Our Essential Lessons are a sequence of lessons that form the backbone of the Writing Program curriculum, illustrating what we want all students to learn across our program’s diverse course topics.

Multilingual students often need intensive work on word forms (affixes, parts of speech, and word families) to help them both in their reading and writing. This lesson focuses on high-frequency academic vocabulary and takes a strategic, metacognitive approach.


This lesson models a research-based approach to addressing language errors in a way that empowers English language learners by focusing on a kind of error (word form) that is both teachable and crucial to reader understanding.


Students will be able to use effective vocabulary acquisition strategies to avoid word form errors and employ various parts of speech in their writing.

Key Terms

parts of speech, word forms, vocabulary, word families, diction, register


This lesson should occur in a single period (with homework before and follow-up after) within the first few weeks of the WR 111 semester, ideally in response to the in-class writing diagnostic or other early written work. It is recommended to use excerpts from students’ writing samples to create the lesson, which would also allow the difficulty to match students’ level. As the semester progresses and the language of the content becomes more challenging, and/or students continue to struggle with such types of errors, repeating a shorter version of this lesson once or twice later in the semester would be beneficial.


Genre Awareness

An enhanced morphological awareness will enable students to be more discerning regarding variations in word meanings that occur across different genres and fields of writing. For example, a student in the sciences will benefit from being able to quickly identify how key terminology relates to parts of speech, but also how affixes/suffixes shape the roots of those terms and how semantics may change across contexts (see the EAP Foundation Academic Word List).


Reading journals and Vocabulary Logs provide an excellent medium for students to reflect on and ask questions about relevant vocabulary from their readings. When discussing these terms, consider presenting questions regarding how certain roots may relate to other previously discussed words as well as how affixes play a role in changing meanings. Encourage students to reflect on their morphological awareness with regards to their own writing; focusing on vocabulary acquisition strategies seem to help or hinder this awareness.


Students should first read Tutorial #1 (Parts of Speech) in Language Power: Tutorials for Writers, by Dana Ferris, and also Tutorial #14 (Word Forms). Most WR 111 students will have a fair amount of knowledge on these subjects, but the Ferris chapters provide a cohesive review of rules and common errors that is easy for students to understand. Depending on identified student needs, one or two of the practice assignments from these chapters may be assigned and reviewed in class.

  1. Review key concepts from the Ferris chapters, and briefly discuss the significance of parts of speech and word forms.
  2. Ask students to complete the paradigm for a particular word family, in a chart or on a handout or a Google doc, starting with a single content word. Students should complete this chart in pairs or small groups with no use of outside resources. See the Word Relatives Chart for one possible handout format approach. The chart you provide students might draw content from a combination of:
    • observed student word form errors, and
    • vocabulary from recent or upcoming materials that could prove morphologically enlightening.
  3. Discuss the completed charts as a class, asking groups to give their suggestions for each row’s paradigm in a rotation, so each group shares their response at least once. Take time to discuss variations in answers and whether they fit within a particular word family and why.
  4. Distribute a printout of the Common Affixes Chart (adapted from the Academic Word List resources) and have students individually create as many viable word form variations as possible for an assigned word (or words). Students should then cross-check their answers against the Oxford English Dictionary, while also learning more about a given word’s history.

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Remote Implementation of Essential Lesson Activities