Every Word Has a Story

3. Developing Word Knowledge: Exploring Affixes and Bases

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To learn the meaning of some common Latin and Greek root words
  • To understand how affixes change the meaning and function of words

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can use affixes to build a word family
  • I can make a link between root words and the meaning of a derived word

This stage explores some of the many words in Modern English that derive from Latin and Greek roots.

Students will practice identifying affixes and common bases, combining morphological and etymological analysis to develop vocabulary and spelling strategies. 

Engage students in a discussion or activity to revise and clarify the meaning of the terms affix, prefix, suffix and base. For example, invite the students to play a game of Word Builder, available in the Materials and texts section above. 

For more information on word morphology refer to the Literacy Teaching Toolkit

Write a base word on the board and model building onto the base by adding prefixes and suffixes. For example: use the base ‘port’, from Latin ‘portare’, meaning ‘to carry’.   Encourage students to add to the list and write words in a way that clearly identifies the prefix, base and suffix. The list provided is not exhaustive, and students may offer many additional suggestions to the brainstorm activity.

Ask questions that focus student attention on the function and meaning of the words. For example:

  • Can you find verbs, nouns and adjectives in the list?  
  • Find the word that means ‘able to be carried’.
  • Find a noun that means, ‘the way a person walks, stands or behaves’. 

Challenge students to suggest other words that share the same prefix or suffix. Can they predict what particular affixes may mean and how it changes the meaning or function of the base word? For example, words beginning with ‘de’ meaning to do the opposite of, or words ending in ‘ment’, which can mean the act of doing as in ‘settlement’, and can change verbs to abstract nouns, as in excitement.

Observe students as they work noting their understanding of using affixes to build words and their spelling accuracy.    

Demonstrate by analysing a word that the students may have read but might not fully understand; for example, biodegradable:

Write the word on the board. 

Read sentences that include the word, such as:

Animal and plant products are usually biodegradable, but substances such as glass and plastic are not.

If a company wants to be environmentally friendly it must ensure that its products and packaging are biodegradable.

Ask students to suggest the function of the word. What is it doing in the sentence? It is an adjective describing products and packaging.
Invite students to predict what biodegradable may mean and explain their thinking.
Identify the morphemes in the word; bio + degrade + able. 
Brainstorm words that begin with ‘bio’. For example: biography, biology, biologist, biodiversity. Ask students to predict what the prefix ‘bio’ means in these words (life or pertaining to living organisms). 

Brainstorm words that end in the suffix ‘able’. For example: approachable, affordable, adaptable, capable, comfortable, forgettable, likeable. Guide students to predict the meaning of ‘able’ and how it changes the function of the base. The suffix means ‘to have the quality of the base or root word. In this case, the base is ‘degrade’ and the suffix changes the verb to an adjective.

Ask students to predict what degrade might mean. Possible prompts might include:

Have you heard the word in a sentence?

Are there parts of the word you recognise?

Demonstrate how to consult an etymological dictionary to determine the meaning of the base, 'degrade' and the word ‘biodegradable’. Etymology online provide a history of the word degrade and explains the variation in meaning over time. 


Enable students to identify a prefix, base word and suffix in words by completing additional word building and word sorting activities (see Materials and texts section above). 

Extend student understanding of how suffixes change the function of words. Provide a list of verbs and/or nouns and ask students to add a suffix to form a noun or adjective. For example:

Encourage students to select unfamiliar and rich vocabulary from their reading or class word walls to conduct their own investigations.

1. Create a word web

Explain to students that they will be exploring the meaning of common root words to help them to understand the meaning of more English words. Students work in pairs to create a root word cluster. Possible root words are provided below, or word roots relevant to current curriculum topics could be assigned.     

Bases to explore mathematics terms could include: 

  • frac, meaning break
  • cent, meaning hundred
  • kilo, meaning thousand
  • metre, meaning measure
  • deci, meaning one in ten or one tenth

Bases to explore science or humanities vocabulary could include:

  • auto, meaning self  
  • aqua, meaning water
  • hydro, meaning water
  • micro, meaning small
  • macro, meaning large
  • aud, meaning hear
  • bio, meaning life
  • scope, meaning to observe
  • demo, meaning people
  • dict, meaning to speak words
  • eco, referring to the environment
  • mar, meaning sea.

Bases to develop expressive vocabulary could include:

  • cred, meaning believe or trust
  • fend, meaning to word off
  • hon, meaning worthy
  • mal, meaning ill or wrong

Provide dictionaries and online tools to support students with their research. Visuwords displays word families in a visual way. 

Students present their word family by: 

  • creating a word matrix, breaking each word into its morphological elements  
  • presenting their work in a visual way that clearly explains the base meaning, such as a Word Spoke Chart. Word Spokes help students to explore how the morphological root is present in multiple words. 

Refer to a list of Latin and Greek root words and affixes for more teaching ideas. 

2.  Exploring words with a shared base

Students form small groups of three or four. Provide each group with a collection of word cards that share a common base.

For example:  

  • formation, reform, conform, formula (form, meaning to shape)
  • tractor, subtract, detract, traction, retractable (tract, meaning to pull) 
  • conduct, content, concern, concede, concert, concentrate, confidence, conclude (con/com meaning together with)
  • disrupt, interrupt, erupt, corrupt (rupt meaning to break) 
  • spectacle, inspect, respect, spectacles, spectator, (spec to look at, observe)
  • dictation, dictator, diction, contradict, dictionary (dict, speak words)
  • telegraph, grapheme, phonograph, seismograph, graphic, (graph, to write)
  • geography, geologist, geology, geographic (geo, earth)
  • durable, duration, endure, endurance, unendurable, (dur – to harden, be firm)
  • decade, decahedron, December, decimal, decimate (deci – one in ten or one tenth)

Ask students to identify a common base in each word and predict the possible meaning of the base.

Provide research tools for students to check their predictions and discover the meanings of their words. Encourage students to find other words that might belong to the word group.   

Areas for further exploration

Deepen students' understanding of prefixes. Explain that some prefixes are commonly used for negation; im, il, ir, and un. Invite students to brainstorm words beginning with each prefix and devise spelling generalisations that may apply for the use of each prefix. For example, the prefix ‘il’ is added to words beginning with ‘l’, as in ‘illogical’.

Discuss the way that adding a suffix can change the function of a word, for example the noun ‘adventure’ becomes an adjective when joined with the suffix ‘ous’ to become adventurous. 

Display a cloze activity on the board that requires students to consider root words and word function. For example, display the sentences below, omitting the words in brackets.

  1. The [spectators] cheered loudly as their team kicked the winning goal.
  2. We were captivated by the [spectacular] fireworks display.
  3. Initially, we thought our dog had been injured in a fight, but further [inspection] revealed no obvious injuries. 

Provide the base of the missing words; ‘spec’ meaning to look or observe. Ask students to complete the cloze activity. If students are having difficulty, you may wish to display the missing words ‘spectators’, ‘spectacle’ and ‘inspection’ as well as the base, ‘spec’.

Invite students to discuss the strategies they used to identify the missing words. 

Ask student to return to the word webs that they developed earlier in the sequence and create a similar cloze activity. Have students exchange cloze questions with a classmate, complete the task and then discuss their answers.   

Enable students by providing alternative review tasks. For example, ask students to write a short passage using familiar vocabulary exploring prefixes and suffixes. For example: possible, impossible, possibility.   

Extend students by asking them to use vocabulary they have learned in this stage in a paragraph. The word webs, analysis of word families, cloze responses and created cloze activities provide opportunities for assessment throughout this stage. 

Florida Department of Education, 2010. Master List of Morphemes: suffixes, Prefixes, roots. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/16294/urlt/morphemeML.pdf
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harper, D., 2020. Etymonline: Online etymology dictionary. [Online]
Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Rasinki, N. P., 2011. The Latin-Greek Connection: Building Vocabulary through Morphological Study. The Reading Teacher, 65(2), pp. 133-141.

Visuwords, n.d. Visual Dictionary, Visual thesaurus, interactive lexicon. [Online]
Available at: https://visuwords.com/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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