Morphology instruction and SSP

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Morphology instruction involves the teaching of word parts (morphemes) and what they mean. When each morpheme is explicitly taught, students’ morphological awareness is developed systematically. This knowledge, alongside an understanding of phonics, supports students to read and spell. 

Teaching morphology can feel challenging. You may wonder where to start, what content to teach, or how to teach it. This topic will support you step by step, so you know where to begin your morphology instruction and how to build students’ knowledge. 

Learning objectives

At the end of this topic, you will:

  • understand how teaching morphology complements reading and writing instruction
  • know how to follow explicit instruction principles to plan morphology lessons and daily reviews that include morphology
  • be able to teach morphology using an explicit instructional model. 

Download resources for this topic or view Australian Curriculum links

1. Spotlight on morphology instruction and SSP

27 minutes reading and viewing 

Including morphology in your systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) instruction will extend students’ understanding of how the written English system works. Knowledge of morphology, combined with the knowledge and skills developed through SSP instruction, will help students to develop word-level reading and spelling.  

With systematic teaching, morphological awareness develops in tandem with phonological and orthographic awareness beginning in first grade.’ (Moats, 2020) 

What is morphology instruction?

Words are made up of parts that have meaning (morphemes). Morphology instruction is the teaching of these word parts and their meanings. 

Words may contain a single morpheme such as ‘act’, or they may have several morphemes such as 're-', 'act' and '-ing', as in the word ‘reacting’. 

There are different types of morphemes including: 

  • base words – words that can stand alone, such as ‘run’, ‘jump’ and ‘play’ 
  • prefixes – word parts found at the beginning of a word, such as 'un-', 're-' and 'mis-' 
  • suffixes – word parts found at the end of a word, such as '-ed', '-ing' and '-ful' 
  • roots – parts of words from Latin or Greek, such as the Latin root ‘struct’, which means ‘to build’, found in the words ‘structure’ and ‘destruction’.  

This 6-minute read from the Victorian Department of Education explains why morphology is helpful, outlines various types of morphemes and provides examples of morphology activities. 

Why teach morphology?

Morphology instruction gives students an extra layer of understanding about the English language system. It gives them another tool, on top of their phonics knowledge, to help them make links between the phonological system of language (the sounds in a word) and its orthography (the spelling system used to write words). It is especially helpful when phonics doesn’t clearly or easily explain why words are spelt a certain way. 

When reading, students can break unfamiliar words into meaningful parts to help them read the word. They can also use their knowledge of morphemes to accurately spell complete words. As students’ morphological awareness develops, their ability to read and spell new, more challenging words increases. This allows them to read and write more complex texts. 

Morphological awareness helps students build their vocabularies. Students can use their knowledge of what morphemes mean to understand unfamiliar words. For example, if students know the meaning of the base word ‘send’, and the meaning of the prefix ‘re-’, they can work out the meaning of the word ‘resend’. 

This 5-minute read from the University of Michigan explains why morphology is valuable to teach alongside phonics and phonology. 

This 5-minute read is a transcript of a Jocelyn Seamer podcast that answers the question When should we start morphology instruction and what might it look like? 

How do I teach morphology using an explicit instruction approach?

Best practice teaching follows the principles of explicit instruction. This approach supports the Four Pillars of Learning as described by cognitive psychologist Stanislas Dehaene: attention, active engagement, feedback and consolidation. (For more on Dehaene’s model, read this 9-minute article.) 

Explicit instruction and morphology 

Teaching morphology following explicit instruction principles involves: 

  • building knowledge sequentially 
  • teaching new knowledge in small chunks 
  • providing opportunities for repeated practice and guided support 
  • giving immediate feedback to students 
  • teaching to mastery so that students commit new information to long-term memory where it can be easily retrieved when needed. 

Morphology instructional model 

The Literacy Hub has developed a morphology instructional model that follows explicit instruction principles. It includes the same ‘I do, We do, You do’ structure as the phonics instructional model for reading and spelling. 

The morphology instructional model explains the ’I do, We do, You do’ process of a morphology lesson in easy-to-follow steps. 

  1. Introduce a new morpheme for reading and spelling and teach its meaning. 
  2. Add the morpheme to words for reading and spelling, and teach students how the meaning of each word changes by adding the target morpheme. 
  3. Add the morpheme to words for reading and spelling at the sentence level, and teach students how the meaning of the sentence changes when the word with the target morpheme is introduced. 
  4. Do a check for understanding to assess students’ ability to read, write and understand words with the target morpheme. 
  5. Have students apply their learning through independent (You do) practice and provide further support to students who need it in a teacher-led focus group. 

This morphology lesson with accompanying student worksheet shows the steps of the morphology instructional model in practice. 

How do I support students to apply morphological knowledge?

Students can apply their morphological knowledge during planned regular reviews, through exploration of words, and when reading and writing. 

Reviewing content 

Reviewing morphology content allows students to retrieve knowledge from their long-term memory. It is vital that students can readily do this, so that they can apply what they have learnt when reading and spelling. 

This slide pack shows an example of a morphology review. The script included in the notes section prompts students to review pronunciation and meaning, and apply each suffix or prefix to their reading and spelling. 

Exploring words 

Students can use their knowledge of morphology to explore how prefixes and suffixes can be added to base words to change their meaning. To support this, have students build word webs and find words with the same morphemes. 

Applying learning 

Once students understand morphemes, they can apply their knowledge to decode the meaning of unknown words as they read new texts. 

Students can also apply their knowledge of morphemes as they spell by: 

  • recognising morphemes when they segment sounds 
  • using known spelling rules for adding prefixes and suffixes. 

Building knowledge of morphemes and how they work helps students develop vocabulary and understand new words. This contributes to their overall literacy development. 

This practical Teaching morphology: resource kit contains example lesson plans, activity cards and useful information to help your morphology instruction. 

2. Webinar: Morphology instruction and SSP

Presenter: Elaine Stanley 

Join the Literacy Hub’s literacy specialist for a webinar on morphology instruction for SSP classrooms, including: 

  • how to follow explicit instruction principles to plan morphology lessons and daily reviews that include morphology
  • how to use an instructional model to teach morphology. 

This webinar unpacks each of the Literacy Hub’s morphology resources. 

Register to view the recording of this free 60-minute webinar.

3. Putting learning into action

Now that you have engaged with this topic, use the prompts below to reflect on your current practice and take action in response to your new learning.

Actions for school leaders

You may wish to:

1. Lead your staff through the ‘Spotlight on morphology instruction and SSP’ section and included links.

2. Discuss the following questions with your staff (reflecting and evaluating):

  • Do we currently teach morphology? If so, what aspect(s) do we teach, and how do we teach it? 
  • What do we know now that can support us to implement morphology instruction? 
  • How can we build morphology instruction into our curriculum? 

3. Support your staff to:

  • explore the resources provided in this topic 
  • use the morphology slide pack to plan a lesson. 

Next steps 

  • Determine which morphology concepts will be taught at which year level. 
Actions for teachers

1. Think about the areas of morphology in which your students currently need further instruction (these are often most easily identified in your students’ writing samples).

2. Choose one of the morphology slide packs from the resources section to deliver a morphology lesson.

3. Consider how you can schedule time for regular morphology instruction.

4. Q&A webinar: Answering your questions about morphology instruction and SSP

Presented by Elaine Stanley and hosted by Kerrie Shanahan

Our literacy specialist presented a 30-minute Q&A webinar to support schools with their questions on morphology instruction and SSP. 

Register now to view the recording. 

Resource downloads

The Literacy Hub phonics progression includes a sequence of letter–sound correspondences and phonics skills for development across Foundation to Year 2. It also includes morphology. 

These four ready-to-use lesson slide packs demonstrate explicit instruction principles in the teaching of morphology, with teacher notes to explain each step. Each lesson is accompanied by a student worksheet for independent practice. 

This instructional model for morphology outlines the attributes of instruction, a lesson and review model, and a sample morphology lesson plan. 

This example morphology review slide pack is ready for classroom use. It can be edited to match any morphology lesson, and aligns with the Literacy Hub phonics progression. 

This document, which is aligned with the Literacy Hub phonics progression, gives detailed explanations of spelling generalisations, syllable division rules and morphology that support phonics instruction. These generalisations have been grouped together as they all help explain how the alphabetic code can be applied to words. 

References, useful links and further reading

This webpage provides an overview of morphology and how to explicitly teach it to support learning. 

This article discusses the importance of transforming the research about the benefits of teaching morphology into teacher practice, and how this might be done most effectively. 

This blog article explains aspects of morphology and provides practical ideas on how to teach students about word parts and their meanings. 

This research paper provides information about how morphology can be integrated into reading and writing instruction, and provides clarity on how oral and written morpheme instruction supports students to develop their reading and spelling. 

This PDF contains ideas for morphology activities, including printable worksheets. 

  • Moats, L. (2020). Speech to print: language essentials for teachers (3rd ed.). Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. 

This key text on explicit high-quality literacy instruction includes information on teaching the morphological aspects of words. 

Australian Curriculum links 

Australian Curriculum – English: Literacy – Phonic and word knowledge (scroll to Phonic and word knowledge section at the bottom of the page)

Australian Curriculum – General capabilities: Literacy – Reading and viewing – Phonic knowledge and word recognition

Australian Curriculum – General capabilities: Literacy – Writing – Spelling