Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

What's in a Word?

Affixes and root words

Chrissy Waldhoer, Patricia Turner, Janis Slater | Published: October 19th, 2021 by Oklahoma Young Scholars/Javits

  • Grade Level Grade Level 5th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course
  • Time Frame Time Frame 2 class periods
  • Duration More 50 minute sessions


This lesson will take learners through the discovery of various word parts. Throughout the lesson students will be able to connect parts of a word they are familiar with to help understand unknown vocabulary through context clues.

Essential Question(s)

How do we determine the meaning of a word through its word parts?



Students look at words from various languages and hypothesize the meaning of the foreign words based on familiar word parts shared in the English language.


Students explore words that have the same root or affix. As each group of words is shown students discuss in small groups or pairs what they notice about each group. Students then assess the meaning of the word based on the word parts.


Students break down larger words into their word parts to determine the meaning of the word.


Students use a differentiated list of common affixes and roots to create a pseudoword. Students then use context clues to create a sentence using their new word and upload their sentence to Padlet or an attached handout.


Students try to determine the meaning of the pseudowords by breaking down the words and using the context clues. Students complete an, "I Used to Think, But I Now I Know" lesson reflection, which will show their understanding of the essential question.



15 Minute(s)

Present the Lesson Slides, "Word Identification" on the board to the whole group. Tell the class they will be looking at words from different languages. Begin the slides and have the students wonder with a partner thinking about; "What do you notice?" "What do you recognize?" "What could it mean?" [Lead learners to look for familiar parts of a word.]

At the end of the slides ask students, "Why did you know the meaning of some of the words?" "What did the words have in common?"


10 Minute(s)

Use the Lesson slides, "Word Part Exploration" to have students explore words that have the same root or affix. As each group of words is shown have students discuss in small groups or pairs what they notice about each group.

Examine the word part that is similar in all of the words. Have students pay particular attention to where in the word that part is located, and then identify if the word part is a prefix, suffix, or root word.


30 Minute(s)

In this part of the lesson you can start by practicing breaking down words into word parts by using the Lesson slides, "Word Part Breakdown" and have the class work together to break down a more well-known word and an extremely large American word.

Start by showing the word untouchable and have the class decode its parts. Click on the slide to show the meanings of the word parts and have the students discuss how knowing the meaning of the parts of the word helps them to understand the whole word.

Then go to the slide with the word pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis and have students try to pronounce the word and wonder aloud what the meaning of the word could be. Write some of the student’s ideas on the board. Have students share what clues they used to make their prediction of the word’s meaning. Click on the slide to show the word parts and see if the class can figure out the word’s meaning.

The meaning for pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is a term used for a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust.

Next, have students work in pairs to practice breaking down words into parts. The purpose of this exercise is for students to have the opportunity to practice noting how words are put together. Some suggested practice words, which are also on the lesson slides, are: discover, nonviolent, underestimated, hopeless, helpful, microscope, and semifinalist.


30 Minute(s)

In the Extend part of the lesson students practice using affixes and root words. They create fictional words and give these words logical meanings based upon the meanings of the affixes and roots.

Start by showing students a copy of the handout "Common Affixes and Roots." This handout is also written out in the Lesson Slides for you to easily project on the board.

Students will choose a prefix, root, and affix to create their pseudoword. It is important that the word they create is not a real word. They will create their definition for the new word, and justifying its meaning through the word part meanings. Students will use the new pseudo word in a sentence that provides context clues to the meaning. Students will upload their sentence with their pseudo word to a class Padlet or share the bottom half of the attached handout with the class.


30 Minute(s)

Students cut the bottom half of their word creation sheet off. They use this bottom part to share with other students and turn the top part into you. They should put their name on both parts.

Using the bottom part of the sheet, students read each other's sentences and try to determine the meaning of the pseudoword. They write their estimated meaning of the word on the back of the handout or if using Padlet add their estimated meaning as a comment to the corresponding post.

Next, circle back to the essential question; How do we determine the meaning of a word through its word parts? Have students complete an, I Used to Think, But I Now I Know lesson reflection, to show their understanding of the essential question. Remind students to give some examples as they write.

Extension for Gifted Students

Some students will find this lesson very intriguing and super exciting. Encourage students to continue researching unusual words and create a notebook, booklet, or write a blog that will showcase these new word findings. Students should be sure to show and explain how the words were created by using word parts.