Reading Strategies: Tips for How to Teach Decoding

Have you ever had students who stop reading and look up at you when they get stuck on a word? They may be afraid of making a mistake or just unaware of the decoding strategies they can use. So they look at you, expecting to be given the word.

“Sound it out.”

It’s what children often hear from teachers, parents, and even peer helpers. Sometimes it’s all kids do when approaching difficult words. I’ve had students who only say each sound in words and it takes them forever to get through a page; by the time they reach the end of the sentence, they’ve forgotten the beginning.

We can help guide students to use several decoding strategies as necessary. Read my step-by-step guide to helping kids decode here.

When students rely on just one decoding strategy, they get frustrated when it doesn’t work and easily give up. Students can learn to be flexible readers, trying different strategies and alternate sounds to help them decode those tricky words.

Teaching decoding strategies to beginning readers can be tricky. Read this blog post for tips on helping your kids become independent readers, using many different strategies when they get stuck on a word. #tejedastots

How to Teach Decoding Strategies

When students start to read, they often begin by looking at and ‘reading’ the pictures. This is one of the first comprehension strategies they use, without even realizing it! Encourage them and confirm that it’s a strategy that can help them understand and confirm their reading.

The transition to focusing on the text can be difficult for some, and our encouragement and acknowledgment of what they are doing well will help fuel their desire to take risks.

It’s important to teach strategies explicitly. Use big books to model getting stuck on words and thinking out loud about the strategies you use to help you figure out the words. I recommend using a book you have previously read so your students can focus on the decoding rather than the comprehension.

Start with ALL Strategies from the beginning!

Introduce all decoding strategies at once (3 in early kindergarten) and create an anchor chart while doing so. It may seem overwhelming, but some kids are ready for more than just one strategy. Teaching all of the strategies first also allows children to see the big picture and realize there are multiple strategies that can help them, rather than just one.

  1. Stretchy Snake- Say each sound in the word and blend.
  2. Lips the Fish- Find the vowel. Read the first sounds, then blend the rest. (onset and rime)
  3. Chunky Monkey- Look for small words or parts you know. (word families, suffixes, etc)
  4. Syllable Sammy– Divide longer words into syllables.
  5. Flippy Dolphin- Flip the vowel sound (for more advanced students, try an alternate sound, for ex: soft and hard c and g)
  6. Eagle Eye Comprehension Check- Look at the pictures to check your reading.

After the initial lesson, I focus on one strategy at a time and teach it explicitly, giving children plenty of practice with each. I refer to all of them frequently, so children will have plenty of exposure to them throughout the year. You can read more on this and get FREE anchor chart pieces by grabbing my reading strategies anchor chart from my free resource library. Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to 3 freebies.

After creating the anchor chart with all strategies, I teach each one separately as well (one a day in 1st or 2nd grade, up to one week in kindergarten). This gives them more practice with using each one. However, I always refer back to the chart to emphasize that they have to be flexible readers and often try multiple strategies. This is important to model as well.

Teaching Each Reading Strategy

Learning to use a variety of strategies independently can boost students’ fluency, comprehension, and confidence. But teaching these strategies isn’t always easy. It’s hard for kids to remember how they can approach difficult words.

That’s why I created my Reading Strategy PowerPoints and resources. The PowerPoint presentations make it so easy to introduce each strategy explicitly, in a way that is easy for beginning readers to understand and easy for teachers to implement. Using Beanie Babies to represent decoding strategies helps to make the strategies memorable.

Each strategy uses a PowerPoint presentation to introduce the strategy whole-group. I love using PowerPoints because

  • they enlarge the text so all students can see,
  • they keep the focus on the objective, and
  • they’re interactive for kids, which makes it fun!

And they’re so easy to use because everything is ready to go, taking the guesswork out of how to teach it.

The PowerPoints each start with the strategy poster, followed by practice slides and a song to help them remember the strategy, and ends with having them try the strategy with their own books.

Reading Strategy Songs!

The songs follow familiar tunes like Mary Had a Little Lamb and Yankee Doodle. Posters and mini-posters of the songs are included in the bundle in color and B&W, for placing in student notebooks, folders, or use during conferences and guided reading.

At the end of each PowerPoint, a copy of a strategy slip (certificate) is displayed on the screen. I model the strategy again with a big book and show them how to fill out the slip when I use the strategy. Then, I hand out the slips and students read independently while I circulate and confer with them.

I also created ‘tools’ for the strategies. For example, there are Dolphin Flippers, Syllable Choppers, and Eagle Eye Lenses. These make learning the strategies more fun and memorable.

I use these tools with the PowerPoints and big books. Kids also love using the tools, so I added student versions of each. I like to keep these at my guided reading table and you can also keep them at your library or reading center.

Reading Strategy Practice

After introducing the strategy with the PowerPoint presentation and giving kids time to practice, I incorporate activities that reinforce the strategy during guided reading and center time.

These activities include mini-books, sentence strip flips, games, read the room, matching, sorting, sound strips & more. There are at least 2 activities for each strategy and some can be used over and over.

These 2-sided guided reading tent cards are helpful during your guided reading lessons. On one side, there is a script for the teacher to read, while students look at the sample on the other side.

Fostering Independence

If we want students to use strategies independently, we have to restrain ourselves from helping too much while reading with them. When students get stuck on a word, instead of telling them the word, first wait. When they look at you for help, keep looking at the book and wait some more. This can be so hard at first, but stick with it! Praise any attempt made and tell them that it’s great they are trying a strategy.

After they try, instead of telling them the word or even the strategy to use, you can ask them to think of one strategy they can try. If they have a hard time, remind them to refer to the anchor chart. Have them try a strategy to see if it works. If it doesn’t, remind them that Tryin’ Lion says to try another and ask them to think of a different one they can try.

Eventually, the student will hopefully make an attempt at decoding the word. 

What happens next?

They look up at you again!

It’s time to ignore again. If they ask you if it’s right, don’t confirm or deny. Ask them to check the picture to see if it makes sense. This is an important step. We want to reaffirm when students are correct, but by doing so, we may take away the independence they need to figure it out for themselves.

*It’s important to note that if they are struggling with too many words, the book may not be at their reading level. We want to give them enough of a challenge without frustrating them.

To help them use the strategies independently, I use these bookmarks. Kids can reference them while reading and I love that they emphasize that the text has to make sense! Get them FREE from my resource library (scroll down for links)!

Getting Parents in the Know

I believe it’s important to involve parents in their children’s learning and send resources home that reinforce what is taught at school. For this reason, I discuss the decoding strategies with parents during conferences and send home a letter explaining the strategies and how to help children use them. This letter is included in the bundle, in English and Spanish.

*Updated* Reading Strategy Bundle

I have just updated the entire Reading Strategies bundle! I’ve added digital resources where noted below, as well as updated fonts and clip art. It includes:

  • Stretchy Snake Strategy Pack
  • Lips the Fish Strategy Pack (+ DIGITAL activities)
  • Chunky Monkey Strategy Pack
  • Flippy Dolphin Strategy Pack (+ DIGITAL activities)
  • Syllable Sammy Strategy Pack (+ DIGITAL activities)
  • Eagle Eye Strategy Pack (+ DIGITAL activities)
  • Tryin’ Lion Poster
  • Review PowerPoint to use throughout the year as a quick refresher
  • Anchor Chart pieces
  • Reading Strategy Songs
  • Binder covers and spine labels
  • Parent letters in English and Spanish
  • Double-sided cards for guided reading: one side is for students to look at while the other side has a teacher script

Click here to grab it now from my shop: Reading Strategies Super Bundle

You can also get it from my TpT store here: Reading Strategies Bundle

Some FREEBIES for you!

You can get these freebies from my resource library or TpT store. Just click the links to download them!

Chunky Monkey song in color and B&W

Anchor Chart pieces and mini-charts

Reading Strategy Bookmarks

To access the last 2 freebies and tons more exclusive freebies, you will need the password to my resource library. When you sign up for my weekly newsletter, just look for the password in your first email. Sign up below and don’t miss another freebie!

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