Sunday, April 26, 2015

Decoding Multi-Syllable Words


Do you have upper elementary students who struggle with decoding longer, multi-syllable words?  During my time as an ESL teacher and a grades 4-5 Title Reading teacher, I stumbled across a method that seemed to work quite well for my readers struggling with this skill.  When I used this method with my students consistently within guided reading groups, I witnessed marked improvement on how well students attacked those longer, multi-syllable words.

Step 1:  Prior to class, scan the text for about 5 multi-syllable words that are likely to be challenging for students.  (This step is easy, isn’t it?  We teachers tend to know exactly which words our students will struggle with.)

Step 2:  (During your guided reading group) Ask, “How many syllables are in the word __________?”  For example, “How many syllables are in the word “imagination”?  My students often clapped it out to determine the answer.

Step 3:  Draw that many lines on your board.  I often had students draw the lines on a sheet of paper, also.
I am in love with this alternative to using a dry-erase board shared just last week by Lynda from Curls and a Smile!  Just slip a sheet of paper inside a clear-view binder cover, and you have a versatile, portable dry-erase board!!

Step 4:  Zoom in on that first syllable.  Ask a question like “What two letters do you hear in that first syllable?”  After students answer correctly, write the correct letters on the first line.

Step 5:  Zoom in on the second syllable.  Ask a question like “What two letters do you hear in that second syllable?”  (Students might answer A-J, and I would respond by saying, “no, this time it's the other letter that sometimes makes the /j/ sound.)  Write the correct letters on the second line.

Step 6:  Zoom in on the third syllable.  Ask a question like “Which vowel do you hear in that third syllable?”  (By this time, students are usually going back to the beginning of the word and repeating the first two syllables quietly, and then shouting out the third syllable, which is music to my ears because they are focusing in on each individual syllable and reading those syllables repeatedly!)  Write the correct letter on the line.

Step 7:  Zoom in on the fourth syllable.  Write the correct letters on the line.

Step 8:  Zoom in on the fifth syllable.  Ask a question like “What four letters almost always say /shun/?” (Students quickly learn this pattern, because it seems like nearly every day at least one of our target words contain this syllable!)  Write the correct letters on the line.

Step 9:  Students take turns running their finger under each syllable and saying the word parts slowly first, and then the entire word quickly.

This looks like it might be a long process, but it truly takes less than a minute per word, and even less time after students are accustomed to the procedure.







A spin-off activity that students usually enjoy is The Mystery Word activity.  Just like before, I begin by scanning the text prior to class for 5 target words that students will likely find challenging.

Step 1:  Begin by drawing a blank line for each syllable in the mystery word.  (For example, if the mystery word is “impressive”, I would draw three blank lines on the board.)

Step 2:  Write the first syllable on the first line, and say, “How would you read this syllable?”  Students will sound out the /im/.  Then I allow them a few attempts to guess the mystery word.  For example, students might guess important or impossible (to which I would help them count out the syllables in impossible and determine that it has too many syllables to be the mystery word).

Step 3:  Write the second syllable on the second line, and say, “How would you read this syllable?”  Students sound out the /pres/ syllable and immediately go back to the first syllable and say both word parts.  If, at this point, a student guesses the correct mystery word, I verify that he or she is correct, and then ask the students to help me determine which letters need to be written on the final line by sounding out that final syllable.

Step 4:  If no one has correctly guessed the mystery word, I write the third syllable on the third line, and say, “How would you read this syllable?” 

Step 5:  I have students take turns running their finger under each syllable and saying the word parts slowly first, and then the entire word quickly.


After all five words have been introduced (and any other teaching points have taken place), I assign pages to students, and they begin reading.  I take turns listening to students read, and I always wait expectantly for students to come across one of the target words that we built up together.  More often than not, students are able to decode the word!  However, even more rewarding is when I see students encounter an unknown multi-syllabic word, and observe as they attempt to break it into chunks and decode the syllables!