Decoding: The Next Steps – About This Unit

As we saw in Unit 4, decoding is an essential skill for learning to read. We’ve already explored one major way to learn to decode: using phonetic clues. This unit builds on that discussion by exploring another decoding method: structural analysis. This method teaches readers to recognize meaningful parts of words, known as morphemes. Recognizing morphemes helps readers attach sounds to unfamiliar letter combinations and determine the words that those letter combinations represent. It also gives readers clues to word meaning.

The two methods of decoding operate together to help readers build sight word vocabulary. Sight words are just that—words we recognize by sight. The more sight words a child recognizes, the easier reading will be! This unit discusses ways to deepen students’ knowledge of sight words.

Core Concepts

Words have structure. They’re made up of roots, prefixes, suffixes, and so on. In many cases, word structure provides clues to pronunciation and meaning. Words also have tense (e.g., past, present, and future) and can be classified according to their parts of speech—whether they’re a noun, verb, preposition, and so on.

The study of words’ structure is called morphology. It shows us not just how words are formed, but also how they relate to one another. In addition to sound-symbol clues, word structure clues make decoding more effective and efficient.

Key Vocabulary

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  • Compound Word
    Two (or more) words joined together to create a single new word with a meaning that differs from the meaning of the words that are combined. For example, sun combined with block becomes sunblock and book combined with bag becomes bookbag.
  • Heart Words
    Words we know by heart that are intentionally taught because they occur frequently; words with irregular spellings are often useful heart words.
  • Morpheme
    The smallest unit of meaning in a language.
  • Morphology
    The study of words' structure.
  • Orthographic Mapping
    The process of a reader connecting the spelling of a printed word automatically to its pronunciation and meaning.
  • Sight Words
    Words a reader recognizes almost automatically due to advanced decoding skills. Sight words are stored in our memory so we don't have to stop and figure them out.
  • Structural Analysis
    Finding the meaning of an unfamiliar word by identifying the root word, word parts such as prefixes (beginnings) and suffixes (endings), and the word's construction. Structural analysis works best with longer words.
  • Word-Meaning Clues
    Hints about the meaning of unfamiliar words that are revealed by their structure.