Vocabulary Instruction: Morphology

Freeman and Freeman discuss the importance of teaching content-related vocabulary and embedding vocabulary instruction in meaningful reading (D. Freeman & Y. Freeman, 2014). Vocabulary instruction is critical for improving students’ reading and comprehension of academic subjects, especially as the complexity and cognitive demands of academic material increases.

Palumbo et al. (2015) write about importance of teaching vocabulary and morphology in intermediate grades. They discuss the difference between Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 vocabulary words. Tier 1 vocabulary words are the most basic words that typically do not require direct instruction. They are the words that students acquire through conversation and social interaction. Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary words are associated with academic content and typically require direct instruction. Being familiar with Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary will aid students as they grapple with advanced academic content (Palumbo et al., 2015).

The authors offer suggestions for vocabulary instruction. Teachers can begin by helping students segment words to aid correct pronunciation. For example, students can break words into syllables, look for words within words, or identify affixes. According to Palumbo et al. (2015), “Morphological knowledge helps struggling students unlock the pronunciation and meaning of words while learning the structure of English” (p. 3). Identifying word parts also bolsters students’ decoding skills and spelling. Later, teachers can introduce students to common word stems that are rooted in Latin and Greek and conduct brainstorming activities to discover related words. To scaffold students’ vocabulary knowledge, teachers can introduce cloze activities in which students choose the correct vocabulary term to complete the sentence. One of the most important aspects of academic vocabulary instruction, however, is giving students frequent opportunities to use the language during classroom discussion (Palumbo et al., 2015).

I believe vocabulary instruction is a crucial component of students’ academic learning. When I was a young student several decades ago, vocabulary instruction consisted of defining boldfaced terms. We were not encouraged to study the morphology of words or use academic vocabulary in class discussions. If we want to deepen students’ understanding of challenging subject matter, we must help them learn and use the relevant language.


Freeman, D.E., & Freeman, Y.S. (2014). Essential linguistics: What teachers need to know to teach ESL, reading, spelling, and grammar, (2nd edition). Heinemann.

Palumbo, A., Kramer-Vida, L., & Hunt, C.V. (2015). Teaching vocabulary and morphology in intermediate grades. Preventing School Failure, 59(2), 109-115. https://doi.org/10.1080/1045988X.2013.850649

Published by Melissa

I am a certified general education and special education teacher currently pursuing a master's degree in literacy education.

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