Many children with Learning and Language Differences(LLDs) have a difficult time distinguishing base or root words. (Although there is some disagreement of the definitions, for this post a base word is a word that stands alone without a prefix or suffix, while a root word may or may not be able to stand alone. For example: Run is a base word. Add a prefix and you have rerun, a suffix and you have running. Cis is a root from Latin meaning to cut or kill. Incision or scissors have the root cis which helps with understanding the meaning but by itself cis is not a word.)
There is a method of teaching spelling that focuses on meaning through the understanding of roots. One example is the word every. Looking at the morphology of the word we see that it came from the word ever. Instead of telling children the origin of the word, we often encourage them to mispronounce the word as ev-er-y so they remember to include the second e on a spelling test. A child may then be left mispronouncing the word or forgetting how to spell it after the test. If you are interested in reading more about teaching spelling through word meanings you might start with these websites: Edutopia, LEX, and Real Spelling.
However, children with dyslexia or other language LDs often have a difficult time being aware of a base word, let alone finding a root from Latin or Greek. Part of the problem is that while a child is learning to translate the letter into sounds it is difficult to look at the words within a word. This is also why the meaning created by adding a suffix or prefix often is overlooked when attempting to read.
But most upper level vocabulary (the words that add richness and preciseness to our language) is acquired through reading. And much of this vocabulary is learned through context as well as understanding and applying that knowledge to base and root words. So. is a child with dyslexia doomed to have a poor vocabulary? I believe there are steps to overcoming this.
- Familiarize a child with the idea of a base word before formal teaching. Read Alouds are a great time to stop and ask about a word and point out the base or root word. A spectacle includes the word spec - which means to see or look at. Spec is found in words such a spectacles, inspect, or respect(to look up to someone). This isn't a class in which a child has to memorize or take tests, but rather an activity that points out how people understand words. Obviously, you don't do this every time you read to your child.
- Make sure a child can read and spell a word before expecting him to use it as a base word in spelling. What good does it do a child to know that every comes from ever if he can't spell ever?
- When a child has difficulty with a word, highlight the base word. The prefixes and suffixes can then be read. For example: preheated looks complicated to some children but highlighting heat and then reading heated and then preheated breaks the word into manageable segments.
- Remember it helps some children to point out the root of a word, but confuses others. The younger child often will find such information confusing as will a child with severe dyslexia who is still working on sound/symbol representation.
- Be patient and point out the obvious grouping of words on vocabulary or spelling lists. A child who has difficulty reading often doesn't catch the similarities on his own.
- Encourage a child to follow along in the book when listening to a read aloud or books on tape.
- Find a chart of root words, prefixes and suffixes that an older child can refer to when learning vocabulary or spelling words. The link is just one of several charts available online.