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Teaching Word Endings to Preschoolers

By Heather Marie Kosur

Suffixes are word endings that attach to the end of a word to form either a new word or a new form of the same word. Young children will learn about the -s, -ing, and -ed suffixes through the following activities.

About Word Endings

Word endings, or suffixes, are bound morphemes that attach to the end of the stem of a word to form either a new word or a new form of the same word. The three most common suffixes in the English language are:

  • -s
  • -ing
  • -ed

Although preschool-aged students are not cognitively ready to learn about intricacies such as spelling rules and irregularities, children this age can still learn the basics of affixing these suffixes to age-appropriate words. The following activities teach about the -s, -ing, and ­-ed suffixes for ending words for preschool students. The goal of all these activities is to make preschoolers consciously aware of the most common suffixes that attach to the ends of English words.

Reading Books about Suffixes Children of all ages—and preschoolers especially—love to be read aloud to by their parents and teachers. Although reading any book on any topic will help children acquire language skills, reading books about language features such as word endings for preschool will help kids become consciously aware of their own language. The following books about suffixes are recommended for preschool aged readers:

  • If You Were a Suffix (Word Fun) written by Marcie Aboff and illustrated by Sara Gray (2008)
  • The Peaches on the Beaches (Sounds like Reading) written by Brian P. Cleary and illustrated by Jason Miskimins (2008)
  • Prefixes and Suffixes (Language Rules!) written by Ann Heinrichs (2010)

After reading each book, discuss what the children learned. Preschoolers will learn that word endings, or suffixes, are groups of letters that go on the ends of words. Use any, or all, of these books as an introduction to the following activities when using ending words for preschool activities.

One Noun, Two Nouns, My Noun, Your Noun The "One Noun, Two Nouns, My Noun, Your Noun" activity for ending words teaches preschoolers about using the -s suffix to form plural and possessive nouns. For the first part of this activity, first come up with a list of regular nouns. Create picture cards that illustrate one and two of each of these nouns. Then hold up each set of cards on the list by saying, "One noun, two ___." The preschoolers should be able to fill in the blank with the plural form of the noun. For example, "one cat, two cats." Make sure the children are aware that they added the -s suffix to the end of the noun to make it plural.

For the second part of this activity, come up with two lists of nouns: a list of people's names (you may want to use or include your student's names) and a list of things that can be possessions. Then read two words from each list by saying, "This noun belongs to name. This is ___ noun." The students should be able to fill in the blank with the possessive form of the name. For example, "This sock belongs to Espen. This is Espen's sock." Again make sure that the students are conscious about adding the -s suffix to the end of the noun to make it possessive. You may again want to use picture cards or even props for this part of the activity.

What I Am Doing,_Vancouver,_B.C.jpg The "What I Am Doing" activity teaches preschoolers about the use of the -ing suffix to form present participles. First create picture cards for places that children this age are familiar with such as school, home, and the playground. For each place, creative picture cards of action verbs for the things preschoolers might do at these places. For example, preschoolers learn and read at school or play and run at the playground. Hold up a card of a place and an activity that is done at that place. Have the children identify the place and action. Then for each verb, have the students complete the sentence "At place, I am ___." For example, "At the playground, I am playing." Point out to the students that they are adding the -ing suffix to the end of these verbs.

Tip: Use picture cards you already have instead of making new ones for this activity. You could also try miming actions and having the students guess the verb that you act out for them. Choose obvious activities like sleeping, walking, jumping, or crying, and emphasize the -ing ending words. For preschool children this is a good way to contextualize their learning with the world around them.

Yesterday and Today 

The "Yesterday and Today" activity teaches young children about using the -ed word ending to form the simple past tense of regular English verbs. Prior to using this activity in the classroom, first create picture cards of regular verbs that preschooler will know such as play, learn, and want. Then say each verb aloud while holding up the corresponding picture card by saying, "Today I verb. Yesterday I ___." Because preschoolers are beginning to acquire the tense system of the English language by this age, they should be able to fill in the blank with the past tense form of the verb. For example. "Today I smile. Yesterday I smiled." Make sure the children are aware of the addition of the -ed suffix on the end of the word.

Note: For this activity, preschoolers do not need to learn about the present and past tense of the English language. Instead, the goal of this activity is to make preschools conscious of the addition of the -ed suffix when they are talking about things that did yesterday or at other times in the past.

Preschoolers are still too young too learn about the morphology of the English language in detail, but children of this age can still learn some of the basics of their language, especially when you consider that the majority of preschoolers have acquired a large part of their language skills by this time in their lives. Teaching word endings may sound like a daunting task, but a little imagination and perseverance will soon deliver some great results.