Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Interesting and boring suffixes!

When a suffix is fixed to a base, why do some bases 
make a change but others do not?
How can we identify which suffixes cause a change to the base?

These questions, and many others, begin to quickly emerge when students are exposed and introduced to the underlying structure of words, through the morphological word sum. 


Even young children begin to critically observe and then question why sometimes there is a change and other times there is not a change to the base. 
Here is a suffixing activity that demonstrates 
the importance of the vowel suffixes.

To begin the learning journey, the students perform a 'suffix hunt'. If I am planning this activity with young children, I prepare a selection of known big books and class texts for the students to search through. 

The students identify an appropriate word in a big book, or other appropriate text/literature. To provide proof of the suffix the children write the word sum to demonstrate the different morphemes, focusing on meaning.

For example:                    hope/ + ing --> hoping
                                                      love + ly --> lovely
Further proof can involve thinking of other words that might also have this same suffix. 
From my experience, initially young children will often choose words like <sing> because they immediately identify the <ing> as a possible suffix. This is a perfect opportunity to question the students and model the process of identifying the morphemes: the base and suffix. 
If a child's theory is <s + ing>;  
 Can <s> be the base if <ing> is the suffix? Does <s> have meaning? 

Teacher questioning to guide, rather than to direct, helps learners to refine and reevaluate their thinking, in a learning environment where mistakes are valued and considered part of the learning process. 
Initially, young students may not show the changes to a base within the word sum.
The very nature of this activity provides the opportunity to give immediate feedback and assess student growth and understanding of orthographic concepts. 


Once proven, the suffixes are then written on separate cards, in readiness for the suffix sorting activity.

The Suffix Sorting Activity-concept attainment.
You have probably noticed that I regularly use the concept attainment strategy (based on Jerome Bruner's work, 1977) to guide children through an inquiry process, to their own understanding of a learning concept. This strategy ensures all the students are critically thinking and actively involved by taking ownership of their proposals and theories; it allows all learners a critical thinking 'voice' and a deeper understanding of the concept introduced or revisited.
The challenge is to develop, analyse and
identify the attributes of the suffixing concept. 
Begin by telling the children that the collected suffixes will be sorted into two groups, either on the left hand side column, or the right hand column...the students' task is to think about why and how the suffixes are sorted in the two columns.
"What is my thinking?" 
"Develop your own theories and ideas, but keep them 'secret' for now!"

Initially, the children choose a suffix and the teacher directs them where to place it, reminding the children to start developing a theory. After 4/5 suffixes have been placed on the chart, the students give an indication if they are beginning to formulate some ideas about the suffixing concept.

In addition, during the game, the students are given the opportunity to place a chosen suffix on the chart, based on their developing conceptual understanding. The teacher can either give immediate feedback and/or there can be a group discussion about the decision. As a result of this discussion and feedback, the students may need to reconsider their initial theory. 

At the end of the game the teacher provides some additional suffixes for sorting, to help students test their theory. The students are then required to write their theory/ideas on a 'post it note', ready to share with a classmate. This step supports students who have not fully grasped the sorting idea and need additional scaffolding and support from peers or teacher.

Finally, the group works together to develop a collective statement, revealing the suffixing concept: 

Suffixes that start with a vowel letter and suffixes that start with a consonant letter.

Add the suffix headings to the suffix chart. When working with young children I usually introduce the vowel suffixes as 'interesting', with double thumbs up, and 'boring' suffixes, with double thumbs down.

This initial understanding then leads to the next conceptual suffixing understanding:
Suffixes that start with a vowel letter may force a change to the base, while consonant suffixes do not make any changes to the base. 

A work in progress suffix chart:
Initially the chart can have as many suffixes as needed; additional suffixes can be added to the chart as they are discovered and investigated by the students.

Depending on age, the students create their own individual chart in workbooks or collectively with a partner or in small groups. 

To revisit and consolidate learning, the students, individually or collectively, build words using either vowel or consonant suffixes. Hopefully this will lead the students to discover and question why sometimes there is a change to the base.

The next investigation can focus more explicitly on 'why vowel suffixes and consonant suffixes?' through a structured word inquiry process.

Please contact me through the comments section or through this link if you would like to continue this conversation about structured word inquiry in the early years. 


  1. Thanks for another exceptional post. I guess if they are all exceptional -- I'd better think of another word!

    The topic of suffixing with vowel and consonant suffixes is such a fundamental one. It is not like young students are going to wait until upper grades before they encounter words like "hoping" and "hopping". How could teachers possibly make sense of the spelling of such common words without an understanding of this truly basic concept of vowel and consonant suffixes. I often point out the fact that I had never encountered the concept of these two types of suffixes until my 9th year of teaching when I encountered Real Spelling as one of the clearest signs of the deficiency of my previous training and resources.

    It was this line from your text that jumped out from me on my first reading...

    "Teacher questioning to guide, rather than to direct, helps learners to refine and reevaluate their thinking, in a learning environment where mistakes are valued and considered part of the learning process."

    I had not used this frame offered by the terms "guide" rather than "direct" before. Instinctively it struck me as a rich use of terms, so I thought I'd check what Etymonline had to say about the underlying denotation of these words from their roots. Consider the aptness of your word choice:

    direct: From Latin directus "straight"
    guide: From Old French guider "to guide, lead, conduct"

    Exactly as all your work shows, learning never occurs in a straight line absent the errors that allow for testing and revisions of understanding. Instead, the structured, but open ended activities you share help the learner recognize sign posts that lead along a winding path that offers understanding. I love that the word "conduct" was referenced in etymonline. That word uses the bound base 'duct' for 'lead, bring" I happen to know that this base has a twin 'duce'. And this form of the base builds words like "education" "deduce" and it's twin 'duct' builds words such as "deduction".

    Your activities always provide platforms that can be used as jumping off points for the learning of your readers and their students.

    We all owe you great thanks for your expert guidance!

  2. Thanks for the comments and great feedback Pete. Yes it is so important that young children are introduced to, and frequently exposed, to these basic suffixing comments, with accurate linguistic vocabulary. Recently I have had numerous conversations about the purpose of exposing and using linguistic language with young children. Young children encounter new language everyday. They begin to absorb, use and understand it, more deeply, as it is used by important adults around them. From my experience, modelling new linguistic vocabulary, in the right contexts, is embraced by the children...maybe it's us that is a little afraid of it!

    I believe our goal should be to guide and lead children to their own conceptual understanding, rarely to direct, through purposeful and meaningful inquiry. Although I deliberately chose that particular vocabulary I hadn't thought to investigate the etymology...thank you for prompting and 'nudging' my orthographic learning. I love that the word (conduct) is related to (education) and (deduction) meaningful!

    Well they are my thoughts for today!

  3. Your posts are always so inspiring Lyn and although you here work with young students there is so much that is applicable to my middle school students. As always your posts are practical guides as to how to go about inquiring into the structure of words. I love to read about what you and your word inquirers are up to, Ann

  4. Lyn, What great learning with doing inquiry based activities for concept attainment! How long into teaching the word structure process do you have them search for suffixes? Have the students already had to exposure to the varied suffixes in order to identify them? I guess if they can identify a base, they will know that the additional morpheme would be a suffix. I tutor one student @ a time so there is not that collaborative support.