The Relationship Between Decoding & Encoding in Phonics

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  • 0:00 Decoding & Encoding
  • 1:02 The Difference
  • 2:51 Analyzing a Reader'S Skills
  • 3:51 How They Are Reliant…
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

Though not all children learn to read in the same way and at the same time, there are predictable relationships between some of their steps. This lesson will define decoding and encoding and detail their interplay in a developing reader.

Defining Decoding and Encoding

Although children are unique and develop their reading ability in different ways, there are a few signposts to use when instructing. Teachers of developing readers can look for and become familiar with these signposts and use them to drive instruction.

Developing decoding and encoding skills is essential for a solid understanding of reading. Decoding is the process of reading words in text. When a child reads the words 'The ball is big,' for example, it is necessary to understand what the letters are, the sounds made by each letter and how they blend together to create words.

Encoding is the process of using letter/sound knowledge to write. If a student were to write that same sentence, instead of making sense of the letters in text, it is necessary to recall sounds and the symbols assigned to them to write the letters together to form words. Let's take a look at how this works.

The Difference Between Decoding & Encoding

With the teaching of letters and sounds, the skill known as phonological awareness develops. Children show their phonological skills when they are able to recognize and manipulate letter sounds in specific ways, like beginning, middle and end sounds of words, words that sound the same, and syllables.

This manipulation takes us to the final step in teaching reading - putting these concepts together to instruct children how to read words or, decoding. It requires children to process several steps:

  • Recognize the letter
  • Associate the sound of the letter
  • Understand how the letter sounds work together to make words
  • Blend the letter sounds together to create speech

You've probably forgotten how challenging this is to a reader in the earliest stages. Decoding a simple sentence, such as 'She is happy' means the child needs to know all the letters contained in the sentence, the sounds assigned to each letter, and the way we put these sounds together to read.

The same process is NOT used when readers take this knowledge and write. Instead they are encoding, somewhat reversing the process. Take a look at the steps:

  • Understand how sounds work to form words
  • Take a word apart sound by sound
  • Remember the letter that goes with the sound, including what the letter looks like
  • String or blend the letters together on paper to create words

When children are encoding, they are using the same skills in reading but in a different process. If a student wanted to write 'She is happy,' the first step is to be able to recognize and understand that the sounds made from those words are separate. Then it is necessary to break apart the sounds, assign letters, remember rules and write words. Whew!

Analyzing a Reader's Skills

When children read out loud to you and write words on a page, they're giving you a special peek into their heads. Teachers can use what they see and hear to determine what an emerging reader knows about decoding and encoding to help developing readers grow. How do they do this?

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Additional Activities

Decoding and Encoding Writing Activity

Compare/Contrast Essay

For this activity, you will explore the similarities and differences between decoding and encoding by writing a compare/contrast essay. First, develop your ideas on the topic by creating a Venn diagram. To create a Venn diagram, simply draw two large circles that overlap significantly. On one side of the diagram, write about the distinctive features of decoding, and on the other side, write about the unique characteristics of encoding. In the middle where the circles overlap, write ideas about how decoding and encoding are similar. Next, you will want to create a thesis statement. In your thesis statement, you want to mention the fact that decoding and encoding have both similarities and differences. Here is an example of a thesis statement: While both encoding and decoding contribute to a person's ability to read, these processes have specific differences. Now that you have a thesis statement, it is time to organize your ideas with an outline. Feel free to use the below outline to help you. Once your ideas are well-organized, go ahead and write your essay. Finally, proofread, edit, and revise your essay as needed before turning-in or publishing.


I. Introduction

  • Hook/Attention-Getter
  • Brief introduction to decoding and encoding
  • Thesis statement

II. Body Paragraphs

  • Similarities
  1. Discuss the major similarities between encoding and decoding.
  2. Thoroughly explain the similarities and give examples if possible.
  • Differences
  1. Discuss the major differences between encoding and decoding.
  2. Thoroughly explain the differences and give examples if possible.

III. Conclusion

  • Summarize main ideas.
  • Re-state thesis statement.
  • Closing statement (You may want to include the importance of decoding and encoding.)

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