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The basics of beginning reading: Sounds and words

Decoding is one of the four essential reading skills. Find out if your kindergartner or first grader is on track.

By GreatSchools Staff

To understand decoding, it helps to think about written language as essentially a code or series of symbols for oral language. To read, a child needs to be able to decode written language, which means being able to recognize and sound out each letter of the alphabet. A child also needs to recognize and be able to pronounce letter blends – letters commonly found grouped together. Frequently found letter blends include "th", "ch", "st", and "qu"; more complicated blends include "ough" and "ought." Your child might be having difficulty with decoding if she regularly struggles with recognizing letter sounds and blend sounds. The result is that she wouldn't be able to easily sound out many words in a text at her grade level. A child with strong decoding skills can recognize familiar words quickly, and easily figure out new words.

A beginning reader (K - 1) with good decoding skills can:

  • Recognize letter sounds
  • Identify and use rhyming words
  • Recognize and use "words families" (words that share certain letters and may also rhyme, for example: bat, hat, rat, sat)
  • Recognize and mix and match words with a consonant, a vowel, and another consonant (for example: cow, sow, now)
  • Identify the sounds of each letter in simple, one-syllable words
  • Recognize grade-level sight words
  • By first grade, read words with long vowel sounds (for example: see, say, so)

Other necessary reading skills:

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