Decoding words is a process every reader must master in order to achieve fluency. It's one of those skills which leads to memorization of sight words, but 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 sounds. To help equip students with the skill of decoding words, parents and teachers can employ some (or all) of the following strategies!
1. Create Letter Cards
While this may not seem like the most creative or unique method, sometimes simple is best. Simply write the letters on an index card, then place a picture of an object on that same card. For example, the sound "f" may be paired with a picture of a fish. You can even theme these cards to your children's interests to help them build connections more quickly, and be sure to ask them about the letter names to practice their letter recognition (graphemes).
Learn more: The Teacher Training
2. Label your house
Labeling commonplace objects in your home with their starting sound ("couch"), your children will be able to see their world literally spelled out around them can help build a kinesthetic connection between reading and their world, as well. You can also use letter magnets whenever possible for easy letter manipulation!
Learn more: 1+1+1=1
3. Scrabble Spelling
Using the letters from a Scrabble game to create a fun learning activity, select an ending sound (such as -at). Then, practice moving consonants to the beginning of the word. Whoever can make the most words for that end sound wins!
Learn more: Super Teacher
4. Phoneme Building Blocks
By using building blocks coded by color in this lesson activity, have the children break the words into syllables and then sound them out. For example, the word "rabbit" is to be divided between the two "b's". Then you have two simple consonant-vowel-consonant words to sound out--rab and bit. All you have to do is put them together to sound out the word! This can help you see how they are doing on their grasp of letter sounds, as well as with individual letters.
Learn more: The Balanced Literacy Diet
5. Sound Stop Light
Using traffic light colors, have the children practice blending letter sounds with three-letter words. The first letter is to 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, teachers can even use 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! For real, using base words, suffixes, and affixes that are common in the English language is a key skill that can help young readers learn fluency and decode meaning. Try making a bunch of cards with different parts that fit together (as seen below) then let your little reader play around with making new (and sometimes even silly) words. It really is a fundamental skill!
Learn more: Teacher's Takeout
7. Try, Try Again!
If at first, you don't succeed... try again! This works with literacy skills, too. Have children (especially upper elementary) try out different pronunciations of letter sounds and the letter patterns to determine which way the sound goes. For example, -ow in snow versus -ow in now.
Learn more: Teaching with Jennifer Findley
8. Practice word families
Word families are groups of words that have a common feature or pattern. Learning the 37 word families can greatly aid a student in his/her efforts to learn decoding skills.
Learn more: Enchanted Learning
9. Cross Check
Sometimes decoding can come down to the simple act of using context clues, no matter your reading level. If you struggle to know whether or not the word "read" should be pronounced like "read" (the color) or "read" (as in weed), look at what is going on around the word! Is the rest of the sentence in past tense or present tense? It can really make a difference!
Learn more: ELA Anchor Charts
10. Write What You Hear
Have children practice writing words they hear phonetically, turning them into graphemes. While they are not always going to spell it right, they will start to connect different words in their lives with letters of the alphabet (step 3).
Learn more: My Teaching Pal
When you map out a word, you divide it by letter (or letter sound chunks) so it feels more manageable and conquerable. Then the teacher can instruct children to blend a different letter combination to try a different word.
Learn more: My Teaching Pal
12. Decoding Drill Time
To warm a student up before getting into heavier context reading, the teacher can employ some decoding drills! This helps students focus on one vowel sound (or blended sound) at a time and when used regularly will help improve overall fluency. This can be done with any color of paper!
Learn more: A Teachable Teacher
13. Read Aloud
It's widely known to educators everywhere that reading aloud to students is still the best way to model fluency and phonemic awareness. Try following the words with your own finger to model this to students so they can match the phonemes with the graphemes in your read aloud book. This direct instruction is an essential strategy and an efficient strategy that can be used by any teacher at any level with lots of books.
Learn more: Advancement Courses
14. Talk It Out
When students are learning to decode, sometimes they make fluency mistakes. While it can be easy to want to let this go, a teacher should use it as an opportunity to help students recognize the decoding error they made and pay attention to letters. See the image for an example of how to guide these conversations!
Learn more: Learning at the Primary Pond
15. Use a decodable text
16. Use Closed Captions:
Since 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 can improve students' fluency and decoding abilities. (https://www.3playmedia.com/blog/closed-captions-improve-literacy-children/)
Learn more: 3 Play Media
17. Sound Dice
Put word sounds on different sides of a die and have students practice 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 will also be able to practice writing letters.
Learn more: Tejeda's Tots
18. Look at the WHOLE Word
Sometimes students struggle to decode because they read the first letter or two, then guess. They need to slow down and read the whole part of the word. To practice this, have kids go back to a word they get wrong. Make sure you point out where they stopped reading the correct word and just guessed, and give them lots of encouragement!
Learn more: This Reading Mama
19. Read With Your Finger
This has been mentioned in addition to other strategies in this column, but it's important to note that guiding your eye with your finger as you read is a critical skill for students learning to decode and shouldn't be overlooked!
Learn more: Kobi
20. Stretch the Sounds
Have students read and practice stretching the sounds they make so 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