In the early stages of learning to read, students learn to decode words using their knowledge of letters and sounds. In other words, they “sound out” or use “word attack” skills to read new words. Decoding is different from learning to recognize words by sight, and it is a critical skill to develop as students learn to read. Although memorizing sight words can help students develop fluency, which will be discussed in a later section of the module, students need to develop decoding skills in order to have success reading increasingly advanced language as they progress through the grade levels.

“Many studies have shown that reading disabled children have exceptional difficulty decoding words (Rack, Snowling, & Olson, 1992). In fact, their level of performance falls below that of younger non-disabled readers who read at the same grade-equivalent level, indicating a serious deficit in decoding skill” [1].

This is a common problem among students with LDs in reading. They may be able to memorize the simpler words taught in the primary years, and thus they may not appear to be struggling. However, as the number and complexity of new vocabulary words increases throughout the elementary years, these students may develop significant reading problems. Educators should look out for students who avoid oral reading, skip difficult words, or guess at words instead of decoding them [2].

This section of the module will present phonological and morphological approaches to develop students’ decoding skills.

Young child pointing to words while reading


[1] National Reading Panel, 2000, p. 2-106

[2] Fitzer & Hale, 2015