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ESL/EFL - Teaching Word Families

Updated on June 14, 2017
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Andrew is a TEFL graduate and has recently taught classes in the UK. A keen traveller and article writer he has also tutored 1:1 abroad.

Learning about word families can be fun.
Learning about word families can be fun. | Source

ESL/EFL Classes and Teaching The Word Family

When I teach word families to my ESL classes I usually start with a simple word and build up from there, showing them clearly how the 'family' can grow. Word families are groups of words formed from a base or root word, so I think it is best to begin with fundamentals.

Let me show you an example using the word ease:

Noun - ease

adjective - easy

verb - to ease

adverb - easily

There are thousands more, ranging from the obvious to the obscure. This article will concentrate on form-based word families as opposed to meaning based.

Why study word families?

A recent study has shown that the 2000 most frequently used form-based words account for more than 80% of an average text.
(Dr Prudent Injeeli, Mind Your Words: Master the Art of Learning and Teaching Vocabulary, Trafford Publishing, 2013)

So their importance cannot be ignored.

Learning about word families can also help with:

  • extending vocabulary
  • the use of dictionaries
  • studying texts
  • the meaning of words
  • reading
  • conversation.

I've outlined eight tried and trusted ways for teaching word families but don't forget that the needs of your students come first so be prepared to adapt each method accordingly if you need to.

The Word Family - 8 Teaching Ideas

1. Create Sentences

These 5 verbs are some of the most frequently used in English (www.linguasorb.com) and are more likely to turn up in conversation than written text. Working in pairs or small groups, get your students to create sentences using these verbs.Once they've written them down ask each person to say them out loud. Try and build on this exercise.

  • Create sentences using one or more of the following word families:


think thinking thinks thought thoughts thoughtful thoughtfully thoughtfulness

get gets getting got gotten

go goes going gone went

know knew knowing knowledge known knows unknown knowledgeable knowingly

mean meaning means mean meanest meaningful

2. Build Up The Root Word


  • Take the root word, for example appear, and build up the word family.


appear

appearance

appeared

appearing

appears

appearances

disappearances

disappear

disappearance

disappeared

disappearing

disappears

Handy Tip

In my class I like to start this exercise by asking the group as a whole to think of new words. I then write them down on the whiteboard as the answers are given. This could take the form of a spidergram or bubble cloud. I then write down a second example for the students to work on quietly by themselves or in pairs.

3. Introduce Idioms


Introducing idioms to the class creates added interest and helps with speaking and conversation.

eg You'll end up unemployed if you say that to the boss!

Hopefully, you won't end up with egg on your face!

I hope you don't end up jobless!

I'll deal with any employment issues in the next meeting.

  • Use idioms in connection with the word family.

employ

employed

employee

employees

employer

employers

employing

employment

employs

unemployed

unemployment

Some Common Word Families

(click column header to sort results)
Noun  
Adjective  
Verb  
Adverb  
activity
active
activate
actively
anger
angry
anger
angrily
beauty
beautiful
beautify
beautifully
creation
creative
create
creatively
depth
deep
deepen
deeply
ease
easy
ease
easily
enjoyment
enjoyable
enjoy
enjoyably
fear
fearless
fear
fearlessly
hope
hopeful/hopeless
hope
hopefully
infection
infectious
infect
infectiously
laziness
lazy
laze(about/around)
lazily
music
musical
 
musically
pleasure
pleasant
please
pleasantly
sadness
sad
sadden
sadly
truth
true/truthful
 
 
wonder
wonderful
wonder
wonderfully

4. Specific Topics - Numeracy

If you run a specialist class, say in business or science, focus on topics that your students really need. You could go for academic lists, or educational language. Basic numeracy is always popular.

  • Ask your students to create a word family based on other numbers.

Take a look at this word family based on the number five:

five

fives

fifteen

fifteenth

fifth

fifthly

fifties

fiftieth

fifty

5. Dictionary Research

Dictionary research


This exercise will encourage your students to become independent in their research as well as boost their knowledge of working with dictionaries.

Create a list of nouns and have them find the verb and adverb for each, together with meanings.

For example, choose the word boredom and ask your students to look up family words. Then get them to create sentences once they've researched meanings.

The subject was boring.

The subject bored me.

The subject was a total bore.

6. Read A Set Text

Reading a text


Have your students read through a set text - it could be taken from a book or other source, or created by you - and ask them to highlight any word families they come across. Focus on a verb and get them to determine the adjective, noun and adverb in the same family.

  • Create small groups, give them different texts. Have them read out loud and/or write down their findings so the whole class can comment and interact.

7. Fill In The Blanks


Filling in the Blanks

Create some short passages for your students with blanks. Have them fill the blanks in with the correct word.

For example:

If you want to have a ................ career you have to work hard. To be certain of ........... make sure you plan ahead and create goals for yourself. Achieve these goals and you will more than likely ............

The word family - success, succeed, successful.

Fill the Blanks in these Sentences

1. He sat reading the book in complete ________ (silent)

2. They have decreased the ____________ of trains on this route (frequent)

3. This exercise gives an indication of ______________ (intelligent)

4. Be sure to arrive early to avoid _______________ (disappoint)

5. He stared at the animal in _________________ (amaze)

8. Exceptional Word Families


Exceptional Word families

There are unusual words in English which are used quite frequently by native speakers and yet can prove a challenge for the EFL student.

For instance the word right can turn up in many guises:

It includes the right to reply.

She injured her right hand.

Right way up if you don't mind!

He got right to the end of the tunnel.

Ask your students to come up with a word of their own which is spelt the same but has different meanings. Can they create a sentence/s using this word?

Use this list to help find a word.

Three More Form-Based Word Families

Walk, walking, walker, walkabout.

Talk, talking, talker, talkative, Talk-show.

Final, finally, finale, finalist, finalise (finalize).

NB Note the word talkative!

What's Next?

  • In other recent research it is known that up to 60% of information is forgotten just an hour after we first learn it! (Canada Education www.cea-ace.ca)
  • This is why it's important for your students to repeat course work to help reinforce learning. Get them to repeat word families out loud occasionally, have recall and retrieve sessions, give them progress tests.

Word families are really important. They allow students to see how different words from the same root are used in the daily flow of the English language.

© 2014 Andrew Spacey

Comments

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  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 23 months ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Sarah, thank you for the visit and comment. So glad you got some inspiration for your Sicilian EFL classes.

  • Sarah Galli profile image

    Sarah Galli 23 months ago from Sicily

    Chef, I love this article. It gave me some good ideas for lessons, and how to implement word family exercises into mine. I am interested as I have a lot of interest in this type of English lesson and it is very interesting! Keep up the good work.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 2 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thanks for the visit EdTecher, much appreciated. The classes I taught all loved learning about word families.

  • EdTecher profile image

    Heidi Reina 2 years ago from USA

    Very helpful, especially the use of word families for commonly used words, such as the five verbs you mention.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 3 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thank you in return! I really appreciate you dropping by and commenting.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

    This is really interesting and presented well. Thank you..