This activity guides students to create visual representations of the ways in which words are connected through their morphological structure. Students create a web with a key word in the center, with that word’s component morphemes branching out from the center word. Then, students find new words that contain each of the morphemes, and they connect these to each of the morpheme branches, producing a web. This activity helps to develop students’ morphological awareness and skill with morphological analysis, which helps them to decode, spell, and understand words more quickly and accurately. By enhancing their knowledge of word associations, students become able to identify and retrieve words more easily.
Select one or more key words. Key words should contain multiple morphemes (prefixes, roots, and/or suffixes), and should be fairly easy to divide into recognizable morphemes. It can be effective to select words that appear in a class text, or that relate to the class content. Make sure you know the morphemes in the words ahead of time—use a tool like Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com) as needed.
Prepare a model morpheme map. Write the key word in the center in a bubble. Around this center bubble, write each of its component morphemes in its own bubble, and connect these bubbles to the center bubble with lines (spokes). Next, find one or more other words containing each of the component morphemes, write these in their own bubbles around each of the morphemes, and connect them to the morphemes with lines. You can continue adding another layer of morphemes and then words for as long as you want.
Ensure that students will have access to the internet for this activity. A paper dictionary can also work, but is much more cumbersome and challenging for many students.
Gather large blank pieces of paper (like chart paper) and markers, or prepare to use a tablet app that allows students to create concept maps freely.
- The teacher reviews what a morpheme is, and the basic types (prefixes, roots, suffixes). The teacher leads a discussion about the value of morphological analysis.A morpheme is the smallest meaningful part of a word, and includes prefixes, roots, and suffixes.Morphological analysis is important because English spelling is morphophonemic: meaning it encodes both sound (phonemes), and meaning and history of words (morphemes). So learners cannot really understand the spelling system without understanding both phonics (patterns of sound/letter correspondence) and morphology (the way meaningful units are combined to form words).Also, morphological analysis helps enormously with identifying and pronouncing new words, with spelling, and with predicting and remembering the meaning of words.
- Teacher displays model morpheme map, and explains the task. Class discusses how and why this task might be valuable.
You will want to make sure the same map uses a different word from the word(s) that students will be mapping.
- Students prepare to work alone or in groups, using either chart paper/markers or a tablet app. Teacher gives each group one or more key words.
You can easily differentiate the difficulty of this activity by giving students words of differing levels of complexity. You can also help struggling students by dividing the original word into morphemes for them.
- Students write the key word in a bubble in the center of the page. Students divide the word into morphemes.Students should use resources such as Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com) and a dictionary when dividing words into their morphemes.Circulate among students, asking them about what they are noticing and thinking. Sometimes there’s a judgment call when dividing into morphemes, so you can also lead students in discussions about these decisions.
- Students write each of the component morphemes in its own bubble around the original word, and connect these bubbles to the original word with lines. Students look up the meaning of each of these morphemes, and write it in each bubble in a smaller font.
Circulate as students are working, asking about what they are thinking. When a morpheme can have multiple meanings, help them to think about which meaning is most relevant for the target word.
- Students find two to five other words that contain each of the component morphemes. They write each of these words around each of the morphemes, and connect each word to the appropriate morpheme(s) with a line. Students briefly write the meaning of each
Circulate as students are working. Help them to find effective ways to search for words containing the morpheme. Dictionaries and Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com) are helpful, as well as Google searches such as “words containing prefix trans”.
- Optional: Students can continue with this process for additional layers, making increasingly complex maps with levels of morphemes and words. The next step would be to identify the component morphemes in each of the new words, and map those.
This can also be an effective whole-class activity on a giant sheet of paper or an app, making a huge morpheme map and delegating different students or groups or students to research particular morphemes and words as the work continues.
- This can also be an effective whole-class activity on a giant sheet of paper or an app, making a huge morpheme map and delegating different students or groups or students to research particular morphemes and words as the work continues.
Students respond to questions including:
- How can knowing about morphemes help you to understand the meaning of a word?
- How can knowing about morphemes help you to spell or read a word?
- How could it be helpful for you to think about how words are connected to each other?
- How could this activity be useful in a science class?