Definition of Decoding in Reading: teaching strategies to decode words • Grade University

What is Decoding in Reading?

What is Decoding in Reading?


  • Reading
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Literacy skills are definitely among the most important for every human being. They allow us to collect information, learn new things and explore  the world hidden behind our native and  foreign alphabets. 

A pivotal component of literacy development is decoding – the ability to translate written words into spoken language by understanding the relationship between letters and their corresponding sounds. 

Therefore, teaching comprehension of these foreign letters is an important task that  every English teacher faces. Let’s talk about decoding in reading to deal with teaching reading in a more effective way.

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What is decoding in reading?

The definition of decoding is pretty simple:

The capacity to use one's  understanding of letter-sound relationships, particularly letter patterns, to pronounce written words properly is known as decoding in reading.

Children who comprehend these connections can better identify unfamiliar words and quickly recognize those they are acquainted with. Most children benefit from receiving specific training in this area, even though they may occasionally figure out some of these correlations on their own.

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Why is decoding so important?

Decoding of words is crucial if you want to make sure that your young learners are constantly developing their reading skills and are capable of doing that even without your help sometimes!

Achieving such a result comes after admitting that reading and decoding skills are inextricably linked.

If your students have troubles with decoding, they will likely be unable to recognize the words that they have heard before in print as well as pronounce the words with unknown meanings correctly.

As you can see, teaching to decode lays a foundation of the successful acquisition of new vocabulary and reaching language proficiency in general.

How does the process of decoding go?

The first step in decoding words is to identify each letter that makes up a word. 

The reader needs to determine the sounds that every letter produces straight after they have recognized the letters. This can be done by identifying the sounds connected to each letter using phonics principles. The reader must then combine the sounds of each letter to construct the word. To achieve this, they first sound out each letter, and then combine them.

Sometimes the decoding process requires figuring out the individual word pieces in order to understand the entire word.

For instance, a reader may identify the suffix after recognizing the well-known root word “comfort” in the lengthier term “comfortable.”

That is why the ability to decode is crucial. It helps readers comprehend the connection between letters and sounds.

Readers can increase their understanding of the material and have a deeper grasp of the language by breaking words down into smaller bits and sounding them out.

How to teach reading rules

What are the decoding strategies?

Now, let’s look at some decoding strategies you may successfully implement in your lessons to improve your students’ reading skills. 

Use phonics

The link between sounds and letters is the main emphasis of the phonics reading instruction approach.

And it is a very common decoding strategy. Readers decode new words and increase their reading fluency by becoming familiar with the sounds that each letter produces. 

Flashcards, word lists, and other exercises are frequently used within decoding in phonics training to help students recognize and sound out words.

Practice with sight words

Words that readers can identify with ease without having to sound them out are known as sight words.

Memorizing these terms may assist with understanding and reading speed, as they are commonly employed in written language. Even beginners start their English learning  journey by acquiring  some of these words. “The”, “was”, “it”, “I” etc. are definitely among the sight words.

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Look for context clues

Words or phrases in a sentence that provide context for a new term are known as context clues. 

Readers may frequently infer the meaning of an unknown word by carefully examining the words and phrases surrounding it. 

As for the decoding example in this case, it’s pretty easy to deduce the meaning of the word “surround” from the previous sentence. As you can see, it’s not necessary to explain or teach certain unknown words if students pay enough attention to the context.

Discover chunking

Chunking is the process of dividing more complex words into smaller units, or “chunks,” to facilitate reading and comprehension.

Reading starters can generally be more ready to interpret lengthier words if they read each segment independently and then combine them. By the way, chunking is commonly used in various types of drilling.

Apply visual aids

Constructing mental pictures of what is being read is the process of visualizing. 

Readers can better comprehend and retain what they are reading if they can visualize the words and ideas. For struggling readers who have issues with decoding, this technique can be quite beneficial. Try using word maps, slides, pictures, board games etc.

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What might be difficult about decoding?

However, surely there are some challenges you and your students may encounter while teaching to decode. Let's look through a short overview of potential difficulties:

Coming across unknown words

When reading new words, learners could find it difficult to understand them. 

For readers who still need to become proficient in decoding, this can be quite challenging. In these situations, they might have to use other techniques or contexts to figure out what the term means.

Dealing with irregular verbs

Some words might be challenging to interpret because they act contrary to standard phonological norms.

For proper reading, students may need to learn these irregular words by heart.

Stumbling upon homophones (and everything that looks a little bit similar)

Words that sound the same but have distinct meanings are called homophones.

For instance, the words “ship” as a type of transport, “sheep” as an animal, and “ship” as a verb that means “think of two people in a romantic way, considering them a perfect couple” may be easily confused or misinterpreted by beginners.

Plus, we shouldn’t underestimate the possible difficulties some students have with parts of speech, which makes the task of decoding even more complicated.

For example, I once had a student who at some point exclaimed: “Gosh! How am I going to distinguish the phrase “let us” and “lettuce”?” 

Sure, there were no reasons to be afraid. However, it shows that even slightly similar letter combinations might cause a great deal of confusion, let alone dealing with homophones.

Correct homophone decoding needs phonological proficiency, contextual and sometimes even grammatical awareness.

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Struggling with reading speed

Some readers may find that decoding slows down their reading pace.

This may limit their ability to understand the text as a whole. Readers may need to develop their fluency and decoding abilities in order to increase their reading speed.

Are there any words that can’t be decoded?

The phonics rules are necessary for decoding. The majority of English terms adhere to these rules. 

However, not all words do. Certain words are more difficult to figure out by phonetically decoding them. These are ambiguous terms and homophones that have several spellings with distinct meanings or are spelled differently than how you may say them.

Unlike sight words, “tricky” words require more time for youngsters to figure out and cannot be easily grasped.


To sum up, answering the question “how to decode words” basically gives a reply to another crucial question which is “how to read”

To discover even more useful advice on teaching young learners, join our community of inspiring professionals and get some helpful tips during the TEFL training.

Homophones are not a problem in decoding. Is it true?

Can the sight words be easily confused with other words during the process of decoding?

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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