4-Step Process for Helping Students Transfer Decoding Skills to Written Text

We hear it again and again: students have a difficult time taking the decoding skills they have been taught and applying them to the everyday texts they encounter.

Here are some effective tips for helping students transfer decoding skills to text:

  • The older the student is that you are teaching, the more compensation strategies they will have. This is why transfer is so difficult for older students. Even if they understand how to decode words, when they read a text they naturally want to go back to the compensation strategies they have used for years as opposed to the decoding skills they’ve used for only a few months.
  • Researchers have pointed out that struggling readers need explicit reading instruction. But, what people fail to understand is that struggling readers don’t just need explicit instruction for reading, they need explicit instruction for everything.
  • Struggling readers need to be told explicitly that they can use decoding strategies in the texts they are reading.
  • The biggest disconnect when it comes to transfer is a lack of teacher instruction explaining how to transfer.
  • As a teacher this should be your mantra: assume nothing… connect everything.
  • Everytime you read a passage, everytime you look at text, point out the words that fit certain rules, ask if any of the words need to be decoded. Decoding needs to become the way you handle language in the classroom. Point out the skills to your students in everything you read, write, and speak. That’s when transfer is going to happen.

Aside from explicitly pointing out to your students that decoding strategies can and should be applied to every text and every difficult word, here is a four-part process you can teach your students to help them transfer decoding skills to everyday texts (adapted from research by Dennis Davis):

transfer to text process

Before allowing your students to ask you how to read a difficult word, have your students go through these four steps:

  1. Use their finger or a card to track what they are reading. This trains their eyes to move from left to right.
  2. When students come to a word they struggle with have them sound out the word from beginning to end without stopping or guessing two times. This helps students get out of the habit of using compensation strategies (which often include skipping difficult words or sounding out the beginning of a word and guessing the rest).
  3. Apply the Reading Horizons method.
  4. Have your student sound the word out again from beginning to end without stopping or guessing two times.

If they don’t know the word after using this process then they can come to you for help.

Most importantly, when it comes to transfer you have to help your students see how the reading skills they are learning apply to all of the texts that they come across. Remember: assume nothing, connect everything.