The Importance of Teaching Morphemic Awareness

A morpheme is a meaningful morphological unit of a language that cannot be further divided (Google’s English dictionary via Oxford Languages). For example, the English word incoming has three morphemes: in, come, ing.

In the above webinar, Dr. Michelle Benegas discusses the idea that ALL teachers (not just language teachers) must be aware of and provide instruction in morphemes.


She cites Nagy and Anderson’s (1984) findings that 60% of words students encounter in third through ninth grade can be predicted by their morphemes.

That makes morphemes a powerful tool for bilingual students in their content courses.

I’d like to highlight two points in the webinar for bilingual teacher educators and content teachers.

For bilingual teacher educators, building teachers’ language awareness should be a key component of any bilingual education teacher preparation program.

Dr. Benegas provides an excellent exercise to help teachers become aware of morphemes (~8:06 in the video). The exercise asks teachers to examine a list of medical words using lists of common prefixes, suffixes, and roots. The lists she used in the webinar came from the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Science website.

In a teacher preparation class, teacher educators could take their teachers through a similar exercise. Alternatively, the teachers could be asked to examine words they may teach in their classes. This will help the teachers become aware of how they may leverage morphemic awareness in their future classrooms.

For bilingual teachers, the word dissection exercise (21:09 in the video) may be useful when learning academic vocabulary in the content classroom. The activity asks students to cut words into pieces and define each of the morphemes using a graphic organizer.

Because this exercise is simple with low prep, I could see it being easily implemented into any content classroom. Further, if implemented across the curriculum, students will quickly build their morphemic awareness and be able to utilize it in all academic areas, thus enhancing their academic literacy development.


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