Phonological Recoding: Syllable Patterns & Letter Combinations

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education

Phonological skills are essential to learning to read and write. This lesson gives an overview of basic terms that describe letter combinations used in phonological recoding and explains how teachers can help students develop these skills.

What is Phonological Recoding?

How do young children learn to read and write? The answer is a nuanced one including understanding of several different components. Think back to your days as an early reader and writer. You likely had some form of phonological instruction, using letters of the alphabet and connecting them to the sounds in speech. You learned that the letter 't' represents one sound and the letter 'e' another. Eventually you picked up on the alphabetic principle, learning that letters combine in predictable ways to create words. Every time you saw 'at' you knew it made the same sound, like in 'cat', 'hat', and 'rat'.

Part of this process includes what is called phonological recoding, applying the understanding of letter/sound relationships to figure out how to read and spell. In other words, you apply the alphabetic principle to words you read in text and words you're spelling when writing. You recognize and remember that 'at' makes a specific sound and use this knowledge to recode other words, like 'cat'.

Reading Regular Words

Elliot is an early childhood teacher who works with young children in developing literacy. His students encounter different types of words as they read - regular, irregular, and advanced. Think about it this way - some words are simply made up of letters that represent their usual and familiar sound, such as 'a' and 't' in 'at'. This type of phonological recoding is called regular word reading, words that can be read by applying the most commonly used sounds of letters.

Part of the alphabetic principle applies aspects of decoding. When children decode they recognize the relationship of letters and sounds to read. Elliot teaches his students these letter/sound relationships as they grow as readers, starting with simple, regular words like 'at' and 'fat'. Eventually they begin to rely less and less on decoding as their memory of words increases and they learn to identify words by sight.

When young readers begin to apply phonological recoding, they:

  • Begin reading at the left and move to the right
  • Recall sounds for letters in text
  • Blend the sounds together to create words

When using phonological recoding to spell, Elliot's students do the opposite - they use their knowledge to turn speech into text, or encode. Both these skills emerge in a predictable ways

Development of Understanding Regular Words

Elliot is a seasoned teacher. He recognizes that most students develop their phonological recoding skills in a predictable process. First, they consistently sound out each individual letter in words. When reading 'cat', they say /c/a/t. Next, their skills become more refined. They say each sound and then blend the letters together to say 'cat'. Students next sound out the word briefly inside their heads but quickly recognize it as 'cat', and say only the whole word. Finally, they'll be able to automatically recognize and read the word without relying on letter sounds.

Types of Regular Words

Words that students recognize, read, and write within the regular words category consist of the following, where V stands for vowel and C for consonant.

  • VC and CVC words like at and can
  • VCC and CVCC words like ask or camp
  • CVC words like cat
  • CCVCC, CCCVC, and CCCVCC like crabs, strap, or straps

Like we said above, students can easily recognize and decode regular words because they use letter pairings that rely on the most consistently used sound. Let's take a look at some other types of phonological recoding.

Irregular and Advanced Words

Many words we encounter in reading and writing fall into the regular recoding category, but some are more irregular, or use sounds and symbols that don't follow regular patterns. These words are difficult to decode because they are made up of unique letter combinations we don't see in many words or have not yet encountered enough to be recognizable. Elliot's students come across irregular words in text frequently, such as 'the' or 'was'. They need to rely on recall skills to effectively read these irregular words.

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