Five Decoding Strategies for Early Readers
22 August, 2018
Do your learners struggle to continue reading when they come across a new word? Maybe they decipher the word incorrectly or get so stumped that they give up and stop reading altogether.
Early readers are guaranteed to come across words that they aren’t familiar with when reading. In fact, deciphering new words, termed “decoding”, is a core skill that children need to master when learning to read. The quicker children are able to decode unfamiliar words, the faster they will be able to read and the more likely that they will be able to comprehend what they’re reading.
Thankfully, there are a number of decoding strategies that children can use to help them decipher unfamiliar words.
Before we explore a few helpful strategies though, it’s important to note that decoding hinges on the ability to identify individual letters and their sounds, as well as an understanding of the sounds that letters make when grouped together. If a child is unsure about some of the alphabet letters and their individual sounds, try do activities that build phonemic awareness first before moving on to decoding strategies.
Decoding strategies for reading success
One brilliantly easy way we’ve seen decoding taught is using the five finger strategy, with one finger for each of the decoding strategies. This method makes it really simple and fun for children to learn and easy to remember.
Pinky – Look at the picture for clues
Children love picture books and already naturally look at the pictures. Encourage them to look at the pictures for clues as to what the word might be, or if the word they decipher makes sense in light of the storyline and pictures.
Ring Finger – Sound out the first letter of the word
Encourage the child to identify and sound out the first letter of the word. This is a handy tool to start with what the child does already know, before moving on to what they aren’t sure of.
Middle Finger – Stretch out the letters
A great way to do this is to have the child tap each letter of the word with their finger as they read the letter sound out loud, such as b-u-t-t-e-r-f-l-y. Then encourage them to read the whole word in one go.
Index Finger – Break the word up into chunks
Encourage them to break the word up into chunks that they recognise, look at the individual letters in the parts of the word that they don’t recognise, and then put the two together.
Thumb – Skip and revisit the word
While skipping difficult words isn’t necessarily first prize, this strategy is another way learners can decode words by using context. In this strategy, the child can skip the word and read the rest of the sentence, and then revisit the word later.
If you’re wondering which strategy to teach first, we suggest building upon what the child already knows. For example, if they occasionally look to the picture for clues, try to encourage them to do that more often when they’re decoding before moving on to a different strategy. And while it may seem time-consuming at first, with more practice, they’ll get faster and faster at decoding and more able to self-correct while reading.
Once your learner is familiar with one or more of these decoding strategies, it’s time for practice, practice, practice. Even if they get a word wrong, always encourage them to try and be quick to praise them for their effort.
Now it’s your turn! Have a favourite decoding activity or tip that works wonders in helping early readers decode? Leave us a comment in the Comments Section below.
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