A Twist On Teaching Affixes

Engage your class in prefix and suffix instruction with these helpful ideas.

By Dawn Dodson


pile of words

The ability to decipher unknown words using affix and root word knowledge is a valuable literacy skill to master. As with all instruction, I follow a three-step process to introduce, practice for mastery, and assess students’ learning of a concept and/or skill. During word study instruction and practice times, I like to have a variety of activities for my class to complete in order to demonstrate mastery. The activities range from graphic organizing and games, to assessment preparation and real-world simulations. The goal is for learners to apply their knowledge to various literacy situations they will encounter throughout life. The following is an offering of ideas to add some variety to prefix and suffix instruction.

Graphic Organizing

Graphically organizing word affixes can allow learners to comprehend the function and meaning of the individual word parts. During the introduction phase of instruction, they receive a four-column chart that lists either prefixes or suffixes. As a class, we discuss each affix listed in the first column, and write the definition in the second column. In the third column, learners are required to find three examples of words that contain each affix. The dictionary and thesaurus have proven to be effective resources. The fourth column requires them to choose one example and identify and write the definition of the root word, as well as note how the definition changed with the addition of the affix. The completed chart must be brought to class the following day.

Word Game

With completed graphic organizers in hand, the next day’s lesson includes dividing the class into small groups of three or four. In these groups, they compile a vocabulary list from the examples included in the organizer. I limit it to two examples for each affix. The lists are then turned into a word-part game. Students write the words on sentence strips, cut them apart according to the root and affix, and assemble them into separate piles (i.e. a prefix pile, a suffix pile, and a root word pile). Then they shuffle each card pile, face each pile downward, and are given a blank three-column chart. A player draws a card from each pile and assembles the new word. On the chart, he writes the assembled word in the first column, root meaning in the second, and assembled word meaning in the third. To vary the game, groups have traded vocabulary lists and cards to play with different word examples. This game gives learners the opportunity to practice manipulating word parts and analyzing how word meanings change with each affix.

Real-Word Simulation

After practicing the use of word affixes, use these activities to demonstrate real-life situations where students may be required to apply affix and root word knowledge. The first activity begins shortly after the introduction. I cover a section of the bulletin board with paper and ask the class to list words containing affixes or root words that we have previously covered. This helps raise their awareness of the words around them. Likewise, I provide them with cross-curricular texts, menus, newspapers, instruction manuals, and anything else I can find. Discussion centers on the idea that in many real-life situations, being able to correctly identify and understand the meanings of words allows one to use those clues to discover meanings of unknown words. Pupils are then assessed on knowledge of root/affix meanings as well as the application and ability to use them as context clues. From the graphic organizers, to the example real-life situations, allowing students the opportunity to explore, analyze, and apply their learning are all helpful in effective word study instruction.

More Affix Lesson Ideas:

Word Walls for Intermediate Grades

This is a lesson guide on how to construct an effective word wall for intermediate students. From the basic concepts, to the kinds of words to choose, this lesson allows one to construct a word wall that is user-friendly for everyone.

Sail on the Vocabulary Ship

In this creative lesson, learners apply their knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and root words. They will then construct ships where they write word parts on different sections of the paper ships.

“Bunnicula” Reading Lesson

After listening to a read aloud, identify words with a prefix/suffix. Then apply learning through creating new words by using the found prefixes and suffixes.

Word Structure—Prefix and Suffix 

In this lesson, students use multiple literacy skills to define common prefixes and suffixes. Your class can turn their learning into a dictionary.  

Language Arts Guide

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Dawn Dodson