies the meaning of these elements and guards the meaning relationships among words that initially may appear quite different, for instance the constant spelling of -jud- in the words judge, prejudice, and adjudicate.  Roots may initially be difficult to locate; however, their frequent spelling is crucial in identifying them and analyzing how they function within words.

          Examination of Greek and Latin elements should initiate with those that take place most often in the language and should progress from concrete to more abstract in meaning.  Refer back to Table 8.1 for a list of the most frequently used roots in the reading material that intermediate and middle grade student’s encounter.  Roots may also be selected based on the content area of study.  The examination of word roots should commence in the upper elementary grade and continue throughout high school and beyond.  Selecting the root words to analyze should be dependent upon words that are at least somewhat familiar to your students.  The possibilities are endless due to the high volume of roots and meaning connections to determine.

Predictable Spelling Changes in Vowels and Consonants

          Once word roots and their derivational relatives have been explored, students can begin to study related words that have both sound and spelling changes.  This alternation occurs regularly in word families.  Students discover that base words with the ai or ei spelling will change to a or e for the derived word’s spelling.  Students will come to this conclusion based on what they have learned from the spelling-meaning patterns.  Base words can be paired with their derivative in word sorts, for instance receive/reception, exclaim/exclamation, and detain/detention.  The words can then be sorted into pairs according to the specific spelling change that has taken place.

Advanced Suffix Study

          There are some suffixes that provide occasional difficulty for even advanced readers and writers, for instance -able/-ible seems to be misspelled frequently.  A helpful generalization for these suffixes is:  If the suffix is joined to a base word that can stand alone, it is typically spelled -able; if it is connected to a word root, it is generally spelled -ible.  Base words that end in e will frequently drop the e and add -able; whereas, soft c or g endings may be preceded by -ible.  The -ant/-ance and -ent/-ence can be understood by knowing the spelling of a word that ends in one of these suffixes.  Also, the addition of inflected endings and consonant doubling is re-examined in the derivational relations stage for words containing polysyllables.  The general rule for doubling the final consonant before adding -ed is that if the last syllable of the base word is accented, the final consonant should be doubled.  However, if the last syllable is not accented, you should not double the final consonant.  Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions to this rule, traveled and benefitted, that have occurred because, over time, many people have misspelled the word and this misspelling has worked its way into the dictionary as the accepted spelling of the word.

Absorbed Prefixes

          The study of prefixes begins in the syllable and affixes stage.  Although most prefixes are easily located, there is a group that is somewhat disguised, as in the word illegal.  The only indication of the prefix is the doubled letters.  Such prefixes are known as absorbed or assimilated prefixes and cause the most challenging spelling trouble for students because they rely on extensive prior knowledge about other basic spelling-meaning patterns, processes of adding prefixes to base words, and simple Greek and Latin roots.  Absorbed or assimilated prefixes are mainly Latin in origin and are prevalent in English.

Content Area Vocabulary

          In this stage students will not only need to master the systematic study of orthographic and derivational features, but also many words from content areas.  Chapter 7 of the WTW text describes ideas about activating background knowledge and the use of graphic organizers.  “More ideas can be found in books that deal specifically with vocabulary such as Bringing Words to Life (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002), Teaching Word Meanings (Stahl & Nagy, 2006), and the Vocabulary Handbook (Diamond and Gutlohn, 2006).” (p. 242)

Word Origins

          A strong knowledge base for learning spelling and vocabulary can be bestowed by exploring the origins of words and the processes of word creation, in addition to facilitating more effective reading and writing.  Etymology, the study of word origins, could possibly cultivate into a lifelong fascination for many individuals.  This groundwork can be set through the focused exploration of etymology as students examine word roots and affixes.  A genuine sense of how words work at this level in addition to a general sense of how words can move through history is developed during this stage.  The understanding of an unusually spelled word’s origins helps to provide students with the most powerful key to remembering the spelling of the word.  To arouse students’ inquisitiveness about word origins you might read aloud selections from mythology, literature, or historical books when additional time is available.  It may also create interest to examine words that have been imported from other countries.  A fun activity to conduct in the classroom is to post a large world map on the wall and exhibit words according to their country of origin.

Donald Bear, M. I. (2008). Words Their Way. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.

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