Spelling-out the structure of words is, in my experience in the schools I work in, a very underutilized strategy. It’s useful as a teaching tool and an assessment tool.
Once you model for your students what it sounds like to spell-out the structure of a word, you can then expect them to show you their understanding of how a word is built by the way they spell it out loud. Teach them to say digraphs and trigraphs as one unit. Show them how to pause a little longer between morphemes (prefixes, bases and suffixes).
Once this becomes part of your classroom expectation you can check on the students’ understanding so easily. Ask them to find a word of their choice and spell it out for you. If they just read letter by letter, yet the word contains a digraph or a suffix, you can see they cannot see the structure. It’s a perfect teachable moment. If lots of children miss a similar thing it becomes a mini - or major - lesson.
This week I called into a few classes and randomly asked children to find a word of their choosing to spell-out the structure. This is something they have all seen modelled and are expected to practise and you can see they are at varying stages in their journey of understanding word structure.
Here are some of the things I noticed.
This video shows children noticing digraphs and trigraphs in words and saying them as one unit rather than separate letters.
This video shows children noticing spelling changes in words when a suffix is added and showing this in their spelling-out.
You will see one child noticing mid-way through spelling-out loud that the non-syllabic <e> in the base <cute> has been replaced when the suffix <-est> was added. She realised that <-est> is the suffix in this word and corrected herself. The other child knows the <y> is toggled with an <i> and is struggling to show that when spelling-out the structure.
Finding the base
It’s not always easy to see the base in a word. One child started to spell-out <surrounded> and midway through got all muddled and asked if she could take time to figure out the structure. Why of course! Critical thinking takes time. She tried again and nailed it. Unfortunately I didn’t capture her saying she was hypothesizing <sur-> was the prefix as she didn’t know this prefix. A new investigation to be undertaken!
Identifying two suffixes in a word
This child identified <frighten> as the base of <frightened> yet spelled-it-out with pauses indicating he sensed the elements <-en> and <-ed>. He was also able to revise his thinking to identify the base as <fright> yet was quite confused about the suffix. He thought maybe it was <-ened>. He knows <-ed> as a suffix but took some thinking about <-en>. He surprised me with how quickly he brought to mind <eaten> and <beaten> as examples of an <-en> suffix. The next day he was encouraged to write some word sums to consolidate this thinking, then share this with his peers so they could add <-en> to their class affix chart.
This child carefully chose the word <carefully> and identified the base as <care>. She was not able to identify the suffixes <-ful> and <-ly> independently. I knew the class had studied both suffixes so I took this as a teachable moment. She was able to apply this quickly as, although she is new to the class, she is soaking up all she is learning about English orthography. Another child shows themselves to be slightly more adept at spelling-out <playfully> but more practise spelling-out for both children will lead to greater fluency in seeing these morphemes.