What is Word Recognition? - Stages & Skills

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  • 0:04 Word Recognition
  • 0:26 Pre-Alphabetic
  • 1:06 Partial-Alphabetic
  • 1:46 Full-Alphabetic
  • 2:25 Graphophonemic & Morphemic
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

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

In this lesson, we'll learn the stages of word recognition that students will experience as they grow from young children who are just beginning to see the relationship between letters and sounds to fluent readers.

Word Recognition

What is word recognition? Word recognition is a process by which students learn to identify words and word parts. It begins with an understanding that letters symbolize the sounds in words and progresses to the ability to understand complex word parts and syllabication principles. Let's learn more about the phases of word recognition.


How do early childhood teachers prepare students for reading? Most preschoolers are in the pre-alphabetic stage. During the pre-alphabetic phase of decoding, the student has very limited experience with words and letters. During this phase, students may be able to identify just a few letters and environmental words in context, such as the word 'exit', but only when it's seen on an exit sign.

Students in this phase should be able to read their name, but may not understand the relationships between the letters of their name and the sounds they make. Teachers support student growth at this phase by teaching letters, sounds, and sight words within the context of predictable or repeated texts.


As students learn more letters and sounds, they enter the partial-alphabetic phase. The partial-alphabetic phase of decoding is when students have achieved the ability to name most of the consonants of the alphabet and can identify the sounds associated with them. During this phase, students are able to decode some words phonetically, but generally do not use context clues to help make meaning of words.

Students may invent words and spellings in an effort to apply their limited knowledge of phonetic principles. Teachers support student growth by continuing to teach letter names and sounds, but also introducing word families. Students can write full sentences with the assistance of sentence stems.


As students become more proficient at identifying single letters and sounds, their word attack skills become more sophisticated. During the full-alphabetic phase of decoding, students demonstrate automaticity in decoding words by single letter sounds. The first and last letter of a word are predominately used to attack new words.

Towards the end of this phase, students will know many sight words and will be less likely to substitute nonsense words while reading. Students will continue to use invented spelling, but it will more closely match realistic word patterns. During this phase, teachers can begin teaching vowel patterns, syllabication, and structural analysis.

Graphophonemic & Morphemic

By this point, students have become fairly proficient at decoding words, but will need to continue learning about more advanced word elements. The graphophonemic stage is sometimes called the consolidated alphabet stage. During the graphophonemic phase of decoding, the student understands frequently used word patterns and rimes. Rimes are the part of the word that occurs after the initial phoneme. The student will begin decoding multisyllabic words and new words by sight.

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