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Lesson Plan

You Can't Spell the Word Prefix Without a Prefix

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Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 40-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Mary Callahan

Medford, Massachusetts


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1: Definition of prefix and the benefits of learning prefixes

Session 2: Correction and dissection

Session 3: Prefix match-up

Session 4: Preparing for assessment


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Identify and define the role of prefixes in the English language

  • Develop strategies for using prefixes to decode and comprehend words

  • Spell and put into a sentence a determined number of words in four different prefix groups

  • Work cooperatively with fellow students for the benefit of all

  • Become comfortable with taking risks (i.e., making guesses that may prove initially incorrect)

  • Increase facility with dictionary or other spell checking sources

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Session 1: Definition of prefix and the benefits of learning prefixes

1. Pose the question, "Has anyone ever heard the term prefix?" Encourage students to answer even if they do not know exactly what the word means. Next, ask if anyone can define prefix and explain how it is used.

2. Explain to students that they will work in groups, in pairs, and individually over the course of the lesson. Their job will be to perform the following:
  • Define what a prefix is and what it does

  • Be able to define and spell at least x number of words with prefixes

  • Explain how knowledge of prefixes can be useful
3. Post these objectives in the classroom and refer to them at the start of each session as a reminder of the "big picture," the "why" behind the work.

4. Next, introduce the idea that we use prefixes frequently in English. Most are Greek or Latin in origin and were once words by themselves. Explain that prefixes need a partner or root word to attach to, and that they then change the meaning of that word. For example, in the word prefix, pre means before and fix means to attach. Explain that a person with knowledge of the meaning of many prefixes will have an easier time decoding words and spelling them correctly. Inform the class that they should try to ascertain the spelling rule that applies to adding prefixes to a word as they do the activities. Finally, tell students that you have an interesting bit of trivia around spelling and prefixes to share with them later.

5. Divide the class into groups of four students or fewer. Ask students to brainstorm as many prefixes as they can in three minutes. Then write on the board a sample of what each group came up with. Among the list generated, choose one prefix for each student group. It may be best to choose commonly used prefixes for this exercise such as pre-, un-, re-, dis-, pro-, and bio-.

6. Give each group a large sheet of chart paper with one of the prefixes written clearly on the top. (You can label the sheets prior to this lesson, as you will already know what prefixes you wish to use.)

7. Explain to students that they have 10 minutes to generate a list of possible words that contain the prefix labeled on their chart paper. They may not use any other resources but their own knowledge and that of other group members. Explain that they should not worry too much at this point about spelling or knowing what the words mean; they should just generate a good list of words. Cooperation is vital!

8. After 10 minutes, ask each group to guess at the meaning of their prefix and how it changes a root word. Have a student from each group explain the group's conclusion to the class, and ask if the class agrees. Correct students if necessary, and write each prefix and its meaning on the board.

9. Next, ask groups to exchange prefix charts and add new words to the other group's chart. Advise students to be mindful not to rewrite any existing words. After three to five minutes, groups should change papers again until each group has added words to each prefix chart.

10. To conclude Session 1, explain to students that during the next session they will be asked to edit and define the words listed on the prefix charts.

11. Prior to ending the session, ask each student to anonymously write on a sticky note a word from any of the prefix charts whose definition they are uncertain of. Explain that this will help you to narrow down the focus for the next activity.

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Session 2: Correction and dissection

1. Begin this session by asking students to organize into their original groups and to take a prefix chart that their group did not initiate during the previous session. Using markers, ask students to look over each word and circle any they believe to be misspelled and underline terms they cannot define.

2. Next, using dictionaries, spell checkers, or websites as resources (e.g., OneLook Dictionary Search or Dictionary.com), have students verify that each word on the prefix chart is correctly spelled and that every member of the group can define it. Explain that they should be able to use the word in a sentence that clearly demonstrates their understanding of its meaning. This activity is crucial to the success of the entire lesson and must be completed carefully.

3. When each group is finished or close to finishing, ask them to cooperatively choose six words from the chart they are currently working on to present to the class, providing correct spellings and definitions. Request that groups not pick words based solely on their difficulty, but on their usefulness and their frequency in English. It may be useful to remind the class that they are helping and challenging one another to learn a useful strategy, not trying to devise the most difficult task for each other.

4. At the end of Session 2, ask students to find one word from any prefix chart for which they know the correct spelling but that they think may be difficult for classmates to spell. The word should be correctly spelled on a sticky note. Again, this will help you to identify "trouble words." Additionally, the words students choose will likely be difficult ones for them too, and this activity will provide practice in spelling them. This is really for the writer's benefit, not necessarily for the benefit of the entire class.

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Session 3: Prefix match-up

1. Using the words students have chosen from each list, prepare two index cards per word, one with the prefix and one with its matching root word. Students will each receive a card containing either a prefix or a root word. To assign cards, you may want to use a die, assigning students with prefix cards as odd, and those with root word cards as even.

2. During this activity, students must find the mate to their card, pair up with that person, and agree upon a sentence that will demonstrate their knowledge of the word's meaning.

3. If pairs are unsure or disagree, ask them to decide a way to cooperatively determine the best definition and use of the word so that their classmates can hear a useful example from them.

4. When student pairs are ready to present their word and sentence, a roll of the die will determine who does the talking. This way, both students are responsible but only one is assigned to answer.

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Session 4: Preparing for assessment

1. Compile a list of the words students have chosen from their prefix charts. Give students a copy of the list and inform them that their assessment will be to use x number of words from each prefix group to compose sentences that demonstrate that they can spell the word and understand the words' definitions.

2. Ask students to write a definition of the word prefix, then write an example of how prefixes can be useful in decoding words (e.g., "The prefix un- means not, and I know that the word believe means to feel something is true. The word unbelievable would then describe something that may seem not to be true.").

3. Lastly, explain to students that they will need to tell the general spelling rule about adding prefixes to words. Ask students if they have figured it out on their own. (The root word generally does not change when a prefix is added.) Share your interesting trivia that you mentioned in the first session, which is: one of the most frequently misspelled words in English is the word misspelled!

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  • You may post a special "Prefix of the Month" chart in your classroom. Students can simply add words that contain the featured prefix.

  • You may choose from the list a particularly tricky word and take a few minutes to help the class decode it. This encourages students to seek out unusual words for the chart.

  • There are several excellent websites available to students to help them learn about prefixes. The Vocabulary Workshop is particularly straightforward and easy to navigate.

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  • The evaluation sheet provided may be used as an assessment tool at the completion of the unit. This assessment is completed individually by students. Decide which prefixes to choose, place one in each box, and instruct students to write x number of sentences using words with that prefix. Alternatively, students may choose the prefixes for which they want to write sentences.

  • Refer students back to the objectives presented at the beginning of the unit. It may be useful to remind them that there are no "trick questions" involved and that this is not a guessing game. They know what is expected of them and should prepare accordingly. The assessment is a tool for the teacher and learner, enabling both to see where remediation may be necessary and to measure when a concept is successfully learned.


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