Reading Strategies Aligned to Science of Reading

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

Now that there is such a wealth of knowledge in regards to how kids learn to read, we know that we want to teach our kids decoding strategies, not guess work. Students require explicit instruction in phonological awareness and phonics skills in order to develop a through knowledge of letter-sound relationships. We want to help young readers to develop effective decoding skills, as this is the best way to ensure early readers build effective reading skills that will set them up for life.

How our brains learn to read: background research

Speech develops naturally through exposure and immersion in language. The same cannot be said for reading and writing. Reading and writing are man-made concepts, and are not a natural process. Our brains are hard-wired for SPEECH, but not for reading. The brain must therefore develop essential neural systems in order to learn to read, and for most children, this needs to be explicitly taught.

There has been decades of research into how the brain learns to read, and what needs to happen in order to build efficient neural connections for reading. This body of research is commonly referred to as the science of reading. Following the Rose Review in the United Kingdom, synthetic phonics became a mandatory part of the curriculum. This comprehensive review led to significant reforms in the UK. There were similar findings in the US National Reading Panel and the Australian National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, where it was found that systematic phonics instruction (rather than unsystematic or whole language phonics instruction) led to the greatest improvements in reading, writing, spelling and comprehension. 

The simple view of reading provides a useful framework for understanding how children learn to read:

The Simple View of Reading Infographic

As you can see, good readers require both explicit phonics instruction as well as direct instruction in language comprehension in order to achieve reading comprehension. This is the most effective way to teach a child to become a successful reader. 

So, how do we help students to apply their phonics knowledge when they get stuck on a word?

Well— I hope that some of these characters might be able to help students out when they come across unfamiliar words. These decoding strategies posters are here to replace Eagle Eye, Skippy Frog, Chunky Monkey and other out-dated reading strategy characters (often referred to as beanie baby strategies) who aren't backed by the research.

The following strategies are designed to draw upon phonemic awareness skills, phonological skills, syllable division and the use of other phonics skills in order to effective decode unknown words. Rather than focusing on the whole word, they focus on word parts and the different sounds within a word. By characterising each strategy, they become fun ways to attack a tricky word. 

Leftie Lettie

This is one of the first important reading strategies which we teach to kids – they need to start on the left of the PAGE and the left of the printed WORD.

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

Model this strategy to your students, and provide them with scaffolds and supports to assist them as they develop this habit. This could be the use of pointers/googly eyes, or using the language of a special ‘reading finger’ is another great way to engage students with this instructional focus.

google eyes for reading

Pointing Percy

This character may only be necessary for some students. Pointing Percy helps students to focus on all of the sounds and words, using their pointer finger to keep them on track. This example shows an example of CVC words, which are the first type of word that we focus on with younger students. If you have struggling readers, I would also recommend that you start first with CVC words, simple word families and words with common spelling patterns. 

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

Grapheme Graham

Grapheme Graham helps students to focus on all the sounds in a word (not just the first sound). Students may need to use a scaffold (e.g. pointers, googly eyes) to support them as they bounce from one sound to the next. This example shows an example of vowel teams, where the 'ee' digraph is used to make the long vowel sound. Rather than focusing on individual LETTERS in words, we want to teach children to break words up into each distinct SOUND.

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

Blending Belinda

Blending Belinda encourages students to blend the individual letter sounds together in order to read new words. Students may also need to stretch the sounds first, before blending them. Blending is an essential skill, and you can find more tips and tools for promoting blending skills in this blog post.  

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

Robbie Revealer

Robbie Revealer may only be necessary if your students are having a difficult time with simple word decoding, and need assistance to blend the sounds together. By covering up the individual sounds, and then revealing the word sound by sound, students can decode the word slowly but surely.

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

Observant Olivia

Observant Olivia reminds students to keep their eyes on the words. Students will often look up, either for approval/help, or because they are distracted. Observant Olivia helps students to know the importance of keeping their eyes on the text as they are decoding and reading, to avoid making careless mistakes. 

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

Chopping Charlie

Chopping Charlie can be used once students have learned to break a word into syllables. Multisyllabic words will usually contain more complex phonics patterns and letter combinations. There are 6 main syllable types, and the explicit teaching of each syllable type will equip students to effectively break words apart in order to decode them. More information about syllables will also be shared in another blogpost soon!

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

One simple strategy for teaching students to chop up words into syllables is the use of 'syllaboards' or post it notes. Syllaboards help students break words into chunks for reading and spelling.

syllaboards for phonics lessons

An example of the steps are shown below, using post-it notes:

1. Find the vowels in the word
2. Bring down the vowels
3. Bring down the consonants
4. Read the syllables
5. Blend together
Syllaboard technique with post it notes

Base Word Blake

This is another more advanced strategy to use once older students have a more complex knowledge of letter patterns, and learned some inflectional endings (e.g. –ed, -ing, -er) and prefixes (e.g. un-, dis-, pre-). Longer words can be hard to conceptualise when breaking down by each individual sound. By breaking a word into the base word, then prefixes/suffixes, this provides students with an easier way to break apart longer words and successfully decode them. This morphemic spelling knowledge is taught once students have mastered the basics of the alphabetic code, and will help students to develop a deeper understanding of the English language.

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

Meaning Matilda

Whilst Meaning Matilda doesn’t align to one specific phonics strategy, she represents the fact that proficient readers must ultimately COMPREHEND what they have read. They must listen to what they are reading, and pay attention when something doesn’t make sense – it will most likely be a clue that they have made an error whilst decoding. Meaning Matilda encourages students to attend to meaning, and self-correct when necessary. As students build their reading fluency, you will notice more automatic word recognition, allowing for more advanced text comprehension. 

Decoding Strategies for Reading - Research-Based Reading Strategy Characters

Other prompts that teachers can use when students make decoding errors:

  • Wait Time – give students enough time to problem-solve and self-correct. If students require further assistance, encourage them to keep their eyes on the word, and to identify the sounds that they know.

  • Silent pointing cues – point to the error rather than verbalising it. This will allow a student to attend to the error without disrupting their thinking too much.

  • Verbal cues – verbally prompt students with comments such as ‘what other sound does that digraph make?’ or ‘check the middle sound that you used there’. If there is a spelling pattern that you haven’t yet taught, prompt the student with that sound. For example, if a child comes across the word ‘rain’ but they haven’t learned the long /a/ sound yet: ’This is the sound ‘ai’. Ask student to repeat the sound, and to then decode the word.

  • Model decoding of the word – model segmenting and blending the word, encouraging the student to keep their eyes on the word. Then ask the child to repeat what you have modelled to them – segment and blend the word themselves.

  • Provide the word – if the word contains multiple sounds that you haven’t yet taught, provide them with the word.

  • Mapping high frequency words - With orthographic mapping, children will typically learn the tricky 'word words' after practising them just 1-5 times. 

  • Re-read – if a child has had to be prompted, ask them to re-read the sentence up until the point of the error so that meaning is not disrupted.

  • Context clues - please note, this does not mean 'refer to the pictures'. However, context clues can sometimes be important for determining the correct pronunciation of homographs e.g. read, live, wind, bow

When to use decodable books?

In the early years, it's super important to move away from 'reading levels' and use decodable readers when children are first learning to read. Decodable texts are stepping stones to authentic texts. They provide opportunities for students to connect their learning of letter-sound correspondences in practice. A decodable text will engage students in the orthographic mapping process, which is a key skill that is required to be able to read effectively. The focus is kept on print, rather than guessing. Decodable texts provide students with the skills required to access authentic texts. 

Once students have a strong foundation in phonics skills and have acquired the initial code (towards the end of Kindergarten or start of first grade), you can start to introduce new readers that may not always be decodable. It is important to continue consolidating necessary skills, and ensure the use of phonics strategies as reading instruction builds. 

Would you like these free posters?

Head to the Freebee Library section, and you'll find these posters ready to be downloaded and used in your classroom TODAY! You'll also find lots of other evidence-based phonics resources to support you and your students. 

science of reading decoding strategies

These posters are also available in a variety one-page versions as well. Stay tuned for a decoding strategy bookmark which will also be added to the Freebee Library soon! 

For more tips, tricks and practical advice for implementing evidence-based phonics practices in your classroom, follow @mrslearningbee on Instagram.

And if you're looking for more quality, evidence-based phonics resources, check out the phonics section of Mrs Learning Bee.