How can you promote the development of multiple word-identification strategies?

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To teach someone how to read is to provide that person with strategies to decode and make sense out of the symbols printed on the page so that they become recognizable and meaningful words. Most readers benefit from having multiple methods of approaching this process.

Reading needs to begin with a strong foundation in basic phonics. Youngsters need to master the connections between letter symbols and sounds associated with those symbols, or phonemes. As the relationship between the visual symbols (printed letters) and auditory sounds (the spoken sound of those letters) develops, children can begin to learn to sound out words by stringing together the series of sounds represented by a collection of letters.

The English language, however, is full of words that do not follow a regular pattern of letter and sound association. Other strategies become important to decode many words in common use.

Encouraging students to consider the context, or the meaning of words surrounding a new or unknown word, can be a valuable word-identification strategy. Asking the student, "What would make sense?" allows the student to apply prior knowledge to the decoding process. Coupled with examining the phonetic makeup of the new word, this can be a powerful approach to new vocabulary.

Examining strange words for familiar syllables, prefixes or suffixes and recalling the meaning of those parts of a word contributes another approach and set of clues to the meaning of a new word. Time spent learning the meanings of such word segments is time well spent.

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