Teaching Word Patterns as a Decoding Strategy

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

By engaging students in learning activities, such as sorting and word manipulation, students begin to see patterns in words. In this lesson, we will learn how to teach decoding skills through word patterns.

Schematic Word Work

How can we use what we know about how students learn to maximize reading success? Piaget theorized that students learn through assimilation and accommodation. Schema describes the way we organize our thoughts and perceive new learning experiences based on existing knowledge. When students are able to make connections by looking for patterns, making categorizations, and comparing/contrasting, they build schema that enables them to efficiently diagnose and attack new problems in all content areas. Learning word attack skills, which help students identify word patterns effectively, teaches them to decode new words by identifying their relationship to known words. Let's look at some specific ways to help students develop decoding skills by looking at patterns.

Picture and Word Sorts

How can I teach students to look for patterns in words? Sorts are activities in which students classify information by dividing it into various categories. There are many types of sorts that can be used depending on the goal and developmental level of the students.

  • Picture sorts may be used before students are able to actually read words to help students learn to categorize words by beginning sound, ending sound, vowel sound, root word, or affix. Affixes are letters that come before (prefixes) or after (suffixes) a root word that change its meaning.
  • Word sorts are word cards that are placed into categories according to phonetic patterns. Word sorts may be used to sort both simple and complex phonetic patterns at the beginning, middle, and end of words. In some cases, sorts will point out spelling patterns. For example, the rime of the words tier, near, and sheer all have the same sound, but are spelled differently.
  • Picture sorts with word matches combine picture sorts with word sorts to enable students to consider the categories of words by both sound and spelling patterns.

Closed Vs. Open Sorts

  • Closed sorts are when the teacher selects the categories for students to sort words or pictures into. For example, the teacher may provide words such as, three, rest, leaf, and setting, then ask students to sort the words using the categories short e and long e sound.
  • Open sorts provide students the opportunity to determine how they will sort words, encouraging students to find more than one way to look at a group of words. For example, if students are provided with the words bustling, banks, hotter, and house, then students may choose to categorize the words by whether or not they contain suffixes or by beginning sound.

When selecting sorts for students, don't shy away from using irregular words that don't follow traditional patterns. Students need to also be able to recognize those words. For example, when sorting words by long e and short e sounds, you may want to include words like people and friend.

Manipulating Words

Activities that allow students to change the letters of word to create new words help students better understand elements of word patterns, such as word families. Word families are words with commonalities. For example, met, bet, let, and jet are a word family because they all have the same rime '-et.' Onset refers to the initial phoneme of a word. Rime is the remaining part of the word after the onset.

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