Learning to read takes a lot of time and practice. When we read a new word there are a number of different strategies we can use to figure out what the word says. The term ‘decoding’ refers to the process of deciphering new words by applying your knowledge of letter-sound relationships and patterns. As adults, we don’t need to use decoding very often – perhaps we might use it when presented with an unusual name or if learning a new language – but children are constantly relying on this skill to help them to understand the English language.
The foundation for learning to read is set in early childhood, long before a child begins school. This means that although children are taught to read at school, those who have been exposed to a wider range of vocabulary early on are going to find reading at school much easier than those who have a very limited experience with language. To ‘expose children to a wide range of vocabulary’ involves reading to them and with them, engaging in regular conversation and giving them opportunities to see what writing looks like. All of these things can be easily incorporated into our daily interactions with our children. There’s no need to stop there though. Decoding skills can be taught and practised at home too, and the great thing is that there are so many fun ways to do this!
In this blog series I will give you some tips for helping your child to read by teaching them decoding skills. I hope that whether you are a teacher, parent or grandparent, or simply have a passion for language, that you will find some of these activities useful as you help support the little ones in your life as they dive into the wide world of the English language.
A Very Good Place to Start – With the Alphabet
If decoding involves applying one’s knowledge of letters and sounds, then it makes sense to begin by teaching children what those letters and sounds are. The good old alphabet is classic for a reason. Teach your children the alphabet early on. This will help them to listen to the sounds you make with your voice, learn to make these sounds themselves and, when viewing written letters, to match basic sounds with their letter symbols.
Introduce Letter Cards
Letter flashcards are useful tools to have in the house. There are many ways you can use these cards, but one way is to simply teach your child to recognise some of the different letters in the alphabet. You might want to start with ‘a’ and work through in order, or you might want to start with the letters in your child’s name. This is another way to practise making those connections between letter symbols and sounds.
Build-a-Word With Letter Tiles
Letter tiles are an alternative (or a great addition) to letter cards. Some children like working with tiles more because they’re a bit more interesting to manipulate and play with. (Magnetic letters are another option.) Letter tiles are handy for making the transition between identifying individual letters and stringing them together to form words. Again, there are so many ways to use them, but a simple way to begin is by forming short words by placing two or three letters together at a time. This will help your child to begin ‘blending’ or combining more than one sound.
Have Children Read to Someone
Regularly reading to children is so beneficial, but why not let them read to you sometimes? This is an especially helpful habit to get into once your child does start school, and is bringing home books that are new to them. As a parent, this can be done at any time that suits your schedule – while you’re cooking dinner, in the car or just before bed. As a teacher, I know that it can be a little bit tricky to keep track of which students have read aloud to someone each week, so I suggest implementing Literacy Rotations or something similar in the classroom. If you’re looking for a handy way to track the literacy activities your students are choosing to complete each day, take a look at these literacy trackers. Remember, having children read to a friend or older sibling counts too!
Play Matching Games
Simple ‘match the word to the picture’ activities allow children to focus their decoding to a specific topic, therefore making it a little less overwhelming. For example, these bear matching cards involve selecting the correct colour word for each picture. This means that when a child sees the words ‘pink’, ‘blue’ and ‘black’, they can recall their knowledge of colours to help them decode the words, which gives them a helpful starting point. (Side-note: if you create your own resources, the adorable bears on these matching cards are available as a clipart set too.)
Have a Word Wall on Display
I do like a good word wall, especially if it is utilised well. Typically, word walls are used in classrooms to display sight words or vocabulary lists. This is a great way for students to see the same words repeatedly, and hopefully read them more quickly each time. Of course, word walls can be used at home too and can be changed up every time your child becomes familiar with the words already on display.
Identify Vowels and Consonants
Once children are confident with the alphabet, I find it’s useful to teach them about vowels and consonants. This helps them to sort the letters that have a similar function, and opens up many new activities to help practise decoding. Plus, simply having children identify the consonants and vowels in words is a helpful way to visually split up the sounds before they try to decode the word as a whole.
I hope you have fun exploring some of these activities with your children as they begin to read! Use the links to buy your own copies of the resources I’ve referenced.
Still after some more ideas? Stay tuned for my next post: Sing, Sing a Song – Developing Decoding Skills Part 2.
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