Christopher Fountain

English KS4 Curriculum Lead

Speaking at


Making students “word conscious”: does teaching morphology improve reading age for disadvantaged students?

Our students will struggle to succeed academically, socially or financially if they do not become proficient readers. Hirsch estimates that students need to know around 80,000 words to be fully functioning readers at 16. How can we teach students these words if they aren’t getting them from their home environment or reading habits? Is there enough curriculum time to achieve this? And is it a worthwhile use of school time?

In this session I will reflect on 30 years of research literature and the findings of a small scale intervention I conducted with 20 disadvantaged Year 11 students in an all girls school in North London. After pre-testing students’ reading ages and attitudes to reading, I spent 10 weeks teaching prefixes, suffixes, Latin roots and word formation patterns in an attempt to boost their reading ages in preparation for the demands of the new English Language GCSE exams. I then re-tested students’ reading ages, conducted interviews with them, and requestioned them on their attitudes to reading. Using these findings, I will argue that teaching morphology is a valuable and efficient way to create rich and deep vocabulary knowledge, develop reading skills, and improve the academic and financial prospects of our most disadvantaged students.


Christopher is the KS4 English Curriculum Lead at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington, North London. He is also a University of Oxford Learning and Teaching MSc student. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his 20,000 word MSc dissertation on the impact of morphology on reading ability. He has previously written and presented on the merits of verbal feedback over traditional written marking.