This week I delivered my first ever lesson in Year Six. My focus was spelling and so I started the lesson by checking they were confident with the vocabulary I would be using, initially: phoneme, grapheme and morpheme.
I gave the class 3 minutes to explain the meaning of these words to their partner, and give examples. There were three further words to define if finished: digraph, trigraph and split digraph.
Tumbleweed. The children sat in stunned silence looking at the words, unsure how to start. I gave them a few clues:
- look at the meaning of the parts of the word
- think about ‘phone’ what other words have you seen that in? What does it mean?
Eventually they got talking. Suggestions that phoneme were something to do with sound, graphemes were about graphs and trigraph must mean three graphs, split digraphs were broken graphs and morpheme was a drug given to cure pain. Sure they weren’t accurate (or anywhere near the ball park on the most part) but at least they were talking about language. I then gave them some examples of words and graphemes and from these examples, they were able to deduce a bit more about what I was talking about.
The thing is… had I have asked my Year Twos the same questions, their answers would have been spot on. This was why I was here teaching these Year Six children: because I am accutely aware of the importance of progression, and that we really must make sure we build upon previous learning as children progress throughout the school. These children had simply forgotten their previous KS1 learning, which had they been reminded, would have supported them as they developed their knowledge in KS2.
Teaching Morphology and Expanding Vocabulary
Definition: The smallest unit of meaning in a word.
Our teaching of morphemes begins in Reception, where children are learning to read and write single morpheme words (sun, cat, dog, chip). As children progress to Year One, their reading vocabulary grows; by the end of Year One they are expected to read some polysyllabic words, which might include compound words (laptop, sunshine), and as they come across these words teachers divide them into parts to support the reading process. These parts may be syllables, or may be morphemes. It is in Year One that we introduce our first suffixes: I usually begin with the suffix -s.
We teach the root word then we add the suffix and explore how the meaning of the word has changed as a result:
So adding the suffix -s tells us that there is more than one apple.
When exploring morphology, I find that reading and spelling go hand in hand: I tend to initially teach a word in the context of a text, either as part of my vocabulary pre-teaching, or post-reading we will return to the text to re-read and analyse the vocabulary used and what it tells us. I will display the root word, ensure children can read this, and know the meaning, then show the word with the suffix and discuss how the word has changed. If this is the first time we have come across this suffix, I will then give the children the opportunity to play with the suffix a little – we will explore adding it to other words, and of course any rules that we need to consider.
Most importantly, I will return to this often in my teaching – in whole class reading I will encourage children to identify words with suffixes as we come across them: I will expect them to tell me the root word, identify the suffix, and explain how that has affected the meaning of the word in the context of the text. To quote one of my Year One pupils when talking about the Golden Goose in Jack and the Beanstalk ‘it says eggs… that means the goose laid more than one! They’ll be SO rich!’ We can see that this pupil has used their knowledge of suffixes to support their comprehension and inference of the text.
Furthermore, I will return to this regularly in writing activities – when modelling writing or undertaking shared writing I model strategies for spelling words with suffixes: I ask children to spell the root word, then we add the suffix, identify why the suffix is needed, and the children tell me any rules (it ends in ‘sh’ and has another syllable so we need to add -es). Because I know retrieval is so important, we’ll also drop in words with known suffixes or prefixes into spelling practice on a regular basis.
This approach can work in KS2 as well as it does in KS1, and is vital for comprehension as children tackle increasingly complex texts.
What is important however, is that teachers do not only focus on those aspects that they teach in their own year group, but they also have an excellent awareness of what is taught in previous year groups so that children have continued opportunity to practice, explore and explain their understanding of an increasingly wide range of words and their parts.
When attempting to create an awareness of progression in morphology, we can look to the national curriculum to see when and how we teach suffixes and prefixes as a starting point:
An approach to spelling using morphology
My main aim working with Year Six this week was to encourage them to break words into morphemes to help with their spelling. This strategy works as well with Year Two as it does with Year Six.
- When attempting to spell a word, first identify the root word.
- Use knowledge of graphemes to select the appropriate spelling for the root word (see below)
- Spell the root word, then add any affixes using known rules.
e.g. for spelling words disobeyed, happily, toughest
This simplifies the process of spelling as once they know the suffix rules, children only really have to think about how to spell the root word.
For this I encourage them to use the 123 approach if unsure. For this, children to refer to a spelling chart (here is mine if you wish to use it please do), and try up to three different versions of the word, using their knowledge of the spelling system to select the most likely choices. E.g.when spelling obey there are 8 different graphemes for the phoneme /ai/ however only two of these would be used at the end of a word /ay/ or /ey/
- there are no more likely graphemes
Breaking the spelling into the root word simplifies the choices available. If a child was unable to identify the individual morphemes, they may have ultimately believed there were many more options for spelling disobeyed:
…and may never have found the correct spelling for the word.
The idea is that the children spell the word, and then check it as a reader.
The word ‘toughest’ featured in the 2017 spelling paper, and I saw a number of errors where a better awareness of morphology would have helped (tufist, tuffist, tuficed to list but a few examples). Again, if the child were able to break the word into morphemes, they would have recognised the root word as tough, and the suffix -est used to create the superlative. To spell tough they may have required a few attempts but would have unlikely tried to spell it as ‘tuf’ – as readers they would know straight away this would be incorrect, and may have tried something like:
As a reader, the child could have then quickly identified the correct spelling of the word, and added the suffix.
Creating a model of progression
In order for teaching and learning to be effective, our teachers need an excellent understanding of progression which is separate to their knowledge of the national curriculum for their year group. This is why it is so important for schools to develop our own curriculum with clear models of progression identified, alongside CPD which can support teachers in developing specific and expert subject knowledge in their fields.
As I’ve already said, what is important is that we use this awareness of progression and ensure that we identify regular opportunities for children to consolidate and master those affixes taught in previous year groups.
Like many schools we have a vague curriculum for teaching spelling, based on what the requirements are for each year group. I think there is some work to be done here, and I’m going to begin looking at how we teach spelling, and what progression in spelling looks like for children at my school, but this needs to go deeper than spelling lists for year groups.
When teaching spelling, we need to consider models of progression in:
- phoneme-grapheme correspondences (our teaching of phonics)
- morphology (the units of meaning in words – this includes, but is not limited to root words, suffixes, prefixes)
- etymology (the origins of words, and how their meanings have developed over time).
- the strategies we use to support independence in spelling, so that we have a clear route to ensure our children leave primary school as confident, independent spellers.
Although I was initially thinking about spelling, of course we can see that each of these is also related to reading, and so need to be reflected in our reading curriculum.
Not only this, but there is also an opportunity to look to our schools’ wider curriculum and how we provide opportunities to teach morphological awareness through rich texts, and by ensuring vocabulary is taught and explored throughout the core and foundation subjects too.
Creating this model of progression is my next project. It looks like a big one!
I’ll share my findings when I’m done…