Tackling Long Words Part-by-Part

My son is finishing up his first year in public school. We started the year in Illinois with an incredible kindergarten teacher that ensured all the students had a fun and safe transition into their school career, all while navigating remote learning. Then, in the middle of the year, we moved to New Mexico where he was lucky enough to be placed in yet another incredible teacher’s classroom (kindergarten teachers really are angels in disguise).

I’ve been so fortunate to be able to witness the early reading skills that he is learning and the different strategies that he has started using when he gets to unknown words in a new book.

While reading with him at home, I’ve been pulling from my reading specialist days and teaching him some strategies for when he gets to some of the really long words. It really has been so exciting to watch his little brain working to figure out the multisyllabic words. Sometimes he gets frustrated that I’m not just telling him what it is, but when he finally is able to read it, his face lights up.

With all of the Science of Reading research swirling around out there, I thought it was a good time to put all of these strategies into one post. Hopefully you can use (or you’re probably already using) these strategies with your students to help them decode the words rather than resorting to the three cuing system.

Teaching students to work methodically from the beginning to the end of the word seems like something you wouldn’t need to explicitly teach. However, when students typically come to an unfamiliar word, their eyes dart all over the word looking for anything familiar that they can cling to. When you teach them to start at the beginning, you’re actually giving them one of the best strategies they can use. By starting at the beginning, students can break words down into syllables and work on decoding 1 syllable at a time, using the knowledge of open vs. closed syllables, long vowel patterns, etc.

Another strategy to teach them is to look for double consonants in the word. If the word has double consonants, divide it right in the middle. Since the vowel is now in between 2 consonants, it becomes a closed syllable, which means they will use the short vowel sound. By teaching them closed syllables and r-controlled vowels, they will be able to easily decode the syllables in these words.

Teach your students that digraphs and vowel teams stay together during syllable division. It’s so critical to teach, and reinforce, that digraphs and vowel teams make 1 sound when together, so they NEED to stay together. This should help to make decoding a little easier.

Another strategy to teach your students is that when a word ends with a consonant -le, it gets divided before the consonant. In the examples above, students could then easily decode the beginning syllables by simply understanding the difference between open and closed syllables.

An oldies, but a goodie. If you come across a word with an ending, break the ending off and then work on dividing the base word into syllables. For example, blossoming…take off -ing and then divide blossom into syllables. We know from one of the previous strategies that we divide the word between the double consonants. After that, we work on decoding each syllable. /Blos/ is a closed syllable and therefore makes a short o sound, while the /som/ ends up having the schwa sound. Put it all together to get to the whole word!

Yes, I’m not sharing any new ground breaking decoding strategies. I’m sharing reliable strategies that will ACTUALLY help your students know what to do when they come across multisyllabic words. It’s important to have consistent rules and strategies that you can come back to time and time again to help your students be successful.


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