Complex words are far more prevalent in the harder books read by third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders than in books for beginning readers. As word length increases children must look beyond the rather small letter–sound patterns of phonics to identify the large, multiletter chunks in complex words. Structural analysis serves the same function in third through sixth grades as phonics in kindergarten through second grade. When readers use structural analysis they combine phonics letter–sound patterns into large, multiletter chunks. Children then use this knowledge to decode and learn the complex words that are so common in story and information text beyond the early grades.
Structural analysis makes it possible for the child to read compound words (baseball) and contractions (can’t) as single units. The child recognizes prefixes (precook), suffixes (reading), and Greek and Latin roots (telephone and phonic) as meaningful word parts. When a new word doesn’t have meaningful parts, the good reader divides it into syllables that, when blended together, yield the pronunciation of the word (cam/er/a).
Understanding word structure helps the child infer word meaning. Inferring word meaning helps the child learn new words. A larger reading vocabulary, in turn, contributes to fluency and comprehension. The more words the child instantly recognizes and understands, the better the fluency (Eldredge, 2005).
Structural analysis is particularly suited for reading complex words in the upper grades. When a word is divided into multiletter parts (ma/lig/nant), there are fewer units to blend than when analyzing a word into phonics letter patterns. With fewer units to blend word identification is faster. When the word parts themselves give the child insight into word meaning, adding new words to the child’s reading vocabulary becomes much more efficient. The child who recognizes many word parts has a larger reading vocabulary and better comprehension than the child who recognizes few word parts (Deacon & Kirby, 2004; Nagy, Berninger, & Abbott, 2006).
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