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Word Identification Skills in Young Children: Strategies & Activities

Instructor: Kerry Gray

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

This lesson will examine effective strategies and activities to support the development of young children's word identification skills, including sight word recognition, identifying words in context, structural analysis, and manipulating graphemes.

Developing Fluent Readers

Reading comprehension is negatively affected when fluency is hindered by student's underdeveloped decoding skills. Teachers support students' growth towards reading proficiency by helping students develop their word identification skills. In this lesson, we will discuss sight word recognition, context clues, structural analysis, and the manipulation of phonemes within word families as strategies for improving word identification skills.

Sight Word Recognition

As students become fluent readers, they begin to automatically recognize a variety of words. Beginning readers take more time to decode words, which affects comprehension; therefore, the best way to add words to a student's ability to instantly recognize words is through exposure to a large amount of texts. There are 100 high-frequency words that make up about 50% of written language that students need to commit to memory. Many high-frequency words do not follow conventional phonics patterns, making them difficult to decode. Examples of high-frequency words include: and, said, the, to, and you. The use of flashcards and repeated reading from high-frequency word lists have been shown to improve instant word recognition.

Identifying Words in Context

Context clues are sources of information within the text that help students make inferences about unknown words. The three cueing systems for finding the meaning of words in context are semantic cues, syntactic cues, and visual cues.

  • Semantic cues make sense of the passage based on the meaning of the words in the passage combined with the student's background information. For example, when reading a book about the ocean, the student might encounter a sentence that begins, 'The biggest threat to humpback whales is …' Using semantic cues, the student may supply the word 'orcas', 'sharks', or 'pollution' to end the sentence because any of those words would make sense.
  • Syntactic cues relies on the structure of the sentence itself to determine what type of word goes in the sentence. For example, in the sentence, 'The biggest threat to humpback whales is the ….' Students know that the word 'pollution' is not a viable answer because of the definite article 'the.'
  • Visual Cues come from a student's recognition of letter sounds to determine if the word looks right. Illustrations are also visual cues that can support word identification. For example, in the sentence, 'The biggest threat to humpback whales is the w--ing …' The student is able to recognize the graphemes at the beginning and end of the word, causing the student to supply the word 'washing', 'wearing', or 'whaling' in place of the unknown word.

By combing all three cueing systems, the student is able to come up with 'whaling industry' as the biggest threat to the humpback whales.

Structural Analysis

As readers mature, they are able to break multisyllabic words into their structural parts to decode. Some structural parts that students recognize include:

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