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5 Teaching Strategies to Help Students Decode Text

Janelle Cox

As an elementary school teacher, one of your main jobs is to help students learn to decode text so they are able to read more effortlessly. However, this can become quite a process for many young children, because even the simplest of words can be a challenge for a struggling beginning reader. Decoding is an essential skill and is the foundation on which all other reading is built. Primary students need to know how to decode basic words and text in order to read. To help young readers just starting out, there are a few teaching strategies that you can employ. These teaching strategies will help students when they come across a word that they just can't seem to get past. The more that students use these teaching strategies, the easier it will be for them to read fluently.

“Chunking” Teaching Strategies

When they come across an unfamiliar word, teach students to try and break it up into “Chunks,” or more manageable parts, to help them figure it out. For example, the word “Shouted” can be broken into three parts, “Sh-out-ed.” Students can also clap the syllables to help them when they are breaking the word up to sound it out. Another example is the word “Remember.” This word can be broken into the parts “Re-mem-ber” and can also be clapped by syllable. The stronger students are with their word families, the easier it will be for them to decode a word.

Relying on Context Clues

Another decoding strategy is for students to use context clues. This means students look for root words, contrast, logic, illustrations, or anything that is surrounding the word that can help them better figure it out. They can also think about the meaning of what they are reading. This will help them to better gauge the unfamiliar word. Students can read the sentence that the unfamiliar is in, and think about what it’s trying to tell them.

Taking it Letter by Letter

When a child is stuck on a word and is trying to decode it, the best way is to simply take it letter by letter. Instruct students to start by getting their mouth ready to say the first letter. Then take it slowly and try and pronounce each letter in the word. Usually this will work, but if it doesn’t, they can use the other strategies mentioned until they find one that works.

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Using Picture Clues to Help Decode Words

Pictures can be a great tool to help struggling readers decode words. If a student cannot read a word at all, have them look at the picture to give them a clue of the meaning. This is usually the students’ favorite strategy to try because it is the easiest and most effective way to figure out a word and its meaning. However, it’s important that this not be the only strategy students use when they come upon a hard word. Remind students that as they get older, they won’t have pictures to rely on, so they should use the other strategies in conjunction with this strategy.

Skipping the Unfamiliar Word

Decoding a word is not just breaking it up or relying on context clues, it’s about finding the meaning of the paragraph to better understand each word that you are reading. If a student cannot read a word in the sentence, then instruct them to simply try skipping the word and continue reading the sentence. Sometimes, when a child skips the unfamiliar word after reading, a little bit further the meaning will become clearer and the student can go back to the skipped word and reread the sentence knowing the proper meaning. This is only after the student has tried all of the above strategies first.

Some students will have to read and reread a word several times in order to make sense of it, and that’s OK. Teach students that it’s a good thing to be persistent while trying to read and decode new words. Remember, in order for your students to fully enjoy reading, they must first learn how to decode and comprehend what they are reading. Once they have mastered that, then their love for books will grow.

What are your favorite teaching strategies for decoding text? Please share with us in the comment section below, we’d love to hear your ideas on this topic.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educatorsor contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.