Decoding Word Strategies

How often do you listen to your child read and notice that when he comes to decoding  multisyllabic words, he mumbles and keeps on going? I have experienced this so many times that I wonder if it is in the DNA! These are the children who aren’t self monitoring for meaning, they are getting the reading done as quickly as possible. Decoding word strategies can be learnt easily if applied in a systematic fashion.

Decoding long words

Decoding is breaking the code or in simplistic terms breaking words into syllables and blending each syllable’s sounds and then finally blending all the syllables to say the word.

At an early stage, children learn to blend words with the sounds that they know-blow-this will be sounded for reading as bl-ow. If the child doesn’t know the basic sounds, this activity will be problematic. For the above word the child needed to know that bl says /bl/ as in black and ow say /ow/ as in cow. Most children only require a small amount of teaching and will be able to independently sound most single syllable words.

Here is the sequence for single syllable words which won’t be explained in this article. If you would like further information about these syllables, please write a comment at the end of the article.

  • Short vowels
  • Consonant blends & diagraphs
  • R controlled vowel patterns
  • Vowel Consonant e
  • Vowel Teams

The next step is dividing compound words, like, township. Compound words are two words combined into one word. The two words can be divided between the two words. The child sounds and blends the first word and completes a similar process for the second word and then says the word. The majority of children will manage this level successfully.

It is from this stage to the next that difficulties arise. The process is to teach the child syllable types to make life easier.

  • Compound words
  • Closed syllables
  • Open syllables
  • Vowel-Consonant e syllables
  • R controlled syllables
  • Vowel team syllables
  • Consonant le syllables

There will a need to provide definitions as you go along with this process. You will find these basic definitions in the link following

Closed Syllables

The second step is closed syllables. A closed syllable is one that has a consonant on the end and a short vowel immediately before the consonant; an example is BAT. The second step words have two closed syllables. e.g -magnet. To cut this word into its syllables you would divide between the g and the n. You now have two closed syllables to sound. mag….. net. The child sounds the first syllable and then sounds the second syllable and finally merges the two syllables to make one word.

Open Syllables

Open syllables are those that end in a long vowel sound for example, go. Cutting up these words is quite easy because there aren’t two consonants sitting together, the word has to be divided behind the first vowel.

The word, human would be divided into hu…man. Because the letter u is on the end of a syllable, it must say it’s name-u. The process is similar to the closed syllable, cut the word, sound the first syllable and then the final syllable, finally, join the two syllables and you have your word, human.

Vowel consonant e syllables

Vowel consonant e syllables are what we used to call, magic e syllables. The e forces the vowel to say its name.

Words like came, gate, permeate, meditate all come into this category. Looking at the word meditate-med   i   tate is the breaking method used-the med syllable is a closed syllable, the i standing alone is what I call, a swinging vowel that says an e sound (open syllable) and tate is a vowel consonant e syllable.

R Controlled syllables-

I am particularly fond of r controlled syllables because they help enormously with spelling and reading. An r controlled syllable is one where an r controls the sound of the vowel. The r controlled syllable in teacher is er. In reading, the child would have to sound the base word and then add the sound of the suffix or r controlled syllable.

Vowel Team syllables

As a child progresses along the phonic path, he will learn a lot of sounds. A group of these sounds are called vowel teams. In a vowel team, the first vowel will say its name and the second vowel will say nothing.  When cutting up these words the cut is made immediately after the vowel team.

An example would be beater-the vowels are not sounded separately, they are blended as one with the first letter saying its name and the last letter saying nothing. So, in the word, beater, the letters ea say the sound of the letter e. The cut for this word would be immediately after the /ea/. Also, this word could be cut into a base word and a suffix-beat…

Consonant Le syllables

Words that end with an /l/ seem to cause a lot of problems for children. Knowing that consonant le is a syllable type can add support. let’s look at a simple word: apple

Underline the vowels a and e apple. Now it is obvious that ap is a closed syllable and the ple is a consonant le syllable. This makes spelling and reading so easy.

Base words, prefixes and suffixes

As reading becomes more complex and the words become multisyllabic the child can use the prefix, base word and suffix to decode words. This is a topic that can be explored in a later article.

It is important that children learn syllable types to make reading and writing easier. Apply one syllable type a week and consolidate that until it is known than move on bit by bit.

Would a webinar be beneficial to you at home?

Let me know in the comments below, please.


Ann Foster tutors children who have difficulties in reading, writing and spelling.

Contact Ann 0n 0414340883 or email


Ann holds the following qualifications:

Diploma of Teaching

Bachelor of Educational Studies

Master of Education ( Special Needs)

Master of Education (Counselling & Guidance)

Ann has also studied specialised units at the London and Pennsylvanian