Close this search box.

Episode 12: The Teaching Morphology Rabbit Hole and Word Cracking

In this episode, we chat about teaching morphology with Sally Andrew who co-developed the original Word Cracker and of course Michael, who came on board to build the Online Word Cracker.

Watch episode 12 on YouTube

Show notes

In this episode, Bill, Michael and Sally discuss morphology teaching and begin to demystify a body of knowledge that sometimes feels like the next frontier for teachers. Most of us have got our heads about the importance of phonemes and training young brains to work with them at a highly proficient level (phonemic awareness), and how to teach synthetic phonics in more effective ways.

Most teachers also get the importance of explicit and highly structured modes for teaching how phonemes map onto graphemes and the additional important stuff to do with English spelling conventions. However, because our language is influenced by other classic languages such as Latin and Greek, our spelling system has inherited some odd spelling rules and strange strings of letters that mean things, but don’t seem to make any sense alone and certainly don’t stand alone as words like the ‘iatr’ in psychiatrist (meaning to heal) or the ‘cracy’ in democracy (meaning to govern). So, what we have ended up with is a spelling system with two important parts to it – letters standing for sounds and morphemes standing for meanings, and both are as important as one another for reading, comprehension and spelling. Our language is morphophonemic.

Phonics teaching alone isn’t enough to get many students across the line to be at-year-level readers, spellers and writers. Alongside phonic knowledge, learners must also develop an awareness of how words are made up of units of meaning called morphemes (or morphographs). This is where morphological awareness comes in. Morphology is the study of how words build up and come apart in ways that alter their meaning, and it’s a rich vein to be mined. Some students just seem to develop morphological awareness by themselves, but all students benefit from explicit teaching, and for many, without it, they’ll flounder.

This sounds daunting for teachers, but the truth is that we can actually start to incorporate morphology instruction into our teaching anytime we like. The only thing that holds many of us back is that we worry that we don’t know enough about morphemes and what they mean for spelling, word knowledge and complex subject-specific words – vocabulary. Trust me. Nobody feels like they know enough! Sally, Michael and I are always learning, as our meanderings in this episode will attest to! So dive in with us as we go down the morphology rabbit hole!

The Word Cracking Resources

This is the resource originally created by Sally and Bill and then brought into the online world by Michael. A few of the free useful morphology resources are listed below:

Some additional reading on teaching morphology

Suggestions from Felicity at Seelect Educational Supplies

  1. Vocabulary Through Morphemes Student Workbook 
  2. Morpheme Magic
  3. ‘Beneath the Surface of Words’ was mentioned by Bill in this episode as an excellent resource that teaches us to think morphologically!


Etymology Online (Etymology Online Dictionary)

Every teacher who has been teaching morphology has this tab continuously open in their browser. This is where Bill went looking for the root in ‘swagger’ among other deep dives during this episode. Etymonline is an incredible resource that is kept going by one, solitary fellow! So if you want to support this resource you can, make a small donation or support the author on Patreon where you get access to extra articles and resources.

Dictionary of affixes

The Dictionary of Affixes contains more than 1,250 entries, illustrated by 10,000 examples, all defined and explained. It’s based on the book Ologies and Isms: Word Beginnings and Endings, published by Oxford University Press in 2002.

Like Etymology Online, it is run by a single person, Michael Quinion, and you can donate to support him on his homepage.

Morphology helping with Mathematical and Scientific terms

Late in the episode, Bill talked about the importance of Greek and Latin roots to scientific words. A great download summarising these can be found at:

We also have a blog post on the Word Cracking website, When Do I Start Teaching Morphology, that, among other things, talks about how morphology helps if you are a secondary teacher.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Related Posts