Focus on Word Endings!

I recently worked with a Junior in high school who had failed two recent vocabulary quizzes using her usual method of writing the word on one side of an index card and the definition on the back.

On these quizzes, she was required to do two things: 1) match the word with the definition; and 2) choose the correct word to fit into a sentence (demonstrating deep comprehension of the word meaning).  Because her memory for rote information is so good, she was 100% accurate with the definitions. She had NO mastery of these words, whatsoever!  She missed every item on the fill-in-the-blank section, because she did not truly understand the meaning of the words (language-dense, confusing definitions). Therefore, she was not able to use the word in context.

Sadly, this is incredibly common!

In addition to working on morphology (i.e., prefixes, suffixes, Greek and Latin roots) on her next set of vocabulary words, we spent a significant amount of time discussing strategies for fill-in-the-blank scenarios.  Not only was I attempting to help her learn the new words in a deeper way, but teaching her metacognitive skills to infer meaning for future words AND teaching her metacognitive skills to more successfully respond to fill-in-the blank tests.

This young lady had such a lack of syntactic awareness, she could not even narrow down her choices.  For example, of the four words, two were verbs, one was a noun and the last an adjective, but she did not recognize that fact. Nor did it guide her in choice-making. Prior to our metacognition work, she made her choices randomly and missed every item.  After our work, she was 50-60% accurate on this section on the next three quizzes, raising her grades from Fs to Cs. (More practice is needed!)

We spent time reviewing the parts of speech, focusing on endings.  For example, words that end in
-ous, -ic, -al will be adjectives. Have the student say the sentence with a common adjective, like “big” and hear although it might sound silly, if it sounds like a sentence that could work.  Words that end in -tion or -ism, for example, will be nouns.

Several great websites have lists of these word endings, so we did not reinvent the wheel, but utilized these resources:,, and