Decoding Strategies

The definition of decoding is the process of breaking a written word down to its individual parts and determining the word’s pronunciation based on the common sound/letter patterns of English.

When students are trying to read text of any length, they need to have a technique or process for “breaking the written code” of the words. Without one, students wouldn’t see words—they would just see a series of meaningless marks on a page.

Learning the alphabet and the sounds associated with individual letters provides students with the “raw material” they need to begin breaking the code, but decoding strategies provide them with the process for determining how to read and pronounce the combinations of letters that form words. Click on each circle below to learn more.

What is decoding?

What is decoding?

Decoding is the process of translating print into speech by rapidly matching a letter or combination of letters (graphemes) to their sounds (phonemes) and recognizing the patterns that make syllables and words. There is an area in the brain that deals with language processing and does this process automatically. Statistically speaking, about 30 percent of students do not access this part of their brain automatically and therefore must be taught decoding strategies very explicitly and systematically. This means that we start with the simplest sound/letter concept and build to the more complex. This method of phonics instruction has been proven to be the most effective in helping students gain decoding skills.

Why is it effective?

Why is it effective?

Decoding is important because it is the foundation on which all other reading instruction builds. If students cannot decode words their reading will lack fluency, their vocabulary will be limited and their reading comprehension will suffer. 

How does it help?

How does it help?

Explicit, systematic and multi-sensory phonics instruction produces effective decoding skills.

Presenting phonics and instructing it in a logical sequence, in which one concept builds upon the next, is another essential component of teaching phonics and decoding. This systematic approach helps students to master skills quickly and move to the next concept seamlessly. Teaching phonics using a multi-sensory approach reaches all learning styles in a classroom and gives those struggling readers the visual and hands-on instruction they need. When phonics is taught according to these guidelines, students will be able to find decoding success and reading will quickly become an automatic process for them.

Decoding Skills

A skillful reader’s ability to read long words fluently depends on his or her ability to break words into syllables. The two skills allow students to break words of any length into syllables so they can apply the Five Phonetic Skills to determine the word’s pronunciation.

Learn more about the five phonetic skills >

The two decoding skills are:

  1. If there is only one guardian consonant following the vowel, that consonant will move on to the next syllable.
  2. When a vowel is followed by two guardian consonants, the consonants will split. The first consonant will stay in the first syllable, and the second consonant will move on the next syllable.

Teaching decoding can be a challenge. But as these reading strategies are gradually internalized and become automatic, it will result in greater reading speed and fluency for your students.