Learning to Use Word-Meaning Clues

Students might notice that some syllables in a word have meaning but that other syllables don’t. For the word mat, its one syllable has a mean­ing. But in the word material, none of the syllables has an individual meaning (ma- te- ri- al). Some words are made up of two whole words put together. Making compound words, such as bedroom and pocketbook, is a fun way for students to construct bigger words from small words. Learn­ing to take apart compound words is also a useful decoding skill.

Sometimes, the parts of a multisyllabic word have meanings but are not complete words, such as in the word unfold. The root word fold has a meaning, but so does the prefix un-. Suf­fixes also have meanings, as in the word childish. You can help students learn and remember the prefixes and suffixes with simple word play. For example, students can make up words, such as unlook or purpleness, and then explain what these made-up words mean. They can also look at words that have prefixes and suffixes and figure out what they mean. For example, they can figure out that the word reusable means “able to be used again.” The tool on the following page can be used with students. It helps beginning readers build real and made-up words using root words, prefixes, and suffixes.