Margin Notes



Reading When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do by Kylene Beers and Words Their Way, the word sort activities stood out as a method of teaching morphology with a focus on spelling patterns. Word sorts are an engaging and effective activity that unveils the intricate world of morphology and spelling patterns for learners. Through this hands-on approach, students categorize words based on shared features such as roots, prefixes, suffixes, or spelling patterns. This activity fosters a deeper understanding of how words are formed and how they relate to one another, empowering students to decipher unfamiliar words by recognizing recurring morphemes. By actively sorting and discussing words, learners not only enhance their spelling abilities but also gain insight into the structural makeup of language, promoting a more robust vocabulary acquisition and decoding skills. Word sorts encourage exploration, analysis, and discovery, making them a valuable tool in unraveling the complexities of language structure and spelling patterns.

Here is an example using the patterns -ible and -able from When Kids Can’t Read: What Teacher Can Do:

  • Students are in small groups looking at the -ible and -able pattern to learn the rule (rather than memorize it)
  • Word list:
achievable edible possible
avoidable excitable remarkable
believable horrible returnable
breakable legible terrible
comfortable notable debatable
transportable observable visible
  • Students sort the list into two big groups: words ending in -ible and -able. Encourage students to look at the root words to divide the -able list into two. The pattern they are looking for is that some of the root words end in “e” and others do not.


  • Students then look at the lists to see if they can understand the rules at play in the division. The suffix -able is typically used when the root word can be a standalone word (comfortable/comfort) or can be a standalone word if you add the “e” (debatable) and -ible is mostly used when the root word is of Latin origin, and without the -ible, they are not a standalone word.


  • Ask students to write a rule they discovered using the terns “root words” and “suffixes”. Here is what her students wrote:

By delving into morphology and spelling patterns through active sorting, students not only decode unfamiliar words but also grasp the intricate fabric of word formation. As demonstrated with the -ible and -able patterns, this hands-on method encourages exploration, enabling learners to discern nuanced rules around root words and suffixes, fostering a deeper understanding of language structures.

Bear, Donald R., et al. Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction. 7th ed., Pearson, 2021.

Beers, Kylene. When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do. 2nd ed., Heinemann, 2023.

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