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Word Matrix: Free Customizable Template

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Get a customizable word matrix template, a great tool to integrate effective vocabulary instruction in the classroom! Students practice building words and analyzing their meanings using bases, prefixes, and suffixes with this free printable.

Orange graphic entitled "Free Word Matrix" with customizable template for morphology instruction.
Download the word matrix FREE at the bottom of this post!

All About Word Matrixes

Word matrixes (sometimes called matrices) are a tool used to help kids learn about word parts and their meanings.

They are like a graphic organizer, allowing kids to assemble word-part clues (morphemes) to come up with the meaning of words.

This is important because as your students get older, they will encounter more and more multisyllabic words in text. These multisyllabic words will include various morphemes, including prefixes, bases, and suffixes.

And when kids begin to recognize these meaningful parts, they can often come to develop an understanding of the meaning of an unknown word.

Before continuing, let’s review some important vocabulary terms that will be:

  • Root: The original word from which bases are derived
  • Base: A single word that cannot be broken into smaller words/word parts. The most common bases come from Latin, Greek, or Anglo-Saxon/Germanic origin. Free bases can stand alone, like “run.” Bound bases need an affix to be a word, like “struct” (con+struct = construct).
  • Morpheme: The smallest unit of meaning. Morphemes are sometimes referred to as “word part clues.”
  • Affix: Prefixes or suffixes added to a base.
  • Prefix: A word part that is added to the beginning of a base word.
  • Suffix: A word part that is added to the end of a base word.
Graphic entitled "Morphology Terms" with keywords, definitions, and examples.

How Teachers Can Use Word Matrixes

According to the National Reading Panel (2000), explicit and intentional vocabulary instruction is highly effective. Using a word matrix is one way you can explicitly teach word-learning strategies.

To begin, we recommend using the word matrixes as a whole group activity. You will model and discuss how to build multiple words using different parts (prefixes, bases, suffixes).

Your class is sure to have a riveting discussion as you manipulate morphemes and see how the word meanings change depending on the word parts included!

Word matrixes not only give kids insight into word parts and meanings, but they also are a great motivating tool. Kids attempt to build as many words as they can, and the challenge turns it into a fun activity.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to using word matrixes in the classroom:

  1. Explain the components and basics of a using word matrix. It includes columns for prefixes, the base word and its meaning, and suffixes. Word matrixes are read from left to right. Not every word needs to include a morpheme from each column.
  2. Assign a base or have students choose a base and write it in the middle of the box, along with the meaning. Be sure to tell kids that the base word MUST be used in every word they create.
  3. Brainstorm different prefixes and suffixes and write them in the appropriate boxes. Discuss the word part meanings as you include them on the matrix.
  4. Model combining the affixes with bases to create as many words as you can. Use word sums to show how to construct new words (e.g. de+con+struct = deconstruct).
  5. Discuss the meaning of the new words based on the morphemes used to create the word.
  6. After creating words, integrate the dictionary as another research-based word-learning strategy. After students confirm the word’s definition, they can use it in an original sentence.
Graphic showing completed word matrix using the base word 'scrib/script' with prefixes, suffixes, and new words.

Once you have done this whole group using a few different bases, you can have students move on to complete the activity in pairs, and then independently.

Benefits of Using Word Matrixes

There are tons of benefits to using word matrixes as an effective strategy for word inquiry. We’ve listed out a few benefits below:

๐Ÿ‘‰ Word matrixes give students the power to create new words. For example, from the base ‘run,’ we can create ‘runner,’ ‘running,’ ‘outrun,’ ‘runway,’ and many more. The possibilities are endless, and this is the true beauty of language – it is dynamic and ever-evolving.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Using word matrixes is challenging, and using them builds an interest in words. According to M. Graves (2000), “If we can get students interested in playing with words and languages, then we are least halfway to the goal of creating the sort of word-conscious students who will make words a lifetime interest.”

๐Ÿ‘‰ Word matrixes expand students’ vocabularies by allowing them to see the structure of words and make connections between similar words or word parts.

๐Ÿ‘‰ It leads to increased vocabulary knowledge, and will also transfer to how your students use words in writing and speech. It also helps kids to analyze spelling rules, such as the doubling rule.

Photograph of a student's completed word matrix and a pencil.

Expert Tips & Info

  • Allow your students access to lists of affixes to use. This Reading Rockets article has downloadable lists of roots, prefixes, and suffixes that we highly recommend.
  • As a scaffold, give kids a completed word matrix with prefixes and suffixes you know they will be able to build words with. This will give them practice being successful before attempting the challenge on their own.
  • Use Etymonline to investigate words and word origins. Introduce your students to this resource that they can easily utilize as they inquire about words.
  • Place the matrix in a reusable sleeve for kids to be able to use over and over.
  • Grab our Science of Reading Morphology Poster free printable! If you’re into morphology, you’ll love this!
Pink graphic entitled "165+ Morpheme Word-Building Cards" with word cards and word building mat.
Get this amazing Morphology Word Building resource in our TPT store!

Recommended Resources

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Word Matrix

Word Matrix

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