Morphology Is a Valid Strategy for High School Students

Theoretical Explanation

Many researchers have proposed that teaching students word roots unlocks the meanings of unknown words. The majority of words in the English language have origins from Greek and Latin. Ninety percent of English words over one syllable are Latin based, and the remaining 10 percent are Greek based (Rasinski, Padak, Newton, & Newton, (2008, p. 11). Just as phonics teaches word families, Greek and Latin roots will help students sound out words and determine the meanings of words (Padak, Newton, Rasinski, and Newton (2008, p.

29). Nagy & Anderson, 1984, found morphology played an important role in learning vocabulary by allowing students to make semantic connections between related word families. They concluded, “The ability to utilize morphological relatedness among words puts a student at a distinct advantage in dealing with unfamiliar words” (p.323). While research supports the teaching of word roots, no formalized instruction in roots exists at my high school.

Purpose of my study:

Students need vocabulary deciphering strategies in high school. Morphology is a valid strategy for high school students to improve vocabulary.

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Studies also show an increase in reading comprehension and spelling.

Third through sixth grade students performed better on reading and spelling with morphophonemic training than with just training in phonics (Henry 1988, 1989, 1993).

In the study, “Contributions of Morphology Beyond Phonology to Literacy Outcomes of Upper Elementary and Middle-School Students,” Nagy, Abbott, and Berninger (2006) found “Results showed that when the shared variance among morphological awareness, phonological working memory, and phonological decoding are controlled statistically, morphological awareness contributes all grade levels to reading comprehension, reading vocabulary, and spelling” (p.

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"Corson, a British sociologist, even suggests that it is differences in language ability, more than any other observable factor, that affects children's potential for success in school. He makes the point that learning the Latin and Greek word roots allows children to begin learning the 'specialist' words in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon 'performance' vocabulary. He suggests that some social groups do not learn these special words in their natural environment. "(1985, p.28).

The purpose of this study is to develop student morphemic awareness and increase their knowledge of the meanings of word roots including prefixes and suffixes. New avenues of learning roots will be explored. The goal is to improve students’ potential to decipher the meaning of new vocabulary.

Learning Targets

First, students will be able to divide multi syllable words into word parts or morphemes. On Ellen Gagné's level of complexity in human skills, using Discrimination students can identify and separate roots, prefixes, or suffixes in a word.

Next, students will learn the meanings of common prefixes, suffixes and roots. Ellen Gagné would label Greek and Latin roots Defined Concepts.

I hope to show students will be able to determine a word’s meaning based on their knowledge of the word's parts. Ellen Gagné would label this Higher Order Rules. Students will need to apply their previously learned definitions, to form a new definition of a new word.

Area of Focus

Roots to be studied will be pulled from various resources including: Stauffer, 1942, identified the fifteen most common prefixes from the 10,000 words in the Thorndike Word Book: ab (from) ,ad (to),be (by),com (with),de (from),en (in),ex (out),in (into), in (not),pre (before), pro (in front of), re (back), sub (under), un (not) (pg. 455).

“Brown (1947) noted that 80% of the English words borrowed from other languages come to us from Latin and Greek and make up approximately 60% of our language. He analyzed Latin and Greek word roots and concluded that 12 Latin and 2 Greek roots, along with 20 of the most frequently used prefixes would generate an estimated 100,000 words (see Table 1)"(Henry, 1993).Brown's fourteen roots: 1.tent, ten, tin, tain,miss, mitt 3.cap,capt, cip,cept , 4. 14. scribe,script 5. sat, stat, sist 6. graph,gram 7. log,logy 8.spect 9. plic,pled, 10.ply11. tens,tend, tent 12.duc,duct 13. pos,pon 14. face,tic, fact

Padak, Newton, Rasinski, and Newton (2008) identified a series of level 1, level 2, and level 3 roots for primary, intermediate and middle school students (pgs. 12-15). Their lists includes prefixes, suffixes, and bases (roots) from both Latin and Greek.

The Least You Should Know about Vocabulary Building by Glazier, Friend, & Knight. Greek & Latin Roots:Keys to Building Vocabulary by Rasinski, Padak, Newton & Newton.

Past Problems Achieving Learning Targets

My school does not teach Latin. Also, vocabulary building is not built into the English standards. Students without previous exposure to word roots, suffixes, and prefixes will not get additional exposure at our high school. The school I teach at draws students from 27 different towns throughout northwestern Connecticut. Students do not come with a consistent core of learned roots.


Students need to increase their vocabulary to be able to read and comprehend complex texts. Students that can use context clues and knowledge of word origins to decipher a new word's meaning. Students need to interpret vocabulary for standardized tests, when reading their textbooks, and other daily reading.

"If…it is one's goal top promote generalized vocabulary acquisition by equipping readers with strategies that will enhance their independent vocabulary learning, then instruction in morphemic and contextual analysis becomes the preferred approach" (Baumann et al. 452).

“The language of school, especially in the upper grades, is often driven by content area texts. Most of the speciality words in math, science, and social studies come from Latin and Greek origin” (Henry, 1993).

Research Question

I am interested to know if students can increase their ability to define unknown words if they have knowledge of dividing words into morphemes and have learned prefixes, suffixes, and roots. Learning Plan Ideas


flash cards/virtual flashcards/app for I touch/I Pad/I Phone

i touch applications


Baumann, James F. , & Edwards, Elizabeth Carr, Font, George, Tereshinski, Cathleen A. , Kame'enui, Edward J., Olejnik, Stephen. (2002). Teaching morphemic and contextual analysis to fifth-grade students. Reading Research Quarterly. 2, 150-176. Baumann, James F., Boland, Eileen M., &
Edwards, Elizabeth Carr, & Olejnik, Stephen, & Kame'enui, Edward J. (2003). Vocabulary tricks: Effects of instruction in morphology and context on fifth-grade students’ability to derive and infer word meanings. American Educational Research Journal. 40, 447-494.

Bromley, Karen. (2007). Nine things every teacher should know about words and vocabulary instruction. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 7, 528-537.

Brunner, Brett L. (2006). Word Empire:A Utilitarian Approach to Word Power Brett L. Brunner, M.A. Star Nemeton Educational Innovations, LLC

Bryant, Peter, & Hurry, Jane, & Nunes, Terezinha, & Pretzlik, Ursula (2006). Improving literacy by teaching morphemes. New York, NY: Routledge

Carlisle, Joanne F, & Stone, Addison C. (2005). Exploring the role of morphemes in word reading. Reading Research Quarterly. 4, 428-449.

Fresch, Mary Jo (2007). Word study: Ways to captivate reluctant learners. Adolescent Literacy in Perspective. March, 8-11.

Glazier, Teresa Ferster, Knight, Laura, & Friend, Carol. (2004). The least you should know about vocabulary building: Word roots. Wadsworth Publishing

Green, Tamara M (2008). Greek & Latin roots of English. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Haag, E Stern (2003). In search of the benefits of learning Latin. Journal of Educational Psychology 95, 174-178.

Henry, Marcia. (1993). Morphological structure: Latin and Greek roots and affixes as upper grade code strategies. Reading and Writing. 2, 227-241.

Holmes, Thomas C., & Keffer, Ronald L (1995). A computerized method to teach
Latin and Greek root words: Effect on verbal SAT Scores. The Journal of Educational Research. 1, 47-50.

Langer, Judith A. (2001). Beating the Odds: Teaching Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well. American Educational Research Journal 40, 447-494.

Menn, Lise, & Peters, Ann M, (1993). False starts and filler syllables: Ways to learn grammatical morphemes. Language. 4, 742-777. Nagy, William E., Anderson, Richard C. (1984). How many words are there in printed school English? Reading Research Quarterly. 19, 303-330.

Nagy, William, Abbott, Robert D., & Berninger, Virginia W. (2006). Contributions of morphology beyond phonology to literacy outcomes of upper elementary and middle-school students. Journal of Educational Psychology 98, 134-147. Newton, Rick M., & Newton, Evangeline (2005). A little Latin...a lot of English. Adolescent Literacy in Perspective. June, 2-7. Otterman, Lois. (1955). The value of teaching prefixes and word-roots. The Journal of Educational Research, 8, 611-616. Padak, Nancy, & Newton, Rick M., & Newton, Evaneline, & Bromley, Karen (2008). Greek and Latin roots: Keys to building vocabulary. HuntingtonBeach, CA: Shell Education.

Padak, Nancy, & Newton, Evangeline & Rasinski, Timothy, & Newton, Rick M. (2008). Getting to the root of word study: teaching latin and greek word roots in elementary and middle grades. In Farstrup, Alan E., &

Samuels, S. Jay, What research has to say about vocabulary instruction (6-31). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Scanlan, Richard, T. (1976). A computer-assisted-instruction course in vocabulary building through Latin and Greek roots. Foreign Language Annals. 6, 579-583.

Stauffer, Russell G. (1942). A Study of prefixes in the Thorndike List to establish a list of prefixes that should be taught in the elementary
school. The Journal of Educational Research. 6, 453-458.

Updated: Feb 22, 2021
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Morphology Is a Valid Strategy for High School Students. (2016, Sep 28). Retrieved from

Morphology Is a Valid Strategy for High School Students essay
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