Webinar Script

Slide 1: Welcome to the sixth webinar in the series on helping teach reading. My name is Kevin Daberkow. I am an educational researcher working for WordFarmers Associates. WordFarmers is producing modules for paraprofessional educators on behalf of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation at the University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences Grant Center.

Slide 2: This webinar discusses decoding and instructional methods used to help students learn to decode. Decoding instruction typically focuses on the letters and syllables that form the sounds of words. But this instruction also draws attention to the meaning of words: the meaning of new words to be learned, related words, and the meaning of surrounding words that supply context clues for the new words.

Slide 3: Experienced readers don’t usually think of reading as figuring out a code. Their knowledge about letters, syllables, and parts of words allows them to recognize most words’ pronunciations and meanings as soon as they see the words. For beginning readers, who have not yet learned what sound a letter or group of letters stands for or what word that combination of sounds makes, the reading process is slow and very much like figuring out a coded message. Unfortunately, the initial challenge of decoding postpones the pleasure of fluent reading.

Slide 4: For most readers the challenges of the “learning to read” period last just a brief time; for others—those who struggle with reading—the challenges persist, sometimes for a whole lifetime.

Slide 5: Readers who, for various reasons, find learning the sound-symbol code extremely difficult may become so frustrated and discouraged that they dread trying. One of the most important things to remember about helping students improve their decoding skills is that the students you are working with may already be frustrated and discouraged. Your efforts to make practice in decoding as engaging and productive as possible can have a direct influence on the students’ progress.

Slide 6: One principle of helping students master skills of phonemic awareness is to follow teaching conventions used with beginning readers in Kindergarten, first-, second-, and third-grade classrooms. Instruction to teach phonemic awareness—awareness of the sounds letters and syllables represent—in these primary grades moves carefully from simple to complex sound-letter associations and from predictable patterns or rules of sound-letter association to the less predictable exceptions to the rules.

Slide 7: There are many effective methods of teaching phonemic awareness. The major goal of all these methods is to teach beginning readers to distinguish the sounds in a word, to recognize the order in which the sounds occur in the word, and to associate the written letters with the sounds they represent.

Slide 8: One popular method uses strips of blank squares to help students acquire these skills. These strips of blank squares, or boxes, are sometimes called, “Elkonin boxes” after the educator who developed this method.

Slide 9: There are many ways to use these segmented strips. One way is to give the student a strip divided into as many squares as there are sounds in the new word. For example, if the word being taught were “flash,” which has four sounds, the strip would have four blank squares. The teacher shows the word to the student and pronounces the word slowly, making the sounds as distinct as possible. On the strip, the student writes the letter or letters that make each sound in the appropriate square—writing an “f” in the first square, an “l” in the second, “a” in the third, and “sh” in the fourth, because the two letters in “sh” make one sound.

Slide 10: Typically the strips start off with sound-symbol associations for one-syllable words. Helping students learn to break words into syllables makes it easier for them to start to sound out multi-syllable words.

Slide 11: A syllable is a word part that includes one and only one vowel sound. That sound might be produced by one letter (such as the letter “a”) or multiple letters (such as the two vowels “o” and “i”).

Slide 12: Students who have trouble dividing words into syllables are likely to have a hard time decoding words phonetically. It helps to show these students the syllables visually as you slowly pronounce the word. For example you might highlight the syllables with a marker or write each syllable in a different ink color.

Slide 13: A simple method for emphasizing syllables is to ask the student to clap once for each syllable as you pronounce the word. With the word “remember,” for example, students would clap three times as you say the word: “re” (clap), “mem” (clap), “ber (clap).

Slide 14: Some syllables in words convey meaning, and others don’t. For example, in the word “mat,” the single syllable has a meaning. In the word “material,” none of the five syllables has a meaning unto itself. The “ma” in “material” doesn’t tell us anything about the meaning, nor does the “te,” the “ri,” or the “al.”

Slide 15: Sometimes, however, the parts of a multisyllabic word do convey meaning. Prefixes and suffixes, for example, convey meaning. Prefixes are syllables that begin words and contribute to their meaning. For example, think about the “un” in “unfold” and the “under” in “underlying.”

Slide 16: Suffixes are syllables that are added to the end of words to convey meaning. For instance, “ness,” which means a state of being, as in “goodness,” “happiness,” and “willingness.” Another example is “like,” which means to resemble, as in “childlike” or “lifelike.”

Slide 17: Simple word play with prefixes and suffixes helps students learn and remember them. For example, students can make up words using a prefix or suffix they’re learning and give the definition of pretend words, such as “unlook” or “purpleness.” They also learn root words that are often embedded between prefixes and suffixes. On learning the root word “fold,” in “unfold,” for example, students can figure out the meaning of other words, such as “foldable” or “fold-out.”

Slide 18: Decoding is also taught by calling students’ attention to words that are spelled the same except for the first letter or letters. In the early grades, such words are often used to cluster words into “word families.” The “-at” word family, for example, includes “bat,” “cat,” “fat,” “hat,” and so on. Word families are often taught through rhymes, such as reading nursery rhymes aloud, playing rhyming games with students, and having students write their own rhymes.

Slide 19: Especially for students who have a difficult time learning sound-symbol associations, learning how to use “context clues” may be especially important. Context clues are provided in the words around an unfamiliar word. These clues help the reader guess what the unfamiliar word is. Even a reader who didn’t know the word “lethargic” could make a good guess at its meaning from the context clues provided in the words before and after it. “The over-heated gym made the basketball players too lethargic to run fast, jump for the ball, or even dribble with any energy.”

Slide 20: One of the most common ways of helping students learn to use context clues is a fill-in-the-blank method called, the “Cloze procedure.” The Cloze procedure asks the student to supply a missing word (or words) in a sentence. The words before and after the missing word suggest what the word could be. They provide context clues. In using this procedure, you might read a sentence aloud at first and then have the student read it aloud and guess the missing word.  After reading “Jerry saw his dog ________ across the street,” the student might fill in the blank with “walk,” “run,” or “dart,” for example. If you want the student to say a particular word because the student is working on a certain word family or type of word, you would give additional clues, such as “It’s an action that’s faster than “walk,” or it’s a word that belongs to the “-un” family.

Slide 21: Helping students learn to read can benefit from an analysis of what good readers do and then teaching beginning readers to do the same things.

Slide 22: Some educators say that good readers pay attention to all of the letters in a word and all of its parts. Generally, they notice a word’s letters, syllables, prefixes, suffixes, and the root word that carries most of the meaning. Without effort, they spot familiar syllables or larger parts of words in new words, and those parts of words help them to see how a new word should be pronounced and what it might mean. They also use context to decode a difficult new word.

Slide 23: Most good readers can do all of these things because they read a lot. Furthermore, all readers end up memorizing many words, whether they do so consciously or through instruction in sight words.

Slide 24: Instruction in decoding can help beginning readers acquire more complex reading skills, especially comprehension, but it can also get in the way of their learning. For example, excessive attention on phonemic awareness sometimes makes students think reading is all about correctly naming each individual sound and each individual word. Reading, however, is primarily about acquiring meaning from written symbols. When too much attention is placed on the details involved in naming words, students can lose sight of overall meaning. They lose track of the forest for the trees.

Slide 25: In summary, it’s important to remember that decoding can involve phonemic awareness, structural analysis of words into their meaningful parts, and using the context to make an educated guess about an unfamiliar word. These skills are used in service of comprehension. If students are comprehending what they are reading, educators can pay less attention to the explicit teaching of decoding skills. If students are having difficulty comprehending what they are reading, then more attention can be given to these skills.