| Nov 16, 2006

Feature Article - November 16, 2006

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Feature Article - November 16, 2006


by Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist HFL&A

It’s election time in our municipalities a perfect time for a political-literacy quiz. So sharpen your pencil and circle the answers you consider to be most correct.

1. A morpheme is:

A - the smallest unit of meaning found in words

B - a surname on a ballot

2. Reading comprehension depends on:

A - large print election signs

B - knowing what’s at the root of words, as well as what precedes and what follows

3. Speech leads to:

A - meaningful written words

B - debateable all-candidate meetings

So, how did you do? Do you think you answered 3 out of 3 correctly?


The answer to question one is ‘A’. Every written word contains one or more small units of meaning called morphemes. “Ballots”, for example, has two morphemes ‘ballot’ and ‘s’. The meaning of ‘ballots’ depends on knowing what a ballot is as well as knowing that an ‘s’ added to its end means there is more than one. The word “ballots” makes sense only when we understand and combine both of these morphemes. Many surnames do contain only one morpheme, but there are exceptions. The Scottish name McLeod, for example, has two morphemes; ‘Mc’ which means “son of” and “Leod” which identifies the ancestor.

So why do we care about morphemes? It is morphemes that enable us to understand what we read and write.

Morphemes are found in prefixes (e.g. ‘pre’ in ‘pre-election’) and suffixes (e.g. ‘ed’ in ‘voted’.) If you circled ‘B’ in question #2, you are doing very well. Reading comprehension does depend on our ability to understand the meaning of common prefixes and suffixes as well as root words.

‘Antidisestablishmentarianism’ is the longest word many of us know. Can you chunk this monstrosity of a word into its smallest units of meaning and combine the ideas into a definition? Give it a try; then check it out with a dictionary.

Listening and talking are the cornerstones of reading comprehension. As we talk about objects and actions, we help children increase their vocabulary. As we emphasize different parts of spoken words, we help children discover how printed words are coded with meaning. Circling ‘A’ to question #3 shows that you’re a winner.

Games that emphasize morphemes can be fun to play. Charades is an excellent game for older children to act out word meanings. For preschoolers and primary school aged children you can nurture greater awareness of morphemes through this simple game:

Talk about words that contain smaller words, for example ‘cattail’ ‘toothbrush’ ‘bookworm’ ‘shoebox’. Draw pictures of these smaller words onto blank recipe cards (e.g. cat, tooth, book, shoe, tail, brush, worm and box). Put all the pictures into a paper bag. Mix them up, and then pull out two. What word can your child create with these two pictures? Pictures of a cat and a shoe, for example, might be combined to become ‘catshoe’. Take time to wonder together what a catshoe might look like and if a cat might like to wear one.

Electing to help children see how meaning is coded into printed words is a vote well cast.

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