The Structure of Complex Words
For the purposes of teaching reading, we will divide the structure of words into five multiletter word parts: (1) compound words, (2) contractions, (3) prefixes and suffixes, (4) Greek and Latin roots, and (5) syllables.
Compound words are two words glued together to form a single word, such as base + ball = baseball. The meaning of some compound words is quite similar to the two words individually, as in barefoot and campfire. If children know the meaning of the individual words that make up this type of compound, they can infer the meaning of the compound itself. The meaning of other compounds has little connection to the meaning of the two words. For instance, butter and cup do not suggest the meaning of buttercup. Children might assume they know the meaning of buttercup because butter and cup are familiar words. To understand compounds like buttercup, children must look beyond the individual words to consider sentence context and prior knowledge. You will need to directly teach the meaning of these compound words if the sentence context does not give enough clues to meaning.
A contraction is a single word formed by combining two words. We use an apostrophe to represent missing letters (is not = isn’t). In English, we abbreviate the second word in a contraction. In order to read and write contractions, children must understand the basic concept behind using the apostrophe and know the difference between an apostrophe that indicates an abbreviated word (wasn’t) and an apostrophe that shows possession (Jane’s book). Word meaning is the same whether words are written separately or as contractions.
Prefixes and Suffixes
Prefixes are added to the beginning of words (re + play = replay); suffixes are added to the end (play + ing = playing). Prefixes change meaning (un + happy = unhappy) or make meaning more specific (re + play = replay). The suffixes -es/s, -ed, -ing, -er and -est, called inflected endings, change the number (cats) or the verb tense (played) or indicate a comparison (bigger). Other suffixes affect meaning and grammatical usage. Children who understand the effect of prefixes and suffixes on word meaning have better comprehension (Carlisle, 2000) and are better spellers than children who do not have this knowledge (Leong, 2000).
Every child needs a plan to tackle long, complex words. One way to tackle a word with prefixes and/or suffixes is to “use your fingers” to cover these word parts. The Use Your Fingers strategy consists of these five easy steps:
Use Your Fingers
Step 1 Do you see a prefix? Put your finger over the prefix. unbreakable – un = breakable
Step 2 Do you see a suffix? Put your finger over the suffix. breakable – able = break
Step 3 Read the word. break
Step 4 Take your finger off the prefix. Read the word. unbreak = unbreak
Step 5 Take your finger off the suffix. Read the whole word. unbreakable Greek and Latin Roots
Many English words include a word from the Greek or Latin languages. We call the borrowed portions root words. English words with the same root belong to a meaning family. For example, magn-, of Latin origin, means great. Magnificent, magnify, magnitude, and mag-nanimous are examples of words in the magn- meaning family. Grouping words into meaning families helps children identify roots and gives children insight into word meaning.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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