6 Tips to Help Your Child Decode Unknown Words
When you listen to your child read and they come to a word they struggle to decode, do you tell them the word or let them try to figure it out themselves? I know from experience our first impulse is to just ‘tell’ them the word. This does not prepare them however for independent reading and self-monitoring of their reading. Your next question is most likely, ‘how do I help them’? Your goal is to guide them to identifying the unknown word themselves.
TIP 1: Use two index cards or just fingers. Cover all the letter sound(s) in the word except for the first one. Ask your child to get their mouth ready to say the first sound. Next, slide the right card or fingers to expose the next letter sound(s). Ask your child to say the next sound. Repeat this process until all the letter sounds in the word have been exposed. Ask your child to blend the sounds together for the word.
TIP 2: Look for known smaller words within the word.
TIP 3: For older readers look first for prefixes and suffixes. Block them out and look at the remaining root word. Then blend all parts together to identify the word.
TIP 4: Skip over the word and read to the end of the sentence. Come back to the word. Use the other words in the sentence for context to see if the word can be identified. Get your mouth ready then to say the first letter sound in the word.
TIP 5: Once the unknown word is identified, ask ‘does it make sense in the sentence and story context?’ Have your child reread the sentence in its entirety.
TIP 6: You want to guide your child to use their strategies to identify any unknown words by themselves. This is called ‘self-monitoring’. This is an example of the ‘Socratic’ method of learning to read. Guide them to the point of error using the above strategies instead of just giving them the word.
That said, depending upon your child’s reading development, do not withhold the correct word to the point of frustration of your child. I say this because, decoding success is based on your child’s phonemic awareness strength (auditory processing). They must first be strong in identifying sounds in words, the number of sounds in words, the sequence of those sounds, and identifying when a sound, changes in a word…from what to what. Auditory processing success comes first before decoding success.
NOTE: do not use these decoding strategies with ‘sight words.’ Some sight words can be sounded out at first, BUT sight words are just what their name implies. Words that are recognized immediately when seen and not sounded out. A good sight word mastery influences the fluency rate of your child. The fluency rate can influence your child’s comprehension. Comprehension is the finish line for all reading!
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Kristin Anderson Cetone, Reading Specialist & Author