The Best Decoding Strategies For Beginning And Struggling Readers

At some point, everyone has to learn how to read, and this is a process that takes time to master. Not everyone learns the same way, and for this reason, there are various ways in which you can teach anyone to read.

The Best Decoding Strategies For Beginning And Struggling Readers

This is where decoding strategies come in, which can help beginner or struggling readers. Since there are various different decoding strategies, it can become a matter of trial and error to find the one that works for your students.

In addition to this, there are lots of different decoding activities, which can make decoding words much easier. In this article, we will discuss the best decoding strategies that you can try with beginner or struggling readers.

What Is Decoding?

When we refer to decoding, this is the term that is used for sounding a word out. Decoding is the process of correctly pronouncing written words using your understanding of the relationships between sounds and letters, especially letter patterns.

Individuals who comprehend these connections are better able to quickly identify known words and work out unfamiliar words. The ability to decode words comes effortlessly to many kids, but some require special education.

How Do You Teach Decoding Skills?

Phonological understanding and phonics instruction are crucial components of teaching kids how to decode words(see also: Understanding Silent E Words When It Comes To Teaching). The foundation for learning to read and spell is phonological awareness.

Students cannot sound out a word if they are unaware of the sounds that different letters create. Students will also be able to decode words by breaking them down into smaller pieces with the aid of morphological knowledge.

If they are familiar with suffixes, prefixes, roots, and bases, they can recognize those components and begin there. Additionally, students should be familiar with typical spelling patterns, word parts, syllable division, and phonemic awareness.

When pupils have a solid foundation in phonology, you may demonstrate efficient decoding techniques.

Before students can use any of the strategies listed below on their own, it’s crucial to explicitly demonstrate how to execute each one to them several times. Show your students how they can use these techniques, thus clearing up any confusion for the students.

Decoding Strategies To Try

When it comes to these decoding strategies, no one is better than the other. Some of these strategies may seem simpler than others, but it all depends on what your students find easy to understand and use.

You may also find that some strategies work well for simple words, but you will need to use a different strategy for more complex words. Below, you will find all the different decoding strategies that you may wish to use.

Phoneme Segmentation

When learning to read, pupils begin by honing the two skills of segmenting and blending. Students must initially segment the sounds when they encounter a word they are unfamiliar with.

Teach them to start from the left and progress to the right while using their fingers to sound out each letter of the word. By breaking down each word, they can understand how the word is supposed to sound and how to say it. For example:

  • She – Sh, ee
  • Blue – B, l, oo
  • Clock – K, l, o, k


Students can combine the sounds to say the word after segmenting it. Teach them to mix the sounds of the word by moving their finger from left to right, over each one as they pronounce it.

There are a couple of different blending techniques, which includes continuous, final and isolated.

  • Continuous – You should stretch out every sound, so it becomes a continuous flow of sounds. For example: mmmmaaaat.
  • Final – For this blending technique, students ought to blend the initial two sounds together and then include the final sound. For example: ma -t.
  • Isolated – Students should start off by saying the very first letter/sound the loudest, and then say each following sound more softly. Thus, the last letter sounds the quietest. For example: M- a -t.

Marking Consonants And Vowels

Marking the consonants and vowels of a word can also be referred to as dot and spot. Your students should look at the word they are focusing on and place a dot over each vowel that they recognize.

They can determine the world’s syllable count thanks to this. Below the word, they can also indicate the consonants and vowels with a C and V.

Vowel couples and consonant digraphs are two concepts that students will need to be familiar with in order to divide up the sounds in the word.

Breaking Apart Syllables

The Best Decoding Strategies For Beginning And Struggling Readers

Identifying vowel sounds and splitting up multisyllabic words both benefit greatly from syllable splitting. Pupils are able to observe the patterns and divide syllables by putting a line between the consonants and vowels after locating them.

The vowels can then be classified as either short or long. Students must be acquainted with the various six syllable types for this to be effective.

Dividing And Separating Words

The ability to recognize word parts is beneficial for pupils who are dealing with longer or multisyllabic words. Students can highlight affixes, underline bases and roots, and search for familiar spelling patterns.

Let’s take the term definition as an example. Students can circle the -tion component if they recognize it. They might or might not also be able to identify the Latin root ‘definite’ here.

Students can start by using the spot and dot method, then they can break off the portions they are familiar with, and then try dividing syllables.

Covering Different Parts Of A Word

It may sound like a simple strategy, but it can be really effective. By having the students use their fingers to cover parts of a word, they can focus on each section. It’s common for kids to feel overwhelmed when they look at a word in its entirety.

They may then use a finger to decode the word, either sound by sound or chunk by chunk. For example, a child may cover the whole word, except for the first chunk or sound.

Once they have sounded out that part, they can slide their finger over to uncover the next part of the word. Thus, by uncovering the word bit by bit, they understand what this word sounds like and doesn’t seem as intimidating.

Putting These Strategies Into Practice

After your students have been introduced to these decoding strategies, you can then put them into practice with a range of activities. These activities are important, as they help to solidify your students’ understanding and reading ability.

Blending Drills

Blending drills are a fantastic way to practice decoding. Use letter tiles or phonogram cards for phonemes that the children are familiar with to perform a blending drill.

You are allowed to have two to three heaps of letters, such as a vowel pile and a consonant pile. To begin with, start with VC or CVC words. Students should decode the word you make with these letters.

Then either you or your students can swap out one tile/letter. Now your students must decode this new word. Repeat this process, until your pupils have decoded multiple words successfully.

Blending Cards

Using blending cards is an incredible approach to improving reading comprehension and decoding techniques. Students use blending cards to point to individual sounds, say them, and then mix them all together to make a word.

Students who require more direct assistance with blending and segmenting can benefit greatly from using blending cards as a supported practice. In order for pupils to verify their answers, these cards frequently have images.

Sliding Beads

Place a few beads on the end of the piece of string. This simple tool is easy to use and can help students to break up words they are sure of. A student can say a word out loud and for each syllable they come across, they slide a bead over.

As a result, this sliding beads activity helps anyone to segment a word much from easily into smaller and manageable pieces.

Drawing Words

For some people, they are much more visual learners than others. Thus, when you are introducing new words to your pupils, you can also ask them to draw a picture that relates to the word.

In addition to this, you could even ask them to draw their image using the word themselves. For example, if they were given the word ‘look’, they could turn the o’s into eyes.

Decoding Book

Decoding books is an excellent method to practice decoding after a phonics lesson. A story that needs to be decoded is a great exercise to try with your students. You could create your own book or story for students to decode.

However, there are many books created specifically for decoding that you can purchase. Also, you could simply find passages from books to use as well.

This is a great method once your students are starting to feel more comfortable with their reading. You don’t want to rush your students, and they may all reach this stage at different times.

Decoding Bookmark

As there can be a lot to think about when it comes to decoding, you can create decoding bookmarks for your students.

Thus, when they are struggling, they can look at the bookmark to remind them of the various strategies we have outlined above that they could use. These bookmarks are usually things for your students to always have on hand.

Yet, they work really well in conjunction with the decoding book activity. This provides your students with a little more independence as they try to read.


When anyone starts to learn how to read or is struggling with reading, it is important that they understand how to decode. As you can see, there are many strategies and techniques you can use to teach your students how to decode.

By following any or multiple of these strategies together, your students, whether they are just learning how to read or are still struggling, will be able to understand how to decode.

We hope this article has been helpful. You have now been shown the various decoding strategies that are out there.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The First Rule Of Decoding Words?

If you are unfamiliar with a particular word, then the first rule or step you should follow is to split the word up into groups of letters or individual letters. Then you can say each letter or cluster of letters, to discover how to read that word.

Why Is Decoding Important?

Decoding is vital when it comes to reading. It provides anyone with the ability to turn a written word into the correct spoken word.

Thus, when you see the word ‘dog’ on a piece of paper or in a book, you should know to read the word as d-o-g. As these three sounds come together to create the word ‘dog’.

How Do You Help Struggling Readers To Decode?

If your student is struggling with decoding, then you need to ensure that they have the basics down right. This includes splitting words up and blending them together. Make sure you backup your lessons with decoding activities that reinforce the lessons. 

Suzy Anderson
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