Automaticity with Decoding Strategies

Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.
As you should know, I am a reading specialist in a K-2 school.  I do both pull-out interventions and coaching, but have a soft spot for my pull-out kids. A few years ago I had two of the sweetest students who were first graders diagnosed with a "learning disability." (My undergraduate degree is in special education, so you know I love them.) They were the highlight of my day...and I won't deny I'd love to teach them all day! These students definitely needed routine and automaticity. (I first posted this blog on Adventures in Literacy Land, but I've had so many conversations lately with teachers about automaticity, I decided I should repost it.


Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.When we started in late fall, these two were on a Level B and as of March they were moving into a Level D.  THEN, we hit a wall.  The D to E wall.  E seems to be the time when students are faced with lots of long vowel words, blends and digraphs, and word endings.  Here's what I know:  they can decode almost any word, IF I ask them questions and guide them.

For example, If they come to the word "gate."

     Me:  What do you know?      
Justin:  There is an "e" on the end?
     Me:  What does that mean?    
Justin:  The "e" makes the "a" says it's name.
     Me:  So, what is the word?    
Justin:  /g/ /a-a-a-a/ /t/,  gate.
     Me:  Great job!

BUT, they couldn't do it by themselves.

What could I do?

Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.My greatest challenge is getting the students to have their own internal dialog when using decoding strategies.  After a conversation with my Assistant Principal, we decided to try and practice the automaticity of the decoding strategies.  What does that mean?  I want them to come to an unknown word and think strategy first.  I have always "taught" and "practiced" the strategies, but I'm taking it one step farther.

1.  Play "Slap Jack"

I created a strip of the 3 strategies they seemed to need the most.  I chose 1 known and 2 unknown strategies.  We had been using Sound and Slide to practice our cvc words.  They have gotten pretty consistent with that strategy, so that became their "known" strategy.  The second strategy was the silent e "making the vowel say it's name (most of the time)."  We have talked about this strategy, but they needed concentrated practice with it.  The final strategy was "chop the endings."  We covered up or "chopped off" the endings to look at the base word for decoding.  To begin, I wrote 5 words for each strategy on an index card and when I flashed the card, they had to "slap the strategy" they would use to decode the word.  THEY DID NOT DECODE THE WORD.  This wasn't a decoding lesson, it was a strategy lesson.  We played this game for a week.  I let them sit side-by-side and slap the strategy together, but by the end of the week it was a race.  I wanted the strategy to be automatic.  The video below is Justin identifying the strategy for me.  (He said he didn't want to slap it, if it wasn't a game.  He thought he looked silly doing it alone.) I hate that the video doesn't show all the strategies, but you get the idea.  By the end of the week, he was pointing to the strategy and saying the name of it.  That's what I want:  automaticity.

Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.2.  Sort 

Part 1, we sorted with the cards from the week before.  I gave them the cards to sort under the strategy mat.  Yes, I should have made the cards smaller.  Lucky for you, I made small cards for you at the end of the post.  They would sort the cards as quickly as they could, then they would "prove" the cards belonged in that column.  They are still not reading the cards, they are just choosing a strategy.  Part 2, was a sort sheet.  This was an independent activity at the end of the week, but the students were still asked to "prove" the word belonged.  I also wanted to send a sample of a competed sort home to their parents.

3.  Read.
Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.

Finally, we read sentences I constructed with multiple strategies in each sentence.  As they came to an underlined word, they touched the strategy on the mat and then decoded the word.  They did a great job.  My favorite moment was when looking at the word "running" Justin said, "After I chop the ending, I can see a word to "slide and sound."  WOW...that's a moment, if you ask me.

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