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word knowledge network

layers of language

To read, spell, and use a word, we need to know multiple layers of information about the word. The Word Knowledge Network shows the layers. Knowing all of the layers of information about a word contributes to fluency and comprehension.

How does this work? Let’s take a look at each layer of information for the word cast. 


The word cast is made up of four sounds.  We can listen to the word cast and segment the word into those sounds: /k/ /a/ /s/ /t/. We can also blend the sounds /k/ /a/ /s/ /t/ to say the word: cast. Segmenting and blending individual sounds—called phonemes—are essential skills to spell and read. Being able to hear and feel how the sounds are formed are essential to establishing sound-to-spelling correspondences.


Words have meanings, too. In fact, many words have multiple meanings. For example, the word cast can mean a stiff bandage for a broken bone, a group of performers in a movie, or to throw a fishing line. Each meaning fits into a conceptual category—types of bandages, groups of people, or actions. Categories help us organize and remember words. Most words have synonyms, which are words that mean the same thing: cast means almost the same as throw. Many words have antonyms, which are words that mean the opposite: cast is the opposite of hold. 


Each sound in a word is represented with a letter or letter combination called graphemes. The sounds /k//a//s//t/ are spelled with the letters c a s t. Sometimes a sound is spelled using two letters. In /b//a//k/, the /k/ is spelled with ck in the word back. -ck is an example of a letter pattern rule, namely that we use ck when we hear /k/ at the end of a one-syllable word after a short vowel sound. 


Cast is also a morpheme, which is a unit of meaning. The meaning of words can be changed by adding other morphemes. Some are called inflectional endings. They signal time (-ed), number (-s), or possession (‘s). The meaning of the word cast can be changed to be casted, casts, or cast’s. Another group of morphemes—roots, prefixes and suffixes—allow us to build and read longer words. Adding the prefix re– (again) to cast (to give a part in a movie) creates the word recast (to cast the part again). 


Syllables are words or parts of words with a single vowel sound. Cast is a syllable with the short vowel for a. Each type of syllable is based on a particular type of vowel sound. Cast is also part of longer words like castaway and recast. Recognizing these word parts accelerates figuring out new words.


To determine the meaning of a word, we need context. Phrases, clauses, and sentences provide context. The other words and the order of the words helps us determine meaning. For example, the sentence His leg is in a cast. helps us determine the meaning of cast. Knowing the meaning of cast, also helps us understand that his leg is broken. The function of a word, that is the question the word answers, helps readers construct meaning. The word cast can answer the question “What did it?” in the sentence His cast protected his broken leg. or “Did what?” in the sentence He cast his fishing line into the lake

Knowing all of these layers about cast helps us read, spell and understand this word.  Each of the activities in Sortegories provides practice with a layer of language on the Word Knowledge Network.

word knowledge network infographic

want to dig deeper into the reading circuit?

Watch Dr. Carolyn Strom as she describes the reading circuit. Think about the way that Sortegories can make connections in our cortex!