Teaching Roots, Prefixes & Suffixes to Kids

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Word parts are the foundation of our language. This lesson details various teaching methods to ensure your students learn the significance of roots, prefixes and suffixes.

Word Parts

What gives words meaning? When you hear someone talk, or while you read this text, how is information transferred to you? The answer lies in words. As a society, we have given words meaning. We have built language with meaningful words, but we can take that further and say we have built words using meaningful word parts: roots, prefixes and suffixes.

Students need to be able to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words by breaking the word into parts. The skills to decode words are a necessity in today's world. So then, as an English teacher, how do you teach word parts? Hopefully students will easily grasp the idea that words contain meaning, but breaking all words into smaller parts might prove more difficult.

One way to introduce these terms is to use a comparison as a visual. For instance, say words are like buildings. The walls are the root words; they hold it all together. The ceilings/roofs are prefixes and floors are the suffixes. The types of ceilings and floors can vary, but the basic walls will remain. This simile can be referred to as you introduce each term to your students.


Once you introduce word parts, delve further into the idea of roots, which are word parts that contain the basic unit of meaning of the word. Roots need affixes, which are prefixes or suffixes, to make complete words. Remind students that roots are like the walls of a building, holding the whole structure together. However, without a roof or floors, the building is not complete.

To reinforce the concept of a root, show your students many examples of common roots. For instance, the root 'auto' has the basic meaning of 'self'. Have students think of words with this root. Automobile, automatic, or autobiography could be possible answers. Discuss the meaning of each of the examples and be sure to point out the similarities in the definitions.

Furthermore, try to identify the roots of any words around the classroom. Break students into groups and either give them a list of words, or have them create a list of their own. Then groups will decide what the roots are and their meaning. Groups can also switch lists and see if they came up with the same roots for the words. They can use a dictionary to check answers.


Once your students are comfortable with roots, move onto the affixes. Begin with prefixes, which are word parts with meaning that are added to the front of a root. Remember, prefixes are the roof or ceiling of a building. The different materials, like shingles or tiling, affects the building as a whole, but keeps intact the function of the building. Illustrate how the roots will have prefixes attached, like 're', 'pre', 'dis' and 'un'. See if your students can figure out how the prefix affects the meaning of different words.

In addition, you can give students words with uncommon prefixes. Then in groups they can work together to figure out what each prefix means. To incorporate more creativity, your students can invent made-up prefixes or roots and then use them to make new words. For instance, 'undesking' a student can be a new term for moving their seat. Or a 'prepencil' is one that is not sharpened. You can turn this into a game where students try to guess what the invented words might mean.


Finally, you need to also work with suffixes, which are the meaningful word parts added to the end of a root. Remind students that suffixes are like the floors of a building, there are different types for the sort of building you need.

Write simple examples on the board, like 'talk' and 'talked'. Ask your students the difference between the two words. Point out that 'ed' is an example of a suffix. Students should be able to explain how the suffix made the word past tense.

Continue with this type of activity (either as a class or in groups) to work with other suffixes, like 'or', 'ly', 'ness', and 'ous'. Students can use the same prefixes and roots from earlier and begin adding suffixes as well. You can even play the 'invent a word' game, now using any type of affix.

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