Decoding words is a process that every reader must master to achieve fluency. It’s a skill that leads to memorization of sight words—but it never fully abandons a reader because no matter how much you read, you will always come across a word you don’t know. This may involve breaking a word down into phonemes (the smallest sounds), combining syllables, and/or matching words with pictures to help with uttering the correct sounds. To set your students up for success by equipping them with the skill of decoding words, try employing some (or all) of the following activities!
1. Letter Cards
While this may not seem like the most creative or unique method, sometimes simple is best. Simply write each letter of the alphabet on an index card and then place a picture of an object on that same card. For example, the letter “f” may be paired with a picture of a fish. You can even pair these cards with your children’s interests to help them build connections more quickly. Be sure to ask them about the letter names to practice their letter recognition (graphemes).
2. Label Your Surroundings
Labeling commonplace objects in your classroom with their names(the word “table” on a table, for example) will help your children see their world literally spelled out around them. For extra engagement, enlist your kids’ help in creating and placing labels. You can also use letter magnets whenever possible for easy letter manipulation!
Learn More: 1+1+1=1
3. Scrabble Spelling
Break out your board games! Your kiddos may be too young for Scrabble, but you can use the letters to create a fun learning activity. First, select an ending sound, such as -at. Then, let your littles move consonants to the beginning of the word to see if they can spell something. Whoever can make the most words for that end sound wins!
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4. Phoneme Building Blocks
Add a tactile element to phonemes! Give your kids plain blocks that they can use to help them visualize phonemes (syllables) in words. For example, the word “rabbit” can be divided into two simple consonant-vowel-consonant words to sound out–rab and bit. All you have to do is put them together to have your kiddos then sound out the word! Adding the tangible element of blocks will help your kinetic learners grasp this more quickly—bringing them one step closer to reading in no time at all!
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5. Sound Stop Light
Using traffic light colors, have your children practice blending letter sounds to read three-letter words. The first letter will be labeled green (keep on going), the second will be yellow (get ready to slow down), and the third will be red (stop now)! If you’re able, you can even pair some multisensory props with this exercise.
Learn More: Teachers Pay Teachers
6. Word Roots
You’re never too young to work on your Latin roots! While that may not fly with your kids, using base words, suffixes, and prefixes that are common in the English language is a key skill that can help your young readers learn fluency and decode meaning. For example, the root word “use” can be combined with the prefix “re” or the suffix “ful.” Try making a bunch of cards with different parts that fit together to form words and then let your little readers play around with making new (and sometimes even silly) words.
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7. Don’t Sound It Out
Sometimes sounding it out just doesn’t work out. We all know that this classic reading strategy doesn’t work for all words. So, why not introduce your learners to some other decoding strategies—for example, looking for known word parts and groups of letters—that may work when sounding out won’t.
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8. Practice Word Families
A word family is a group of words that have a common feature or pattern. Teaching your students the 37-word families will greatly aid their efforts to learn decoding skills.
Learn More: Teacher KARMA
9. Cross Check
Sometimes decoding can come down to the simple act of using context clues, no matter your students’ reading level. For example, if your kids are struggling to know whether or not the word “read” should be pronounced to rhyme with red or to rhyme with weed, encourage them to look at what’s going on around it! Is the rest of the sentence in past tense or present tense? It can really make a difference!
Learn More: Adventures in Literacy Land
10. Write What You Hear
Have your children practice writing words as they sound phonetically—turning them into graphemes. While they won’t always spell them correctly, they’ll start to connect different words in their lives with the letters of the alphabet.
Learn More: Kids Academy
What do you do when a word is too big? Map it! When your kids map out a word, they’ll divide it by letter (or letter sound chunks) so that it feels more manageable to them. Once they’ve mastered this skill, you can instruct them in blending different letter combinations to try different words.
Learn More: Around the Kampfire
12. Decoding Drill Time
To warm your students up before getting into heavier context reading, employ some decoding drills! Model for your readers how to blend letters into words—then it’s their turn! Start them off with nonsense words—it may seem strange, but it’s a good way to ensure that they’re focusing only on the letters, not the meaning. Lastly, guide them toward using real words using the same skill.
Learn More: A Teachable Teacher
14. Talk It Out
When your students are learning to decode, sometimes they’ll make fluency mistakes. While it can be easy to want to let this go, be sure to use it as an opportunity to help them recognize the decoding error they made and pay attention to letters. First, gently restate what your student said to give them another chance to catch their error. Then, suggest and offer guidance on a different strategy if they can’t correct themselves. Soon your kids will talk themselves through these strategies as fluent, avid readers!
Learn More: Learning at the Primary Pond
15. Use a Decodable Text
Sometimes just using a text that was created to help students learn to decode is best. These phonics activities specifically target letter sounds and phonics skills. As they get more comfortable identifying letter blends, they’ll be moving closer to independent reading.
Learn More: Learning at the Primary Pond
16. Use Closed Captions
Since your kids are going to be watching TV anyway, you may as well make it as educational as you can! Studies have shown that using the closed captioning feature on your TV and videos is a simple way in which you can improve your students’ fluency and decoding abilities.
Learn More: 3 Play Media
17. Sound Dice
Turn letter sounds into a game! Put word sounds on different sides of a die and have your students take turns rolling it. Once it lands on a letter sound, have them create a list of as many words as they can that have that sound. Not only will they be practicing their sight words and playing a silly game, but they’ll also be practicing letter writing.
Learn More: Twinkl
18. Look at the WHOLE Word
If your students are struggling to decode, it might be because they read the first letter or two and then guess. They need to slow down and read the whole word! To practice this, encourage your kids to go back to words when they get them wrong. Make sure you point out where they stopped reading the letters and just guessed—and give them lots of encouragement along the way!
Learn More: This Reading Mama
19. Read With Your Finger
This may seem too simple, but it bears repeating: teaching your kids to guide their eyes with their fingers as they read is a critical skill for students who are learning to decode. Be sure not to overlook this helpful idea!
Learn More: Kobi
20. Stretch the Sounds
This is another key way to get your kids to slow down and look at every letter: have them practice stretching the sounds they make so that they blend together. You can also do this using letter magnets for some fridge fun while they do their phonics practice.
Learn More: This Crafty Mom
21. Decoding Board Game
Let’s gather around the game board! Lead your students in a spirited game of decoding— with each square offering a new task to conquer. This set of four board games will guide your kids in spelling out or pronouncing a fresh one-word each turn using a synthetic phonics approach. Engaging in these vibrant games will not only brighten up the decoding process but also anchor your students in the fun of learning.
Learn More: Smart Kids Australia
23. Missing Vowels
Who doesn’t love a vowel mystery? Challenge your emerging readers with worksheets where vowels have taken a leave of absence. Your kids will need to add in the missing letters to fill the void. Just make sure they’re learning while having fun.
Learn More: iSL Collective
24. Phonic Bingo
Your students will love the creativity of this phonics twist on a classic classroom game. Phonics Bingo speaks the language of phonics sounds; turning traditional Bingo into an educational treat. You can even customize the game to ensure that you’re focusing on the sounds your kiddos need to practice.
Learn More: My Free Bingo Cards
25. Word Morphing
Let’s embark on a linguistic journey! Invite your students to pick a simple word to begin with. Then, they’ll get to morph it; changing it letter by letter. As they transform each word, engage them in an intellectual conversation about the patterns that they observe. This isn’t merely a game; it’s an exploration of sounds and letters that’ll help form a solid decoding foundation for your students.
Learn More: PBS Learning Media
26. Blend Challenge
Time for a new kind of puzzle! This online board game invites your kids to craft words by combining suffixes and consonant blends. You can even customize it for your learners by selecting which letter blends to focus on. The cute graphics and simple premise will transform ordinary knowledge into a vibrant adventure for your students!
Learn More: ABC Ya
27. Choral Reading
Giant chorus with melodious reading? Your students will adore the harmony of voices in this reading exercise, but it’s not just about sound and rhythm. Provide every learner with a copy of an age-appropriate text and lead them in reading in unison. They’ll enjoy the feeling of unity as they work on their decoding skills—growing as individual readers and as a class community!
Learn More: YouTube
28. Story Sound Out
Gather around for a tale of sounds and words! Engage your pupils in a dramatic reading of short stories that strategically introduce certain letter sounds. The expressive descriptions of the sounds will guide your kids’ pronunciation and stick better in their memories; gradually building up their knowledge base.
Learn More: Sound City Reading
29. Jumbled Letters
Let’s dive into a scrambled adventure! Present your students with jumbled letters and accompanying images. They’ll need to use the picture clues and their emerging phonics knowledge to decode the words; creating new connections between sounds and their letter blends as they go.
Learn More: K5 Learning
30. Interactive Reading Apps
Introduce interactive reading apps to your digital classroom! Invite your pupils to practice unscrambling letters with this online game that offers instant feedback—they won’t need your assistance to instantly know whether they’ve succeeded in creating the correct word. This technological adventure will deepen their connection with words and promote a rewarding learning experience.
Learn More: Making English Fun
31. Decoding with Music
Who doesn’t sway to the rhythm of music? Teach your students a simple song that outlines strategies for reading CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. The catchy tune will stick in their head; aiding their practice as they learn new blends and sight words. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along!
Learn More: YouTube
32. Play Dough Letters
Slowing down and reading letter by letter are essential skills for decoding—but those can be tall orders for your little readers! Put a tactile spin on things by leading your little ones in shaping balls of play dough for each sound as physical reminders to take their time. The sensory connection will engage kinesthetic learners and add a fresh twist to your decoding lessons as well.
Learn More: Katelyn’s Learning Studio
33. Word Wall
Let’s build a visual fortress of words—with your kids’ involvement of course! You may already have a word wall in your classroom; effectively helping you to group words by phonetic patterns or word families. But have you ever thought of turning a static wall into an interactive endeavor? Empower your learners to add words to the wall as they learn new sounds. They’ll love seeing the physical evidence of their growth.
Learn More: The K Files
34. Decoding Race
Ready for a thrilling race? Kick off a decoding competition in your classroom, with challenges at every step. This straightforward board game provides valuable practice for reading words with the long A (ay) sound. Your learners will roll the die to land on a square—but they won’t be able to move on until they successfully read the word on it!
Learn More: Twinkl
35. Mystery Word
Let’s unravel a mystery word together! This set of simple worksheets invites your kids to determine a three-letter word by crossing out any unnecessary letters. The activities are designed to get progressively harder; so they’ll begin with just circling letters and progress up to rewriting the word. This is a perfect way to provide appropriate difficulty levels for each individual learner!
Learn More: Made By Teachers
36. Text-Picture Matching
Embark on a creative matching game! Lay out images and sentences, and watch your students pair them with skill and joy. Encourage them to use their decoding talents to read the sentences—best of all, they’ll have the image clues to help if they get stuck. These open-ended cards can be used in different ways depending on your learners and available resources.
Learn More: Teach Starter