It’s really useful for your students to have a visual cue when you are talking about the building blocks of words, morphemes. Visuals give students an additional way of accessing and storing this information about word structure. Your hands can be used as a quick visual reference.
The base in every word holds denotation, the core sense and meaning of the word, and it is signaled by a closed hand or fist. Affixes (prefixes and suffixes) do not hold the same strong sense as a base and cannot stand on their own as a word; they enhance the sense and meaning of the base. We signal them using a visually smaller structure - two or three fingers - and show how they are ‘fixed’ to a base.
An explanation of how to use this cueing system
Show the structure backwards!
The tricky part is to remember you have to show your audience the how the word is built and so you have to do it backwards. The students have to see it as if they are looking as the written word. Practicing in front of a mirror can help!
Student use of hand cues
I don’t always get students to use this visual themselves as they can get confused with how to show the affixes. However if you do, then the student should show the structure as they would see it looking at the written word. In fact to start with they could have the word on a card and use their hands to represent the structure. They could put their fingers out flat on the table or in front of them.
Teachers putting it into practice
This video shows clips of some teachers, including me, using this visual cue to reinforce morphemic word structure. Such a simple visual cue can be helpful for your students whether you are incidentally talking about the structure of a word you encounter, explaining a game or having a specific inquiry into a word or word family.
Why visuals are helpful for students
In this video Lisa explains why visuals help students store an understanding of how words are built with meaning-based building blocks (morphemes).
Credit: illustrations by Tracy Willcott