By now, I think all educators can agree that phonics instruction is key in teaching kids to read. Decoding strategies should be phonics-based to ensure kids focus on the print first, rather than pictures or context clues. This will help them later on when pictures disappear with more advanced text.
I’ve written about decoding strategies before and want to share one of my favorite ones with you- chunking words with the Chunky Monkey reading strategy.
Sounding a word out letter by letter is a helpful decoding strategy and an important stage in reading. Read here how I help kids with step-by-step decoding.
The next step is recognizing chunks and using them to help with decoding words. Reading chunks can not only help kids decode a word faster than sounding out letter by letter, but it can help them decode more accurately (ex: recognizing digraphs, vowel teams, silent e words).
WHAT IS A CHUNK?
A chunk is any part of a word made up of more than 1 letter. A chunk can be a small word inside a bigger one, a digraph or blend, vowel team, suffix, word family, etc.
WHY is CHUNKING Helpful?
When chunking, kids are still paying attention to all of the letters in a word, which is important to orthographically map out the word and store it in memory. But with chunking, they are recognizing that some letters work together to make one sound or a group of sounds in a word. They are more likely to blend together a long word by chunking than sounding out letter by letter.
For example, sounding out the word checking is made easier by recognizing the digraphs ch and ck and the suffix ing and reading those as parts rather than letter by letter.
Also, looking at several letters at a time is helpful because sometimes a vowel sound is dictated by the letter(s) that come after it. For example, in the word for, the o‘s sound will change because it’s followed by “bossy r” (r-controlled vowel). Similarly, the o sound in stone will change because of the silent e.
WAYS TO TEACH AND PRACTICE CHUNKING
Start with a story. For example, tell kids how you were in a rush the other day and climbed a flight of stairs 2 at a time. This helped you get to the top a bit faster. Although each step was necessary to get you there, you could put 2 together at a time to get there faster. This reminded you of chunking words. Each letter in a word is important but combining letters to recognize parts may help you decode a word faster.
Write the word mat on the board and remind kids that sounding out each letter is an effective decoding strategy. This method works for some words but it’s not the most effective for longer words. Write a longer word, such as sheep. Model sounding out letter by letter, then by recognizing (and circling) the digraph sh and the vowel team ee. Now, blend the word parts together to read accurately.
Repeat with a word like called and point out that recognizing the suffix ed can help you by adding it to the base word. Recognizing the word chunk all can also help kids know that the a won’t make its short a sound. Now, they simply blend the parts together to read the word.
After introducing how chunks help, you can practice in many ways!
Here are some of my favorite ways to practice this strategy and they’re all included in my chunky monkey strategy pack.
Chunky Monkey Reading Strategy Pack
Like all of my decoding strategy packs, this one has a slideshow to introduce the strategy. I find kids are much more engaged when they can interact with a slideshow (plus it keeps me on track with my teaching!).
The slideshow starts with a teaching slide.
Then, I included three levels of practice so you can differentiate.
Next, students read sentences and find words and chunks.
The sentence appears without the picture first. The picture appears upon clicking.
The slideshow ends with a little song to help kids remember the strategy! Make sure to grab this freebie at the bottom of this post!
Independent Practice of the Strategy
After introducing the strategy and practicing together, I always like to have kids practice on their own. I model using a “chunky monkey chunk finder” with a big book or charted poem, then I give them each a small chunk finder and certificate to complete as they read. They read their own books with the chunk finder and jot down a word the strategy helped them read.
Chunky Monkey Practice Activities
Then, we work on practice activities during centers and small-group instruction. Here are some of our favorites.
Kids look for the small words in the big-word cards and complete the sentences. I copy these 2-sided and ask them to Read the Room: complete the other side by looking for chunks inside words around the room.
There’s something about adding a spinning element that makes anything fun. I like to use these transparent spinners because they are so easy, but if you don’t have them, a simple paper clip and pencil will do. Place the small end of the paper clip on the center dot and hold it in place with the tip of a pencil as you spin it.
These Build-a-Word pages are so much fun! Kids cut apart the word chunks and paste them where they complete each word.
These skill cards are a recent fun addition to my Chunky Monkey Reading Strategy Pack! There are several different activities for plenty of practice during small-group instruction. I love that they fit nicely into these plastic task card boxes and I included labels for organization.
Recently, I updated my entire Chunky Monkey Reading Strategy bundle and added digital components to make it easier to use during distance learning, or with technology in the classroom! There are 8 digital activities made for use with Google Slides.
I also love the book There’s an Ant in ANThony by Bernard Most (affiliate link). It helps kids see that although they may see a word or chunk inside a larger word, it may not make the sound(s) they expect, as in Anthony and elephant. I find this so helpful in emphasizing that we have to be flexible readers. When one strategy doesn’t work, try another!
Word chunking with the Chunky Monkey is my favorite reading strategy to teach because it helps kids transition from reading letter by letter to recognizing bigger chunks and using those to decode words faster. Plus, I just love when kids start finding chunks everywhere! In the hallway, during the read-aloud of a big book, around the classroom, your kids will be pointing out little words and chunks all over!
Learning to chunk words not only helps with reading, but it will also help with spelling. When kids learn about chunks, they can associate new words with the same chunks which can help them with spelling.
Make sure you download the freebie below! For more reading strategies, read how I teach decoding strategies here.
You can grab the Chunky Monkey Reading Strategy pack from my TpT shop here.