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Lesson Plan

Rooting Out Meaning: Morpheme Match-Ups in the Primary Grades

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Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 30-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Helen Hoffner, Ed.D.

Helen Hoffner, Ed.D.

Ridley Park, Pennsylvania


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Use their knowledge of morphemes to define words

  • Use an online dictionary to confirm the meaning and spelling of unfamiliar words

  • Combine morphemes to create words

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Session 1

1. Write the term auto on the chalkboard or white board and ask the class to define it. You may find that many students say that auto refers to cars or automobiles. Tell the class that auto is a root word that means self. Before cars were invented, people traveled in wagons that were pulled by horses. Cars seemed to move by themselves and were often called horseless carriages. When cars were invented, the word automobile was created from two morphemes, auto, which means self and mobile, which means move (i.e., cars appear to move by themselves). Devices that are automatic seem to operate by themselves.

2. Remind students that they can use morphemes to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words. Tell the class that the morpheme sub means under. Ask students to list words that contain the morpheme sub (e.g., subway, submarine). Discuss the definitions of words containing the morpheme sub.

3. Challenge students to write words containing specific morphemes. Begin with the morpheme un, meaning not. Divide the class into teams of four. Set a timer for 5 minutes and ask each team to write as many words as they can with the morpheme un. At the end of 5 minutes, ask each team to read and define the words they wrote. Students can use the online student dictionary found at the Word Central website to confirm the meanings of the words they write. Repeat the activity with morphemes that may be familiar to students, such as re meaning again or in meaning not.

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Session 2

1. Ask students to give the definition for the word television. Explain that the word television was created from two morphemes, tele meaning distance, and vis meaning see. A television enables us to see events that are taking place in distant places. Ask students to define the word telephone. Explain that telephone also contains the morpheme tele meaning distance as well as the morpheme phone, which means sound. A telephone enables us to hear sounds from a distance. Discuss the use of morphemes in the words microphone and megaphone.

2. Place students into groups of four and distribute the Morpheme Match-Ups handout. Ask students to cut the blocks apart and use the blocks to form words. For example using the blocks, students can combine tele and scope to form telescope. They can combine micro and scope to form microscope. As they work in teams, students can use the online student dictionary found at the Word Central website to resolve disputes regarding the meaning or spelling of a word. Ask each group to make a list of the new words they formed.

3. Provide time for each group to share the words they have made with the entire class.

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Session 3

1. In the previous class session, students used the Morpheme Match-Ups handout to form words that can be found in a standard dictionary. In Session 3, ask them to use their knowledge of morphemes to create new words.

2. Tell the class that words enter a language when new products are invented or special events occur. Words such as Internet and blog, for example, are recent additions to the English language. Divide the class into groups of four. Ask each group to use the cards found on the Morpheme Match-Ups handout to create their own words. After creating words, students can enter their words in the Build Your Own Dictionary page found on the Word Central website. This page enables students to enter original words and definitions into an online dictionary.

3. After creating and entering their original words, students can search the Build Your Own Dictionary on the Word Central website to determine whether students in other schools have submitted original words that use the same morphemes.

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  • Students can use ReadWriteThink student resources such as the Stapleless Book or the Flip Book to make picture books showing the words they created with morphemes.

  • This lesson should spark your students' interest in the origins of familiar words. To capitalize upon that interest, read the novel Frindle by Andrew Clements (Aladdin, 1998) to the class. Frindle tells the story of a boy who gained fame and teased his teacher by inventing a new word. Additional resources related to Frindle can be found by visiting The Official Frindle website.

  • To learn more about word origins and the dictionary, teachers and students can read about Noah Webster and America's First Dictionary at Merriam-Webster Online. This brief biography will help teachers and students understand Webster's interest in the origins of words and his use of morphemes to define new terms. For further resources related to Noah Webster, you can also access the October 16 calendar entry on ReadWriteThink, which is the date when he was born in 1758.

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  • In Session 1, groups of students were asked to compile lists of words containing specific morphemes. Students can evaluate their performance on this task by entering the words they wrote in the online dictionary on the Word Central website to determine whether the words they wrote were spelled correctly and have a meaning related to the morpheme.

  • In Session 2, the students were asked to enter original words in the Build Your Own Dictionary page on the Word Central website. Students can assess their success with this task by inviting their classmates to visit this site to find the words they entered and to discuss the meaning of those words.

  • Use the Rooting out Meaning: Morpheme Match-Ups Observation Sheet to reflect upon students' performance and to record students' strengths and needs.


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