Thursday, February 4, 2010

Decoding Strategy - Get at the Vocab Crisis

Now, I want to make note here that if your child is struggling with High Frequency Words, having them "sound out" is not going to work (i.e. the, she, he, my). They need to know those automatically. Lots of times they just need to see those words many, many times. I use flashcards, play matching games, time trials, and over and over exposure. Those are sight words.

When we are talking decoding strategies, we are talking about words that can be sounded out, chunked, and split. Many of these words tend to be multi syllable words. Funny how I remember doing a ton of "clapping" words and syllables when I was young, yet it seems to be less and less done - or kids forget to do it. Splitting the word into syllables will help them find those chunks. It is especially helpful in spelling too.

I have noticed too, that decoding words tends to be a toughie as kids start out reading, then it wanes for a while. All of a sudden, it will resurface, usually around end of 2nd, beginning of 3rd. This is why.


In first and second grade, it is fine to read simpler, more general words. But as books get harder, the vocabulary gets way more complex.

Here's what I am suggesting. First step is to make sure those phonics, phonemic awareness are intact. If they know those patterns and sounds in smaller words, they will find them (you may need to model finding them for a while) in the bigger words.

Long words sometimes intimidate kids. Again, make it managable. Have them break up the words. Look for hidden words they know inside the words.

They may need to do some rereading to see what would fit.

Here's where I want to take a tangent, however. Even if they manage to decode these bigger words, they will not know what those words mean. Many words become much more precise, and kids need to know that authors are 1) introducing them to new, better words and 2) creating a more vivid experience and picture in their minds.

For example, I was reading with a child and the girl had a magenta glittery heart on her shirt. It was a black and white illustration, so when my reader got to magenta, she sounded it out, reread, and kept going. I stopped her, praised her for using her skills to sound it out correctly, but asked her what it meant. She shrugged her shoulders.

My tangent is this: don't think the work is done if the word is sounded out correctly. That's only half the battle.

I know that kids' vocabularies are not vast. They need to be, however. They need to know there are other words for "great, nice, cool, happy."

Here's a great way to expand your kids' vocabulary. Play free association with them. I will do this with the boys all together. I find that sometimes one will think of something another doesn't, and the others will learn.

Sit with paper in front of you and give them a word. ANY word. Have them free associate ANY words that come to their minds and you write them down so they can see them. ANY words. You can ask why and how it came to mind, but that isn't necessary. You add in your own -- stick in words you know they may not be familiar with, and then tell them what it means and why you thought it should go with the word you wrote down.

Brain research shows that our mind will learn things easiest by association. It will web things together and sort them out. The strongest learning happens when we connect things to something else we know. Sort of like a peg your mind hangs that jacket on. It will stay put.

The game is fun, yet don't let them give you two words and stop. Set the timer. See how many connections you can make in 5 minutes.

Here's the great thing...not only are you teaching them word meanings/associations, but the more they see those words, the easier it will be for them to say and decode them!

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