Phonics vs morphology? Why we need both!

Phonics VS morphology?  Why we need both!

Some time ago, I attended a course on morphology as part of my professional development.  It was presented by a dyslexia organisation.  At the time, I was using an excellent phonics programme (Sounds-Write) and felt I needed to develop my understanding of morphology and its role in teaching kids to read.

The presenter was very enthusiastic about her expertise in morphology and the first thing she declared was: “Forget about phonics!  The spellings are too irregular.  What you need to teach kids is morphology – how words are built of units of meaning.”   Now, that didn’t sound right to me, so I concluded that I had to disagree.  When I teach my students a new word the first port of call is getting them to read and spell the word.  How can you read a new word if you don’t know how to split it into syllables, blend the graphemes within each syllable, and the syllables into the word?  How can you spell that word if you can’t split the word into syllables and spell each of the syllables?

When I introduce a new word, particularly a tier 3, curriculum-based word, e.g ‘geography‘ I want my student to able to:

  • Read the word
  • Understand the word
  • Spell the word
  • Understand its morphological components (units of meaning)
  • Make connections to other words with the same morphemes

This way I am not only teaching one word from the curriculum that they can read, spell, understand and use confidently, but also helping my student to start making connections to other words that are related to this word.  This will help them expand their vocabulary and give them a framework to figure out meanings of new words they encounter in the future.

Why is phonics important?

The phonics will secure that the student can decode (read) and encode (spell).

What do I need to teach?

  • The graphemes in the word – are there complex spellings I need to teach?
  • How to split the word into syllables
  • How to pronounce the word correctly

Why is morphology important?

Morphology will help the student understand how the word is constructed of morphemes (units of meaning). This will help to expand his/her vocabulary, help to comprehend new words and also help with spelling: the student may progress from using syllables to spell the word to using morphemes to spell the word.

What do I need to teach?

  • How to identify the morphemes in the word and what function they have, eg. prefix, base/root word – suffix
  • What purpose does the morpheme have in the word, e.g. – the suffix -ed
  • How to understand the ‘word sum’ with these components
  • How to link this word with other words that share the same morphemes and meanings

Here is an info-graphic that includes the elements we need to teach:

So let’s teach both phonics and morphology to develop reading, spelling, comprehension and vocabulary in all our students.


  1. Yes very interesting. I used SRAs Corrective Spelling through Morphographs in my school.
    Very good with those children that just can’t get phonics .

  2. I love this! I always try to to include the eytmology of morphographs but haven’t found a comprehensive and reliable resource. Any suggestions?

    1. We have published a workbook to go with our Amber Guardians series. This workbook introduces morphology to kids. It is linked to the reading series but has some useful sheets in it. I don’t have a comprehensive resource to recommend.

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