Decoding Reading Strategies: Six Methods to Use for Elementary Students

Lay the Foundation

Decoding skills are essential to reading instruction.

Early print concepts, awareness of the alphabet and phonemic awareness all help to lay the framework necessary for students to learn to read. As students progress through the elementary years, they will use decoding skills to translate the printed word to its spoken form as they learn to recognize words quickly and with very little effort.

As you teach students to use each new decoding strategy, they will begin to use phonics skills, recognize irregular words, recognize common word parts such as syllables, affixes and base words, and use context clues to help with word pronunciation. Decoding strategies for reading are a critical component of elementary instruction.

Phonics Skills

Teach beginning readers to use phonics skills to "attack" unfamiliar words as they are reading. This means that each time they come to a new word in a text, they will attempt to sound it out. If students have a strong foundational understanding of sound/spelling correspondence, they are more likely to become good readers. Explicit, systematic phonics instruction introduces sounds, letters and letter combinations systematically and in a set order. As students use phonics skills as a decoding strategy for reading, it can be helpful to review specific sound and word blending techniques with them.

High Frequency Words

Irregular words do not conform to phonics principles and you should teach these words separately. Although some high-frequency words follow phonetic principles, there are many that are irregular in nature. Explicit, systematic instruction of both regular and irregular high-frequency words helps young readers gain confidence as they begin to decode longer and more complex reading passages.

Word Parts

As students progress through the elementary grades, they will begin to use their knowledge of word parts as a decoding strategy while reading. Exercises that teach and review syllables, common prefixes and suffixes and their meanings, root words and phonograms such as oi, ar and igh are essential to help your students read with increased speed and fluidity.

Context Clues

Students who are efficient readers consistently rely on contextual meanings to help verify the pronunciation of words that may be particularly troublesome. For example, if a student comes to a word like desert in a reading passage, this strategy allows them to figure out the meaning of the word by using the context clues evident in the rest of the sentence or paragraph. Once they determine that the word is referring to a dry, sandy part of the Earth rather than a sweet treat, they are more likely to remember its correct pronunciation.

High Interest Reading

Students who read books and reading passages on topics that interest them can make good use of the decoding strategies they are learning. Keep a wide variety of books on hand in the classroom for silent reading sessions. Encourage the parents and caregivers of the students in your class to make visits to the local library an integral part of their family culture. Model a different decoding reading strategy each day for your students, using reading material from books, magazines and online materials that interest them.

Image Credit

Alphabet blocks photo: morgueFile Free Photos/mconnors,


Honig, Bill, Diamond, Linda, Gutlohn, Linda and Mahler, Jacalyn. CORE Teaching Reading Sourcebook. Academic Therapy Publications, 2000

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