In order to become effective at reading words,
students must develop their decoding skills to a seemingly ‘automatic’
level. Readers must be able to recognize words quickly and accurately.
In truth, when we read we continue to employ the steps of decoding,
but we do so in such a manner that it appears almost effortless,
or automatic. Automaticity is crucial to building reading skills
because students who are able to automatically decode words are
free to think about the meaning of the words they are reading.
Thus, skilled word decoding is a building block for reading comprehension.
Being able to read words rapidly with high or
near perfect accuracy, or automatization, depends upon developing
effective decoding skills as well as building a sight word vocabulary.
Here are some strategies to help students develop
their ability to decode words automatically.
- Focus on the automatization of sound-letter
associations. Incorporate times throughout the day for reinforcing
phonological awareness, working on word attack strategies, etc.
Click here for more about building initial word decoding skills.
- Teach students how to create words by blending
chunks of letters together. Begin by showing students how to
combine individual letters into chunks (e.g., /f/... /at/ makes
/fat/). Have students who are skilled at chunking individual
letters practice combining consonant blends with letter chunks
(e.g., /fl/... /at/ makes /flat/), and combining consonant blends
with vowel combinations (e.g. /fl/... /ee/... /t / makes /fleet/).
- Build students’ familiarity with
the six kinds of syllables to help automatize segmenting and
- (VC = Vowel/Consonant): Closed syllables
where a consonant (or consonants) follow a vowel, (e.g.,
- (VCE = Vowel/Consonant/Silent E):
Syllables where a consonant is between a vowel and a silent
e (e.g., ice, hope).
- (CV = Consonant/Vowel, or V = Vowel):
Open syllables where one vowel is at the end (e.g., si in
silent, e in event).
- (VV = Vowel/Vowel): Dipthong syllables
where two vowels combine to make one sound (e.g., boat,
- (CLE = Consonant/L/E): Syllables
where a consonant plus the letter l is followed by a final
e (e.g., simple, bubble).
- (VR = Vowel/R): R-Combination syllables
where a vowel is combined with the letter r (e.g. art, term).
- As students’ word analysis and syllabication
skills develop, encourage them to focus upon roots, prefixes,
and suffixes of words, e.g., decoding sadness in ‘one
step’ by breaking it down into sad (root)+ ness (suffix).
- Encourage students to perceive chunks of
letters within a word when reading, i.e., several letters together
at once, rather than one letter at a time, for example, seeing
the letters th as a unit, or the syllable ing as a unit, when
reading the word thing.
- Give students opportunities to build their
vocabularies. For example, do pre-reading activities in which
students share what they know about a topic, thus activating
their vocabulary related to the topic. Immerse students in reading
materials to expose them to as much text as possible (Read,
- Provide opportunities for students to develop
reading fluency, the ability to read at a smooth and rapid pace.
Encourage students to reread books they’ve read previously
that are “easy” for them; have students read along
with a book-on-tape or read along with you, etc.
- Focus on building students’ ability
to recognize sight words, words that are taught as whole units
because they are quite common, have unusual spellings, or cannot
be sounded out, e.g. have, said, the, of, etc. Provide reinforcement
by having students practice sight words in isolation (e.g.,
using flash card drills), and in context (circling sight words
in their reading).