Kelsie Syverson, EngEd 370, Chapter 7: Word Identification

Defining Word Identification

IMG_E0941.JPGSeveral terms have been associated with identifying words: word attack, word analysis, word recognition, and decoding. Word identification means putting a name or label on words that are encountered in print. Word recognition is a process that involves immediate identification. This could include sight-word recognition or sight vocabulary. The terms word attack, word analysis, and decoding suggest the act of translating print into speech through analysis of letter-sound relationships. Also commonly referred to as phonics. Phonics provides readers with a tool to “attack” the pronunciation of words that are not recognized immediately.

Phases of Development in Children’s Ability to Identify Words


Prealphabetic phase: Occurs before the development of alphabetic knowledge. Children are able to recognize some words by sight because of the distinctive visual and contextual cues in or around the recognized word. This can include cereal boxes, restaurant logos and other environmental print.

Partial alphabetic phase: When they begin to develop some knowledge about letters and detect letter-sound relationships.

Full alphabetic phase: Emerges in a child’s leteracy development when readers identify words by matching all of the letters and sounds. Sounding out letters and blending them into words may be laborious and slow at the beginning but eventually it will become more smooth.

Consolidated alphabetic phase: Would be able to segment word into to larger letter or spelling patterns and match them to larger sound units known as onsets and rimes. Onsets are the initial consonants and consonant patterns that come at the beginning of syllables. Rimes are the vowel and conconants that follow them at the end of syllables.

Approaches and Guidelines for Teaching Phonics

Analytic phonics: A whole-to-part approach to word study in which the student is first taught a number of sight words and then relevant phonic generalizations, which then apply to other words. The instruction involves these steps:

  1. Observe a list of known words with a common letter-sound relationship
  2. Begin questioning about how the words look and sound the same and how they are different
  3. Elict the common letter-sound relationship and discuss
  4. Have the learners phrase a generalization about the letter-sound relationship

Synthetic phonics: A part-to-whole phonics approach to reading instruction in which the student learns the sounds represented by letters and letter combinations, blends these sounds together to pronounce new words, and finally identifies which phonics generalizations apply. The instruction involves these steps:

  1. Teach the letter names
  2. Teach the sound or sounds each letter represents
  3. Drill on the letter-sound relationships until rapidly recognized. Discuss rules and form generalizations about relationships that usually apply yo words
  4. Teach the blending of separate sounds to make words
  5. Provide the opportunity to apply blending to unknown words

Linguistic instruction: A beginning reading approach based on highly regular sound-symbol patterns. This approach emphasizes learning to decode words through regular letter patterns like fish, wish, dish, and swish. Decodable text contains the following features: It is text that is written with a large number of words that have phonetic similarities and there is typically a match between the text and the phonic elements that the teacher has taught.

Language of Phonics:

  • Digraphs – when two or more consonants or vowels are combined to produce a new sound
    • ch
    • sh
    • th
    • wh
    • ph
    • gh
    • -nk
    • -ng
    • oa
    • ee
    • ea
    • ai
    • ay
  • Consonant Blends – two or three consonants grouped together, but each consonant retains the original sound
    •  l blends
      • bl
      • cl
      • fl
      • gl
      • pl
      • sl
    • r blends
      • br
      • cr
      • dr
      • fr
      • gr
      • pr
      • tr
    • s blends
      • sc
      • sk
      • sm
      • sn
      • sp
      • st
      • sw
    • three-letter blends
      • scr
      • spr
      • str
  • Diphthongs – sounds that consist of a blend of two separate vowel sounds
    • /oi/ as in oil
    • /oy/ as in toy
    • /au/ as in taught
    • /aw/ as in saw
    • /ou/ as in out
    • /ow/ as in how
  • Syllables –  a vowel or a cluster of letters containing a vowel and pronounced as a unit. The number of syllables in a word is equal to the number of vowel sounds.
    • Long vowels
      • CV
        • be
      • CVe
        • like
      • CVVC
        • paid
    • Short vowels
      • VC or CVC
        • it
        • hot
    • R-controlled
      • Vr
        • art
      • CVr
        • car
    • Digraph/diphthng variations
      • VV
        • saw
        • book
        • boil
        • out

Analogy-based instuction: Children are taught to use their knowledge of letters representing onsets and rimes in words they already know how to pronounce, rather than their knowledge of letter-phoneme correspondences to pronounce unfamiliar words. Children learn to read words in context better than out of context and that “chunking words” by letter patterns is what good readers do.


Embedded phonics instruction: Often associated with holistic, meaning-centered teaching.

Guidelines for Contemporary Phonics Instruction:

  1. Phonics instruction needs to build on a foundation of phonemic awareness and knowledge of the way language works
  2. Phonics instruction needs to be integrated into a total reading program
  3. Phonics instruction needs to focus on reading print rather than on learning rules
  4. Phonics instruction needs to include the teaching of onsets and rimes. Phonograms or rimes have been found to be generalizable. There are 286 phonograms that appear in primary grade texts, 95% were pronounced the same in every word in which they are found
  5. Phonics instruction needs to include spelling-based strategies

Strategies for Teaching Phonics

Making Words: Flip books make students aware of their word-making capability when they substitute different consonants at the beginning of a rime. Consider these steps:

  1. Decide on the rime that you wish students to practice, ad develop a rime card for each of the students
  2. Develop a set of consonant letter cards for each student that can be used to make words with the rime that has been targeted for pratice
  3. Direct students to use the letter cards to make a word
  4. Have students change the first letter and make a new word
  5. Repeat through the activity until all letters are used

Word Walls: Adapted for a variety of word study purposes at different grade levels. Kindergarten classrooms often begin word walls by listing the letters of the alphabet in large, bright letters. High-frequency words, words that occur repeatedly in text, are added to the wall underneath the letters of the alphabet. Middle-level teachers may include more homophones, compound words, or commonly misspelled words for students to reference.

Using Meaning and Letter-Sound Information to Identify Words

Modified Cloze Passages: Can be constructed from materials that are at first relatively easy to read. Gradually, the difficulty of the reading material can be increased. Teachers often create their own materials which seem to be more effective as the teachers are in the best position to gear the material to the needs of their students.

Cloze activities can contain 1-20 deletions in a passage. If cloze activities seem too hard, choices can be given for each blank.

Cross Checking and Self-Monitoring Strategies: Help readers combine letter-sound and meaning information to make sense while reading. Cross checking simply involves rereading a sentence or two to “cross check,” confirm, modify, or reject, probable pronunciations of unknown words encountered during reading. If the sentence makes sense, the meaning confirms the reader’s cross-checking; if the sentence doesn’t make sense, the reader tries again. Cross-checking is crucial in learning to read, especially at the earliest stages of development. Another way to help children self-monitor is to discuss with them what to do when they come to unknown words, encourage them to use meaning and letter-sound information.

Using Structural Analysis to Identify Words

Structural Analysis involves identifying words through meaningful units such as prefixes, suffixes, and root words. The smallest meaningful unit of a word is a morpheme. This also includes inflected endings, which are suffixes that change the tense or degree of the word but not the meaning:

  • ing as in going
  • d as in saved
  • ed as in looked
  • er as in smaller
  • s as in books
  • es as in dresses
  • ly as in slowly
  • est as in tallest

Stuctural analysis also includes compound words and contractions.

Vacca, J. L., Vacca, R. T., & Gove, M. K. (2012). Reading and learning to read (8th ed.). New York: Longman.

Classroom Application

I loved all the different strategies for word identification. I have seen flip books used before for making words with similar rimes, I like the idea from the book to use different cards to make different words as a group and talk about their meaning. I think it is also important to know all the parts that words can have such as diphthongs and digraphs so that they can be taught to the students included as a reading strategies.

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