Learn What Works

Definition and Rationale for Teaching Structural Analysis

Structural analysis uses word parts such as root words, prefixes, suffixes, inflectional endings, and Greek and Latin roots to analyze unknown words.  Linguists call these word parts “morphemes”, so structural analysis is sometimes referred to as “morphemic analysis”.  The four kinds of structural units commonly analyzed include:

  • Compound words: words created from units of meaning. For example, the compound word grandmother is made by combining the words grand and mother.
  • Prefixes and suffixes: these are considered structural units as they assist readers in analyzing the meaning of unknown words. For example, the prefix il- means not, so that the word illiterate means not literate, whereas the suffix -ful means full, so that the word playful means full of play.
  • Inflectional endings: are used to alter the meaning of a word, such as the plural -s or the endings -ing and -ed. These are morphemes because they signal meaning.
  • Greek and Latin roots; these are utilized to assist students in identifying unknown words. For example, cosm means world or universe, as in cosmos, microcosm, or cosmopolitan.

See How it Works

Word – Clue Evaluation Example
Common Greek and Latin Roots
Common Word Parts
Layers of the English Language

When an unknown word is made up of structural units, or morphemes, structural analysis can be a quick and efficient way of figuring out the meaning of the word. However, it is only useful when structural units are present. Consequently, an important element of teaching structural analysis is emphasizing that it works only when a word contains morphemes, or structural units. These would include compound words, prefixes or suffixes, inflectional meanings, and/or Greek or Latin roots.

There are several steps involved in using structural analysis. Students best learn these steps through explicit instruction and practice. The teacher will first explicitly teach the structural analysis process through identification and modeling, thinking aloud, and coaching. This will be followed by collaborative group practice, teacher-guided small group work, and eventually individual use of structural analysis utilizing the four types of structural units. It is important to always ground the instruction in real text.

Central Rivers AEA Lending Library Resources

Do What Works

Word clue evaluation for students (blank)
Strategies for students when they are reading independently (appropriate for posting)


  • Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2008). Creating Robust Vocabulary: Frequently Asked Questions and Extended Examples. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Diamond, L., Gutlhon, L. (2006). Vocabulary Handbook. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  • Duffy, G. G. (2003). Explaining Reading: A Resource for Teaching Concepts, Skills, and Strategies. New York: Guilford Press.