What does the word say?

Decoding is a complex process involving multiple skills:

  • phonological processing
  • sound-symbol association (phonics)
  • visual and auditory sequencing and memory
  • as well as the understanding of syllabication and morphology.

When a student has difficulty accurately decoding, they are hindered in developing automatic word recognition, thus making reading laborious.


An important piece to helping a student with decoding difficulties is to determine which area(s) are weak:

  • Phonological Processing: The ability to identify and manipulate the individual sounds in words.
  • Phonics: This involves associating symbols with the sounds they can make. Unfortunately, many of the symbols in English have more than one sound: ch, all of the vowels, ow, etc. They need to learn these symbols and any associated rules. For example: y at the end of a two or more syllable word says /ē/ as in happy.

  • Visual and Auditory Memory: They need to memorize what these symbols look like as well as what they say - and remember what the word looks and sound like the next time they see it!

  • Visual Sequencing: They need to be able to sequence the letters from left to right so the word “was” is not “saw” and “perfect” is not “prefect!"

  • Visual Discrimination: They need to be able to “see” the letter chunks – like “ch” and “ble”, and that “capable” is not “cable”.

  • Syllabication: They need to know the six types of syllables and their rules so they will recognize that “hate” is not “hat”, or that “cot” is not “coat”.

  • Morphology: Starting around fourth grade they need to learn the roots of our language. These would include prefixes (re, dis) and suffixes (tion, ing, ed), as well as other Greek and Latin roots common in English. For example, “rupt” means burst. This would help them to more easily recognize as well as understand words in context such as rupture, erupt, eruption, interrupt, etc. without having to look them up.

As a parent, looking at this can be overwhelming! Every new reader needs to have a structured, sequential curriculum, and when your child is struggling - whatever school environment they are in - get help right away. Six months behind with first grade basic reading skills can turn into four to eight years behind in high school.

Students need to learn how to figure out what a word says before they can start making meaning.

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