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