Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 4 (Decoding)

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Here are 12 decoding strategies you might like. These show various ways to help students break apart, analyze, and relate to known words. I only recommend sounding out words letter-by-letter in a few limited situations. Beginning readers do this to apply newly learned letter-sound knowledge. It is a successful method for cvc words and other small words which follow the phonics rules. However, if this is the child’s main method of reading, it begins to become unproductive and impede fluency. In addition to prompting students for meaning or use of structure (see Fix-it Strategies parts 1 and 2), try some of these strategies to help children decode words.

  1. Help the child think of a word that makes sense which also begins with that letter(s).alligator
  2. Use the picture and the first letter to help predict the word. Example: The alligator is green. I know it’s not crocodile because the word begins with the letter a.
  3. On a word which can be predicted using the meaning and structure of the story, show a student how to cover up the end of the word (with their finger) to “force” the student to focus on the beginning letter or blend. Or use a post-it note over everything except the first letter or blend. The cloze procedure works well here. For example: “The first time I got on an airplane I was feeling sc_____.” A student probably doesn’t need to even see the rest of the word to predict it says “scared.”
  4. Limit “sounding out” to highly predictable words. Use Elkonin sound boxes for students to “push” sounds of words and then blend them together. Click on this link to see a video of this process: Elkonin Sound Boxes When ready, replace chips with letter tiles.
  5. Use “continuous blending.”  The reader slowly blends the sounds together instead of segmenting one at a time.  Example with cat:  Instead of /k/ + /a/ + /t/ it might sound like /kaaat/.
  6. Show the student how to cover up parts of words to isolate known syllables, base words, or word parts.
    • Candy: look for known word part –and (or can)
    • Jumping: look for base word jump
    • Herself: look for compound words
  7. Help student relate the tricky word to another that is similar (word analogy). If a child is struggling with a word, it is often helpful to write a simple known word (on a handy small whiteboard) to see if they can relate the known to the new.
    • For week: You know we so this word is . . .
    • For star: You know are so this word is . . .
    • For chat: You know cat so this word is . . .
    • For dress: You know yes so this word is . . .
    • For perfect: You know her so this word is . . .
    • For wreck: You know write so this word is . . .
  8. Sometimes a student gets a word on one page and not another. Help them notice when this happens. “You read this word correctly on page 2. What did it say on page 2? Try it here on page 5.”
  9. Teach children to look for chunks and break the word apart. Example: For standing break into /st/ + /and/ + /ing/. Children will learn more of these “chunks” through spelling instruction. Or, make new words using word families so they can see similar chunks, such as: -ame, -ell, – ick, -oat, -ug
  10. Tell the child to “flip the vowel.” This means if they try one sound and it doesn’t make sense, to try the other sound the vowel makes. This is a quick prompt without the teacher going into a mini-lesson on vowel rules. As a visual reminder, I flip the palm of my hand from one side to the other.
  11. For single or multi-syllabic words, practice these generalizations:
    • Closed syllable:  If a single vowel is “closed in” with consonants on each side, the vowel sound is usually short (tub, flat, bas-ket, lim-it, in-spect). This generalization often applies to vc syllables in which the consonant ends the syllable.
    • Open syllable: If a vowel ends the word or syllable, it is considered “open.” In this case, the vowel usually makes the long sound (be, go, be-gin, o-pen, ta-ble, cho-sen)
    • Two vowels in a syllable? Most often the vowel will produce the long sound (this includes vowel digraphs and the vce pattern such as coat, cone, treat-ing).
  12. Practice word sorting, so children can visually discriminate between words /patterns.

For those of you who use Journeys (Houghton Mifflin), you can access word study/spelling cards for sorting only through Think Central. Go to teacher resources, then choose the “Literacy and Language Guide.” Click on the word study link to find them.

As I mentioned in other posts, when the child is reading text let them complete the sentence before prompting for uncorrected errors. This is because the child’s use of the meaning and structural systems are huge. The visual aspect of a word is meant to help them confirm – not drive their system of reading. See previous posts (Fix-it Strategies parts 1-3 and freebies) for more information.

Have a great week!  Cindy

Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 3 “Does it look right?”

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Welcome back to part 3! In this post we will look at some strategies and prompts regarding the visual cueing system. When a student’s main strategy is to use the letters they see to sound out words, they are attempting to make the word(s) look right. This method is often helpful, especially with cvc words or words which are phonetic. We do want kids to know how to segment the sounds and blend them together to pronounce the word. But we don’t want them to overuse it and neglect the other 2 cueing systems. A good reader uses all 3 at the same time to cross check their reading.

If we want children to use the visual cueing system, there are several “sounding out” strategies. Children often need guidance about which of these works best. So try not to just say, “Sound it out.” This  guide emphasizes many of these strategies. Get it here FREE:  Strategy Chart full size.

  • Sound out letter by letter:  To pronounce had = /h/+/a/+/d/
  • Get the word started with the right sound.
  • Stretch out the sounds slowly (also referred to as continuous blending).
  • Use common chunks (sometimes referred to as rimes, phonograms, word families): spent = /sp/ + /ent/
  • Look for little words within bigger words: stand = /st/ + /and/
  • Flip the vowel:  If a student tried the word time, but pronounced it /t/+/i/+/m/ with the short i sound, tell the child to flip the vowel (meaning they should try the other sound that vowel makes to determine if it makes sense). This is a GREAT strategy to use without having to go into a mini lesson about vowel pairs, silent e, and other phonics rules concerning vowels.  Just say, “Flip the vowel.”
  • Think of another known word which has a similar spelling: If the child is trying to read the word were think of the word her. Trying to read the word tree? Think of the word see.

Continue reading

Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 2 “Does it sound right?”

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

In part 2, I will focus on some more fix-it strategies for students who are neglecting structure/syntax when reading. Last week were fix-it strategies regarding meaning. Next week will feature strategies for visual errors.

Let’s say this is the text:  She looked in her desk to find a pencil.

Let’s say this is how he/she read it (and did not fix it):  She look in her desk to find a pencil.

This child is making a structural / syntax error. Most of these types of errors occur with verbs in which children use the wrong tense or leave off/add endings. This should cause the child to stop and fix it because it doesn’t sound quite right. But that doesn’t always happen.  Why?

  1. The child is so focused on the base or root word, they don’t notice that endings have been added.
  2. The child is not listening to them self.
  3. The child can not always distinguish between proper and improper speech – perhaps because they don’t hear correct English at home, or they may be an English language learner and haven’t had a lot of exposure to correct grammar.
  4. The child is making generalizations regarding verb tense and doesn’t know all of the variations. The child doesn’t honestly know to make something “sound right.”
    • For example: Most often the child knows to add -ed when speaking about a past time event (jump / jumped). But what about run or write?  It’s not runned or writed.
    • Or while they might see the -ed ending, they don’t always know which is the correct pronunciation (is it /ed/, /t/, or /d/??).
    • The child does not yet know all of the grammar rules regarding participles and irregular verbs – perhaps due to developmental level or hearing incorrect language use among peers or family.

No matter the cause, it is our job as the teacher to try to help a child self-monitor and fix these types of errors. So there are prompts that are often effective to help a child recognize and correct their reading when it doesn’t sound right. Continue reading

Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 1 “Does it make sense?”

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

What strategies do your students use to fix their reading? As teachers, we want our students to recognize when something doesn’t look right, sound right, or make sense — and FIX IT! But, do they use the same strategy over and over again — or worse — not even try to fix a mistake? This post will begin a series about good fix-it strategies (for any age reader) and prompts teachers can use to encourage students to use them. Keep reading for a FREE prompting guide, poster, and bookmark to use in your classroom.

The fix-it strategies I will share are based on the three cueing systems in reading: Meaning, Structure, and Visual. When students make errors in their reading, the errors fall into one of these 3 categories. 

In this post, I will focus on the MEANING system, which in my opinion is the most important one. After all, the ultimate goal in reading is to comprehend or make meaning. When a reader comes to a hard word, is he/she only trying to sound it out? Or are they thinking about what makes sense and sounds right? Hopefully, a little of each. A good reader looks at the letters, combined with the structure and meaning of the story to decide what that tricky word could be.

I’m sure you are familiar with this scenario.  A child sees this text:  She went to the store to get some milk. But, the child reads it as:  She went to the story to get some milk. And the child keeps on reading, oblivious to their mistake. After all, the word does look like story.

Which one of these prompts do you think will help the child fix their reading most efficiently? Continue reading

Listening to Your Students’ Reading Part 3: Visual Cueing System

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

monkey-visual-cuesThe third cueing system is the use of visual cues (V) to decode words. This means the reader is mostly focused on how a word looks.  A best-case scenario is when the student is cross-checking by using meaning, structure, and the visual aspects of the word to make a correct response. See previous posts regarding Part I (Meaning) and Part II (Structure).

 If a child mainly relies on this visual cueing system, he/she may become slower and lose comprehension because he/she is so focused on the pronunciation and not the meaning.

 In an earlier post from “Listening to Your Students Reading Part 1,” I referred to this sample sentence: Jack and Jill had a pail of water.

If the child said pill or pal instead of pail, then that child was primarily using visual cues because those words look very similar. Unfortunately, neither of those examples makes sense. Continue reading

Listening to Your Students’ Reading Part 2: Structural Cueing System

By C. Elkins – OK Math and Reading Lady

See Part I – Meaning (posted Sept. 17th)

The second cueing system is the use of (S) Structure or Syntax of our English language. Much of a child’s knowledge about language structures comes as a result of speaking or listening to how language naturally sounds. A reader attempts to make it sound right. Here are 3 possible scenarios: Continue reading

Listening to Your Students’ Reading Part 1: Running Records and Meaning Cueing System


By C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady – with adaptations from Marie Clay and Scholastic

As an undergraduate, I know I had coursework in reading related to Miscue Analysis. I remember having a whole book devoted to this study. However, I don’t remember really applying this knowledge until after having taught for 15 years. I attended a Reading Recovery workshop at that time, and heard from two teachers who described how to take a running record and then analyze the results to determine which strategies students were using or neglecting. That one workshop forever changed how I listened to my students read, and how I talked to parents about their child’s reading successes or difficulties.  About 8 years after that I had formal training in Reading Recovery methods (after my kids were grown and I could go back to school) and completed a Masters in Reading all because of that workshop!

So, what is a running record?

  • Written documentation of a child’s oral reading
  • Identifies accuracy of reading (independent, instructional, or hard)
  • Provides a record of strategies, errors, corrections, phrasing, fluency
  • Helps teachers identify cueing systems the child is using / neglecting
  • Documents progress over time

Continue reading