Using Morphology to Help Build Vocabulary and Spelling Strategies for Your Learners

What is it and how can we use it in the classroom to support spelling?

Active vocabulary is the vocabulary which we generally use, where as ‘passive words’ are words we understand but do not confidently use ourselves.

Do you know what a zyzzyva is and how to pronounce it?

The Oxford English Corpus is a text corpus of 21st-century English, used by the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary and by Oxford University Press’ language research programme. It is the largest corpus of its kind, containing nearly 2.1 billion words.

The language is taken from published books, ordinary conversation, letters, newspapers, lectures, blogs etc, which is how they decide the most frequently used words, as well as if a particular word needs to be added into the Oxford Dictionary if it has been used a certain amount of times.

Key Terms

Base word – A word that can stand alone when all of the affixes have been removed

Root Word – The root carries the primary meaning of the word. A root does not always stand alone as an English word when all of the affixes have been removed.

affix – A group of letters that can be added to the beginning or end of a word/root.

Prefixes and suffixes are types of affix:

prefix – A group of letters added to the beginning of a root to alter the meaning. (e.g. un, dis, re)

suffix – A group of letters that can be added to the end of a root which alters the meaning. (e.g. ed, ing, ly)

derivative – A word which is formed by adding suffixes and prefixes to a root or by combining two base words to form a compound word.

compound words – words with individual meanings, which have been grouped together to create a new word with another meaning.

By understanding parts of the word we can then understand or work out the meaning of the whole word.
An investigation from one of our Y1 lessons.

The words become more difficult further up the school but the concept stays the same.  If we can spell the components then this will make spelling the words simpler.


According to some sources 9 prefixes account for 75% of words that use a prefix and twenty prefixes account for 97% of the words which use prefixes

97% of all words use these 20 prefixes

Prefixes are a simple way of introducing affixes as the base word remains unchanged. As well as increasing vocabulary it makes spelling the words simpler, it allows students to learn that the chunk of work at before the root is spelled the same each time.  E.g. Un is always un and never U-N-N

Spelling Activities

There are many ways of recording words with prefixes, such as prefix hunt in reading books, word webs, word ladders and creating silly sentences.

Recording words and definitions with and without the prefix. 

Also finding ‘non-examples’ which do not fit the affix pattern and why.

Once we have explored the spelling of the words, children practice them in context.
Our word sheds can easily be adapted for differentiation to include definitions, affixes, synonyms etc

Word Study – how many words can you make?

Use this a way for pupils to understand how affixes can change the meaning of the word, as well as how not all are able to be added.

Suffixes – The Magnificent 7

These 7 suffixes make up 82% of all words which end in suffixes.

We have all had spellings like these…

•She hopped for a new bike for Christmas.

•The bunny hopt along the path.

•She happly set off to her grandmother’s house.

Refer to them as guides rather than ‘rules’ as there are almost always exceptions. ‘Rules’ implies there is a clear right and wrong

Build up these questions gradually. You could print and stick them in books or have on display to remind children.

Example words could be: 1. Jump, 2. hug, 3. comfortable, 4. happy
If children can remember and follow these rules whilst learning to spell the words then this should hopefully eliminate incorrect spellings such as.: happly, hopt etc.

This could be used as a display or pupils might want to use word cards and printed diagrams ,so that they can physically move words down the chart.

In Summary …

•We have a large vocabulary but we only use part of it at any one time.

•Young children cannot be expected to be able to remember how to spell all words by memory alone.

•We can use morphology knowledge alongside HFW, orthographical mapping and etymology to aid the spelling process.

•Use morphology accurately and introduce it gradually.

•Use diagrams to aid recall of the guidelines.