Morpheme Matrices: A Tool for Assembling Multi-Syllable Words

In a recent COABE Journal article, Morphological Awareness Intervention: Improving Spelling, Vocabulary, and Reading Comprehension for Adult Learners (Bangs & Binder), the authors found that teaching morphemes with word sums or matrices was “successful in promoting phonological and morphological awareness, spelling, and vocabulary skills” (page 52). They also suggested that teaching morphemes “will benefit other skills, particularly higher level skills” (page 53). I was intrigued by their pilot study results and conducted some further research.

First of all, I clarified my understanding of these terms:

  • Phonemes: single units of sound (consonants and vowels) that are combined into short words. Beginning-level readers typically need to learn the 45 English phonemes or sounds, their corresponding graphemes or letters, and how to blend and segment them for reading and spelling.
  • Morphemes: small units of meaning (prefixes, roots, suffixes) that are combined into longer words. Intermediate-level readers are usually ready to learn a variety of morphemes, how to blend and segment them for reading and spelling, and identify changes in meaning, number, tense, or part of speech.
  • Roots: the essential core of words. Some can stand ‘freely’ on their own as meaningful words, be joined to form compounds, or be combined with prefixes and suffixes. Others must be combined or ‘bound’ with prefixes and suffixes to form meaningful words.

Then I searched for samples of morpheme matrices and sequences of morpheme instruction. I found both in the book, Unlocking Literacy, Effective Decoding & Spelling Instruction, 2nd Edition, by Marcia K. Henry (available from The author believes teaching a variety of high-frequency morphemes sooner rather than later gives readers “the power of word expansion” (page 97).

I had great fun developing a simple, left-to-right, morpheme matrix, steps for explicit instruction, ten matrices using common Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes, and Word Keys. Morpheme matrices are quite flexible; each can be a standalone activity used with one or more students on a regular or irregular basis. Over time, they can promote multi-syllable word reading, spelling, and understanding. Below is an example:

My new resource, Morpheme Matrices, is a work in progress; it will be expanded to provide clues to over 100,000 words! You can find it in the ATLAS Reading resource library under Alphabetics.


Bangs, K. E. & Binder, K. S. (2016). Morphological awareness intervention: Improving spelling, vocabulary, and reading comprehension for adult learners. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education 5.1: 49-56.

Henry, M. K. (2010). Unlocking Literacy, Effective Decoding & Spelling Instruction, 2nd Edition. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Baltimore, MD.

Marn Frank, Literacy & STAR Coordinator ATLAS