Happy Wednesday Teacher of Emergent Bilinguals! This week we’re going to target the most important prefixes to teach your students, K-12.
All students – but especially emergent bilinguals – need to acquire large amounts of vocabulary.
teaching prefixes is a 2 for 1 deal: it strengthens decoding and expands vocabulary at the same time.
Teaching students to analyze word parts is not the same as teaching phonics (sound-symbol correspondences).
As I explain in this short video, decoding – converting the written symbols, or graphemes, on the page into linguistic sounds and then messages – is a process that students typically are taught in Grades K-3.
Once a reader has learned to decode well at the phonemic level (blending individual sounds together to make a word, e.g., b-a-t says /băt/, they begin to recognize words as one of the six syllable types. The reader instantly recognizes that bat takes a “short” vowel /ă/ because it ends in a consonant. And once that level of fluency has been achieved…
it’s time to teach your students the most important prefixes!
Last week I encouraged you to start teaching morphology with base words – showing your students how to recognize a word within a bigger word. Now, let’s start teaching them how to recognize prefixes.
A prefix is a word part that attaches to the front of base word and creates a new (but related) meaning. For example, teach is the base word but when I add the prefix re- to the front, it makes reteach. Re- is one of the most common prefixes in English and means again. So, reteach means ‘to teach again’. Not every word that has a prefix is going to be this transparent in meaning, but this is how we hook kids into understanding how morphology works and its value to them as readers.
We can also attach the prefix to a root. A root forms the basis of new words, but doesn’t usually stand on its own as a word. For example, struct means ‘to build’. If we attach the prefix in- , literally meaning ‘in’, we get instruct.
Why are prefixes important to teach? Simple put, they are an essential type of affix – a word part you can attach to a base or root. This allows the reader to recognize many more new words without having to learn them as a list.
the most important prefixes to teach your students
Because English vocabulary is a conglomerate of the Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon languages (con- meaning ‘with, together’ and glomus from Latin meaning ‘ball’), there are literally dozens and dozens of prefixes. There’s just no way you can teach them all.
Luckily, speakers like to repeat themselves! There are high frequency prefixes we can and should teach our students, beginning as early as K-3. A special emphasis should be placed on teaching morphology in Grades 4 and higher.
A few considerations:
Focus on meaning: What happens when we put un- in front of happy? That’s right! Unhappy. Unhappy is the opposite of happy! Un- can change a word to its opposite. Here, it’s not necessarily important to teach the terminology ‘prefix’ if you have younger students. But we are teaching students to play with the word using a prefix.
Encourage cross-linguistic connections: English, Spanish, and French share an incredible amount of cognates words that sound and mean the same. Other languages have loan words from Latin and Greek that students may be able to connect to.
Encourage your bilingual students to think of similarities and differences between their languages. For example, the word interrupt is a cognate of interrumpir in Spanish – in this case the prefix inter (inter-, meaning in between) is the same in both languages! In Russian, interrupt is перебивать (peryebivat). Students can make a connection between inter and the Russian prefix пере- ( perye).
Align the prefixes to phonics instruction: So, if my students are still learning Closed Syllables with short vowels, or CVC words, I’m going to focus on prefixes that have short vowels like un-. Luckily, these are some of the most important prefixes to teach your students.
I’m not going to ask my first graders to read or write unhappy unless I’ve taught them the phonics rule for y as long /ē/ at the end of a two syllable word. So, first I need to make sure they can read and spell words like happy before I will ask them to write the word with the prefix. A structured scope and sequence to begin with in an ELA/ENL classroom would look something like this:
If your students are older and already have basic decoding skills, start with having them recognize base words, move through the scope and sequence above, but then soon thereafter jump into more prefixes, and more advanced prefixes and suffixes (a post about them is on its way). Start on Day 1 of school this year – these readers need to rapidly expand their vocabulary in addition to strengthening decoding.
If you are a secondary content teacher, take a look some important prefixes for math, science, and social studies. Then, decide which ones you should teach first according to your curriculum sequence.
Finally, don’t forget reading and writing! It’s not enough in the older grades to just work on this orally. Students need to regularly read word lists with the target prefix for fluency, then take dictation and/or write the words in a sentence. See my free mini-morphology lesson on Google slides on prefixes for Grades 4 and above for you to copy and use with your students!
Teachers, you got this!
Questions, comments? Let me know below. Stay tuned for more on morphology in September!