Why We Should Teach Morphological Awareness to Children

Morphological awareness is a better predictor of reading achievement and decoding ability by the time a child reaches the age of 10. Children at this age begin to recognize that the meaning of words is held within the meaningful units used to construct them a.k.a. morphemes. 

Morphemes are meaningful units found in words

Morphemes are put together to create meaning. The reading brain eventually resorts to indicating morphemes during unfamiliar word analysis over phonemes. 

Linguistically speaking, morphology serves as a structural guide to the semantic connections between spoken and written language. As your child’s vocabulary grows to become more advanced, they begin to recognize morphological patterns in written language. 

Teaching Common Prefixes and Suffixes is Not Enough

Teaching and discussing the most common prefixes and suffixes in elementary grades merely scratch the surface of morphology. Often times, the morphological concepts that are introduced are done so in a mediocre fashion. Check out more about the types of morphology in regards to prefixes and suffixes, here.

It is possible that the opportunity for children to grow a deeper understanding of language and its modalities go underserved because we do not see how truly magnificent [and pervasive] morphology is!

Why Should You Teach Morphological Awareness to Children?

There is a lot of value in teaching morphological awareness to our children during the elementary grades. We should be creating instructional space to bring a higher awareness of its presence during reading and vocabulary instruction. 

Here are a couple of ways that morphological awareness instruction can benefit building children’s literacy skills and reading comprehension.

Vocabulary Comprehension through Morphemic Analysis

As your child’s lexicon grows, so does their ability to see patterns and commonalities within words.  When they encounter a word that is unfamiliar to them, they begin analyzing the word to see if there are recognizable parts [morphemes] to determine its meaning. This is a step beyond phonological awareness because they are not sounding the word out phoneme by phoneme rather they are looking at the whole word. 

For example, think of the word ‘mishap’. If your child has a strong understanding of morphology, they will more likely begin by breaking the word into two meaningful parts. ‘Mis-’ [meaning ‘wrongly’] and  ‘hap’. 

If you were to sound out the word ‘mishap’ phoneme by phoneme, there is a slight chance that the word is misread to sound like ‘mish-ap’ or ‘my-shap’ 

Reading Aloud

Morphological awareness contributes to children being able to read aloud more proficiently and confidently. Going back on the previous example, if the word is ‘mishap’ they will break it apart accurately for oral reading as well. 

General 'triangle' framework created by Mark Seidenberg for reading and other uses of words. This is simple yet it incorporates the basic principles that are believed to govern reading behaviors.
General ‘triangle’ framework created by Mark Seidenberg for reading and other uses of words. This is simple yet it incorporates the basic principles that are believed to govern reading behaviors.


English is a tough language to learn. There are so many ways that phonemes are spelled out in words. Simply sounding out words in order to spell them places children in a bind when it comes to accuracy. Knowledge of morphemes and having the ability to recognize morphemes and their spelling patterns may help alleviate the whole “English is crazy” mentality. By the way, English is not crazy. It’s complex. 

Children will begin relying on what they know morphologically when it comes to spelling words that are not sound-grapheme corresponding. 

For example, we are taught the ‘ed’ ending is a suffix that turns a verb into their past tense form. However, in many cases when past tense verbs are sounded out, they have a final /t/ sound [kissed, whipped, talked]. Knowledge of this morpheme and its unwavering modality will allow child to utilize this spelling across all verbs no matter what they hear.

Phonological Awareness

Teaching morphological awareness could enhance a struggling reader’s phonological awareness deficits. Think of the benefits a child would gain from understanding how and why written morphology sound and act phonologically. For example, if they are taught explicitly about the written morphology of suffixes such as ‘-ian’ [music-ian] and ‘-tion’ [crea-tion] and their meaning, children will be given more information to work with when it comes to analyzing words for spelling and reading.

Reading Comprehension

No doubt about it, morphological awareness increases a reader’s ability to process what they read and understand the meaning of the text. This allows the bulk of their cognitive processing resources to focus on reading comprehension. If a child is able to identify and establish the meaning of words during reading, they will be better able to make inferences and generalizations during the reading process.

Click to download reading tips and common reading terms every parent should know

Training morphological awareness in school beyond common prefixes and suffixes sounds like a massive win-win to me.

Thank you and see you next time!

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