When readers decode by using word-meaning clues, they look at whole words and take them apart. They find the main part (or root) of the word. They also look for any prefixes (word parts in front of the root word) or suffixes (word parts at the end of the root word).
For example, the word undone has the prefix un– before the root word done. The word washable has the suffix –able at the end of the root word wash. The word talked has the suffix –ed, which tells the reader the action happened in the past. Sometimes, both a prefix and a suffix might be attached to the root word, as in unwashed.
Readers also check if words are compound words, which combine two root words. Bookbag and sunscreen are examples of compound words.
To use word-meaning clues, readers need to know:
- how to identify root words, prefixes, and suffixes;
- the meanings of prefixes and suffixes; and
- how compound words and other words are constructed.
It’s faster to decode using word-meaning clues than sound-symbol clues. But word-meaning clues work best for readers who already know many root words by sight, or who can decode root words quickly using sound-symbol clues.
One more important thing: children learn to use both kinds of clues at the same time. And they get more and more practice when using them together. At first, the sound-symbol clues get more attention. But meaning is always important. So, word-meaning clues should definitely be part of the mix.
By following this decoding process, most students will become good readers. Some may take longer than others. That’s okay!