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Giant Word Analysis


In this fun activity, students analyze the structure of a very long and complex word.   They identify both the syllable structure and the morphological structure, and they hypothesize about the word’s meaning and part of speech.  This activity helps students to gain facility and confidence in analyzing word structure, and to become more adept at using syllabic and morphological structure to aid in decoding, spelling, and comprehension.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Determining Importance
  • Inferring
Word Study

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation

Content Areas 

  • ELA

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Academic Vocabulary


  • Find one or more very long words.  This site will provide many good options: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/list-of-long-words-and-their-meanings.html.  It’s a good idea to pick words that contain roots that the students have seen before, or that are related to topics that the students have studied.  You can also use the nonsense word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” as sort of a fun variation, though since it is not actually meaningful it may be a better topic for study of syllables than morphemes.
  • Segment the word(s) into syllables and morphemes.  Use standard rules of syllable division.  If you need help or confirmation of the morphological structure, try using a website such as  Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com) for help.
  • Prepare a long word for each student or group of students.  Students can all use the same word, or you can give them different words.  Write each word with a marker on a long strip of paper. 
  • Gather two colors of markers for each student or each group.
Activity Steps 
  1. The teacher reviews what a morpheme is, and the basic types of morphemes (prefixes, roots, suffixes). The teacher leads a discussion about the value of morphological analysis. Teacher models dividing several words into morphemes.
    A morpheme is the smallest meaningful part of a word. 
    You can also do this activity before students learn prefixes, just studying roots and suffixes. 
    Morphological analysis is important because English spelling is morphophonemic: 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. 
  2. Teacher reviews what a syllable is, and what it means to divide a word into syllables. Teacher carefully distinguishes between syllables and morphemes by modeling dividing some words into both syllables and morphemes. Teacher leads discussion about the
    A syllable is each part of a word that contains a vowel sound.  There are six syllable types in English, and knowing these syllable types helps a learner to spell and decode, since the type of syllable determines the pronunciation of the vowel sound.
    You will want to show at least one example of a word in which the syllables and morphemes do not match up.  You can draw lines through the word to indicate syllable breaks with one color pen, and indicate morpheme breaks with another color pen.
    Display the syllable types and the rules of syllable division if needed.
  3. Students prepare to work individually or in groups. Teacher gives each individual or group one word and two markers.

    You can easily differentiate this activity by giving simpler words to struggling students.

  4. Students analyze the syllable structure of the words. Using standard patterns of syllable division, students use one of the markers to draw vertical lines between letters in the word to indicate syllable breaks.

    As students are working you can circulate among them and ask them what they are noticing, and what they understand.  Provide a review or reference sheet about syllable types and syllable division as needed.

  5. After dividing word into syllables, students identify the vowel sound of each syllable. Students mark vowels with their syllable marker as either short or long (they can leave diphthongs and R-controlled vowels blank, since these are confusing).

    Circulate among students, and remind them of the properties of each syllable type.  Discuss their syllable division choices. 

  6. Students analyze the morphological structure of the words. They identify prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Students draw vertical lines through the word using the other marker to indicate morpheme boundaries.
    Refer students to the Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com) as they explore the morphology of the words. 
    Remind students of the suffixing spelling rules, most importantly the y/i change rule, the e-drop rule, and the doubling rule.  You may also want to discuss variations in prefix spelling (like in/im/il).
  7. Students look up the meaning of each of the morphemes they identify, and write a couple of words or draw a small image over each morpheme with their morpheme marker.

    Circulate as students are working, and help them to use tools such as  Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com) to find the meaning of each morpheme.  Help them to consider alternate spellings as appropriate. 

  8. Students practice trying to say their giant words, using both syllable and morpheme structure as clues. Students write a hypothesized definition of their words.

    As appropriate, you may want to discuss the clues to pronunciation that both syllables and morphemes provide.  Do they see familiar morphemes?  Familiar syllable types? 

  9. Teacher invites each group to share their word with the group.

    Ask groups to read their word, and to explain what strategies and information they are using in order to pronounce it.   Ask them what they think it means, and why.

  10. Teacher pronounces the word to the class, or plays a recording of an official pronunciation. Teacher provides the real definition of the word. Class discusses similarities and differences.

    If you are not sure how to pronounce the word, try to find a recording of it. 

  11. Alone or in groups, in conversation or in writing, students reflect on their learning process.
    Students respond to questions including:
    • How did this activity contribute to your understanding of how words are put together?
    • How do syllables help you to pronounce a word?
    • How do syllables help you to spell a word? 
    • How can morphemes help you to pronounce a word? 
    • How can morphemes help you to spell a word? 
    • How can morphemes help you to understand a word?
    • What strategies can you use to be a competent reader and speller in English, which has a “morphophonemic” (uses both sounds and morphemes) spelling system?
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