5 Decoding Strategies for Beginning Readers

July 28, 2021

Are you looking for decoding strategies to teach your young learners? I am going to share five decoding strategies that are helpful for teaching children to read. These skills and strategies will help your students to attack those unfamiliar words with confidence and ease! Before I dive in, I also shared this information in a recent video so if you would like to watch or listen, click below:


The first tip is when your students come across a brand new word or a word they don’t recognize, be sure to tell them to start on the left. You will typically see your students scanning through that word, looking at all the letters. That is great, but sometimes they will get caught up in the letter(s) they don’t know and may not know what to do next. Be sure to remind them to take that finger and place it on the left as a visual reminder that this is where they need to start. When they start on the left, it encourages them to get that first letter down, and that way they can keep going! Having that first letter mastered gives them a bit of a head start and starts them up for success. 


After they have started on the left and have mastered the first letter you are now going to have them search through that word for patterns they may already know. This is a purposeful scan to identify a pattern such as a digraph, a vowel team, or that silent e. You will want to remind them of the different phonics patterns that they may already know. When you give them this extra reminder they may be able to quickly identify a pattern with the already identified first letter they can easily blend those together. Providing your students with this strategy allows them to look at the word in a smaller chunk which is much more manageable for them. You can also have them break the word into syllable chunks as well and have them blend it that way. It is much easier for them to break down the word to decode when it is not in its entirety. 


For this next strategy, I put a big emphasis on the slowwwlllyyyy. Students will have started on the left and identified the first sound, then they have scanned through recognizable chunks and now you want them to slowly figure out the letters, sound them out, and blend them together. If students are used to tapping out the sounds as a phonemic awareness activity, this strategy may be familiar to them! This is a pretty common decoding strategy because it allows the students to hear the individual sounds and blend them together to create real words. To make it more fun, you can have students practice saying the sounds like a turtle, or a snail, or any other slowwww animal!


This is one of my all-time favorite strategies when it comes to decoding!

Often times students have tried the three previously mentioned strategies but they are still getting a bit fumbled up which is why I believe this strategy is super important. Let’s take the word club, for instance, have them break down each letter and blend them successively. We start with the /c/ then add in the /l/ and once they have blended /cl/ together they can now move on and add the /u/ sound, saying aloud “/clu/”  Lastly, they will add the /b/ to the end. This gives students multiple opportunities to blend the sounds in a word together, adding just one sound at a time!

If you want to see this strategy in action, I share a little video about how I do this over in this blog post here on explicit phonics instruction!



Last but not least, ask your students to say the word aloud to see if it makes sense. After all, there is no purpose in decoding if the word doesn’t make sense or they don’t know what it means. I have had students decode words and quickly move onto the next one without even checking to see if it’s a real word. We want our students to accurately decode, but also to comprehend the words that they are reading. This strategy requires critical thinking and it’s a tool for self-correction. This is the last step to bring all the parts of literacy together. This gives them the chance to go back and figure out where the mistake was made. 

Decoding is an essential part of reading and with the right strategies, we are setting our students up to become successful readers. There are a ton of great decoding strategies out there but I chose these five because they are what worked best for my students when I was a K-2 literacy teacher. What are some of your favorite decoding strategies? Let me know in the comments below!


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