Word stems and why they are important in vocabulary and reading development

a close up of a dictionary focusing on the definition of the word dictionary

Morphemic analysis is at the heart of everything we do at Lexonik, which is why focusing on word stems and how they support vocabulary and reading development is important to us.

What is morphemic analysis?

In a nutshell, and simply put, morphemic analysis is an investigation into the way a word is constructed and how those component parts help us decode meaning. If you’re old like me, you’ll remember Tony Hart and his clay creation Morph. Morph was moulded out of clay, and each little clay bit that was added, altered and changed his shape and how the audience interpreted him. He was morphed! The same goes for words within the English language, but instead of clay we have affixes such as prefix and suffix, roots and word stems.

Why are word stems and affixes important?

We believe that having an understanding and comprehension of stems and affixes is crucial when it comes to teaching vocabulary, because it means that rather than learning a finite amount of words, that inevitably wouldn’t ever be enough, we have the skills to decode any word in front of us, leading to independent learning and thinking and the potential for an ever-growing vocabulary. An understanding of word stems also allows us to see connections across words and word families, not only supporting vocabulary learning, but vocabulary teaching across any subject.

Putting it into practice

So, how would this look in the classroom? Let’s have a go:

Ask students to think of words that contain the word stem ‘port’. They might think of portable, transportation, porter, deportation, export.

Next, ask students what basic meaning they have in common or what they know about the word stem ‘port’. Looking at their list of words, what might it mean and how do they know? 

After a few questions they could come to the conclusion that port means to carry.

Then go back to the words and deconstruct:

  • Transportation is the process of carrying something across. Trans – across; port – to carry; tion – act, result or process
  • Portable is the ability to be carried. Port – to carry; able – to be able to
  • A porter is someone in a hotel who carries your bags. Port – to carry; er – person or thing that performs an action
  • Deportation is the process of carrying something or someone away from one place to another. De – away, below or not; port – to carry; tion – act, result or process
  • Export is to carry something out. Ex – out; port – to carry