Sunday, August 7, 2016

Active Syllabication Practice with Word Work Outs

Happy Sunday! I thought I would share a little book that made a big difference in how I work with some of my students who struggle with decoding words. By third grade, readers are encountering many longer multisyllabic words as they read. I have found that many have adopted some very inefficient means of reading these what I have termed the "grab and go". These readers grab and decode the first syllable of the word, guess the rest and go right on along even if the word they invented made absolutely no sense in the sentence. These are my Word Plowers...they made me crazy so after listening to student after student stumbling over these longer words, I decided to seek out the best way to help them.  And, I am happy to report that  I found a great strategy in Isabel Beck's Making Sense of Phonics.  This is the second edition of this book and in it she has added chapters with insight on how to help our transitional readers become more proficient at reading longer and more challenging multisyllabic words. 

If you can relate to the above scenario I described, then you need to read chapter 9 in this book. In it she states, "Children need to know that a chunk, or an approximate syllable, has one vowel or vowel team per chunk. They need to learn to be flexible with their sounding out of syllables and blending syllables together. They should be given a copy of the advanced vowel chart (see Figure 3-3) to help them remember the most common sounds for a particular vowel or vowel team. Consistently remind students that if one sound doesn’t work, they should try another. Also, remind the children frequently that their sounding out will only get them close to the real word. As they are blending syllables together, they need to think of a word that is close to what they are saying and that make sense in the story. I often find that children don’t rely on context enough as an additional support when they are sounding out multisyllabic words."
Yes,  yes and yes. 

She goes on to say that supporting students' reading of multisyllabic words requires three skills. 
1. Analysis: Where to divide a written word into syllables
2. Pronunciation: How to pronounce the individual syllables in a word. 
3. Synthesis: How to combine the syllables into a spoken word. 

Last year I decided to become much more explicit in the modeling of these skills as I introduced new words to my students. I found opportunities throughout the day. Many times I used part of my social studies or science time practicing the analysis, pronunciation and synthesis of content vocabulary words. I knew students were going to have to read and write social studies words like: democracy, independent, legislative, executive. These are hard words to pronounce, let alone read and spell.  

I began using an approach that incorporated Beck's suggested skills as I introduced content related words at the beginning of a unit. First, I would write the word and together the students and I would analyze it to determine the syllable parts. Students learned that there must be a vowel in each syllable. 
We would "sweep the syllables" under the word and number them. 

Next, we would work on pronouncing each syllable part. Here is where I really used some of our "Brain Buddies" to help us remember good decoding strategies. We used "lips the fish" to get our mouths ready to make the letter sounds, we used "eagle eye" to look for word parts that we know already and we used "trying tiger" to try another sound for a particular letter...perhaps long i instead of short i, etc. 

When at last we had synthesized our parts into a word that made sense, we were ready to practice reading it by syllable parts and then fluently. 
For this step, I had my students get up out of seats for some "Word Work Outs". 
I grab at any chance to get my students engaged in some kinesthetic learning and students responded so well to these mini work outs. 

Word Work Outs are short and simple movement exercises that students do as they read the syllables and pronounce a new and challenging word. 
I have a student grab the Word Work Out can and pull a card. 

Students will perform the word work out as they say each syllable.
For instance, if we pull out the "Whack It" card, students pretend they have a tennis ball and racket and swing the racket as they say each syllable. For the word: "independent", they would swing the racket as they say "in", then "de", "pend" and "ent".  
I point to each syllable on the board as they perform this and make sure they are using their mouths to say the parts. 

After we are done, I would erase the board and students would attempt to chunk and spell each syllable.  They are amazed and thrilled when they can spell these "big kid" words themselves.
They soon learn that if they can chunk it.....they can spell it. 
I have added my Word Work Out Cards to my Teacher Pay Teacher Store. 

Check out the link below if interested:

You can also find the Brain Buddies Set here
Please share any suggestions or strategies you use to help your older readers decode longer and trickier words.
Comment below or email me:


  1. Love the word work outs! This is my 1st year teaching 3rd grade(after 12 years of K,1,4,5,6) and want to help these kids bcome such good readers!!


  2. I love the word workouts:) What a cute idea!

    I have a link up on my blog going for classroom contracts/expectations if you'd like to link a post up to it:)