Get Word-Study Lesson Plans
Wren, Ph.D. © BalancedReading.com, 2002
Decoding text is half of the game
of reading. To be able to read, children must be able to comprehend
language, and they must be able to decode text (see the Simple
View discussion). Simply decoding text, however, is not sufficient
-- children must be fluent and highly accurate at decoding text.
Decoding should be as automatic as possible. In the beginning, decoding
is laborious, and a great deal of concentration must be devoted to sounding
out words. Once a child learns how to correctly sound out words,
what that child needs more than anything is practice. Time spent
on task at this crucial stage is critically important, and the task that
children spend the most time with is reading actual text. Once a
child has figured out most of the basics for sounding out words -- once
the child has developed good decoding strategies -- the child needs to
practice those strategies with real words in real text.
To learn good decoding strategies,
children rely on more basic, more fundamental skills. First, children
must develop an understanding that words have meaning, and that there is
a structure to text. Children develop healthy "concepts about print"
when they spend time lap-reading and reading interactively with their parents,
caregivers and teachers.
Next, children must become familiar
with the letters of the alphabet -- they must learn to easily identify
and distinguish the letters. They don't have to learn the letter
names, necessarily, but they must be able to easily and individually identify
them somehow. Children must also develop an understanding that spoken
words are made up of phonemes -- phoneme awareness is one of the biggest
stumbling blocks that children face, and teachers must make sure that all
children have phoneme awareness as soon as they can. And children
must put their knowledge of the letters together with their awareness of
phonemes -- they must learn that the letters in printed text represent
the phonemes in spoken language. In other words, they must learn
the alphabetic principle.
These are the fundamentals that
give rise to good decoding skills. Children who have these skills
(concepts about print, letter knowledge, phoneme awareness, and knowledge
of the alphabetic principle) in kindergarten usually go on to become healthy
readers. Children who are still learning these skills at the end
of the first grade usually do not go on to become healthy readers (See
"M is for Matthew
These basic skills are necessary,
but not sufficient, for reading success. Children must practice applying
these skills with real words and real text. They must be given many,
many opportunities to write and read real connected text, and they should
get many opportunities for feedback and instruction from teachers.
The primary goal is to teach children
the patterns that exist in the English spelling system, but this is not
usually accomplished by teaching some abstract rules about spelling-sound
relationships -- children are good at finding patterns, but they are lousy
at applying rules. To emphasize the patterns that exist, instructional
strategies like those advocated by Pat Cunningham (Making
Big Words, and Phonics
they Use) are extremely effective.
I've written a document that outlines
the essential knowledge domains that underly healthy decoding skills called
"The Cognitive Foundations
of Learning to Read," and I've also written a short document illustrating
the difference between decoding and reading called "Decoding
and the Jabberwocky's Song." Also this article by Connie
Juel and Cecilia Minden-Cupp is quite informative.
In English, there is a good deal
of regularity between the letters and the sounds (phonemes), but there
are also quite a few exceptions. There are very few letters in English
that always correspond to a single sound, and there is no one sound that
always corresponds to a single letter (See "P
is for Phonics"). English, it is said, has a "deep orthography,"
which basically just means that there are a lot of words that are not spelled
the way they sound (e.g. "colonel" or "choir"). This is illustrated
by the following table that shows the one-to-many relationship that exists
between letters and sounds (phonemes).
||Words that represent different sounds each letter
||APPLE, AUTHOR, AUTHORITY, ANY, SAID, SAY, ALGAE
||CITY, COUNTRY, CHAIR
||BED, BEAD, STEAK, EUREKA, THE, SEW
||GIANT, GRUNT, RING, REIGN, SIGN, ENOUGH
||HOLE, PHONE, SHINE, CHORE, CHOIR, HOUR, EXHIBIT
||FINE, LID, CEILING, WEIRD, GOITER
||BOY, BOOT, FOOT, BLOOD, COYOTE, OUNCE, ONCE,
||PAT, PHONE, PSYCH, PNEUMATIC
||SAND, SUGAR, EASY, AISLE
||TAN, THAN, THIN, LATCH, OFTEN
||UNDER, POUND, UNIQUE, TULIP, POUR, AUTHOR, AUTHORITY,
CHURCH, BUSY, DIALOGUE
||WON, WREN, COW, LOW, AWFUL, FEW, WHICH, WHOLE,
||RELAX, LUXURY, EXECUTIVE, XENON
||YES, PSYCH, THEY, SAYS, VERY, PYGMY
||ZOO, WALTZ, RENDEZVOUS
||AUTHOR, AUTHORITY, LAUGH, BUREAU, RESTAURANT,
DINOSAUR, BEAUTY, GAUGE
||EAT, CREATE, GREAT, IDEA, DEAF, HEAR, HEARD,
HEART, BEAR, BUREAU, BEAUTY
||OUT, YOU, YOUR, COULD, YOUNG, JOURNEY, ENOUGH
(see OUGH for more)
||MOTH, MOTHER, FATHEAD
||PIECE, PIE, QUIET, FRIEND, SOLDIER
||FOOD, FOOT, BLOOD, FLOOR
||TOAD, BOARD, BROAD
||TRAIN, SAID, AISLE, AGAIN, AIR
||COUGH, THOUGH, THROUGH, THOROUGH, THOUGHT, ENOUGH
A Decoding question from a reader on the Discussion Forum:
Can you give some examples how can I teach kids to show them how to use chunking in word identification?
"Chunking" is a more efficient strategy for word identification that
kids should be adopting in 2nd grade and beyond. There are
certain letters in the English writing system that tend to go together.
It is more efficient for students to process those chunks of
letters as a group than to process them individually. Common
chunks like "ING" or "THA" or "EAT" should be very quickly and
Some of Pat Cunningham's "making words" activities are great for teaching kids to chunk letters in word identification.
Start by giving each student letter cards or letter tiles with the following letters:
A E T L K S N
Tell the students to arrange the letters to make the word "TAKE."
Then ask them what letters they need to change to make the word "LAKE."
Then tell them to make the word "SAKE."
Then tell them to make the word "SNAKE."
Then change it to "STAKE."
Point out to them that the letters "AKE" are common letters in English.
They are used in a lot of different words. You can demonstrate
some more using other letters (SHAKE, FAKE, MAKE, BAKE, etc.)
You can do the same thing with initial letters or medial letters.
Go from STRING to STRONG to STRAW to STREET -- tell them that the letters "STR" are common in English.
Go from RING to BRING to STRING to THING to KING -- tell them that "ING" is a common chunk of letters.
To expand, have them look for common chunks of letters in their book --
letters that often go together. They might come up with examples
"THE" (THE, THEM, THEY, THEME, THEIR, ANOTHER, etc.)
"OOK" (BOOK, LOOK, TOOK, SHOOK, BROOK, COOK, HOOK, etc.)
"PLA" (PLAY, PLATE, PLAN, PLASTER, PLACE, etc.)
"AME" (SAME, LAME, CAMEL, NAME, BLAME, etc.)
Have students create words for pocket charts that contain letter
chunks. Next to "OOK" they would have LOOK, BOOK, TOOK, SHOOK,
etc. When a student comes up with a new one, they can add it to
the pocket chart.
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Last Updated 2-2-09