Building Words: Helping New or Struggling Readers

When young ones begin reading, we often show them a word and ask them to read it. When they can’t do it, we help them sound it out. But sometimes the “a” has a short sound, a long sound, or an “o” sound so how do we help these little ones who are confused?

Seeing a word and then trying to know what word it is can be a struggle for some students. This is the decoding process, as they are decoding a jumble of letters to decipher a word. Another strategy for early readers to try is letting them build the word on their own, with the letters they think make the sounds in the word. This is the process of encoding.

Reading or decoding a given word involves seeing the word, sounding out each letter, blending the sounds into a whole word, and then recognizing what the word means. That is a lot! By encoding, the child thinks of the sounds in the word and finds or writes the associated letters. This builds confidence for those struggling readers especially.  

In the Montessori approach, the child is word-building early on. For students for whom the act of writing with a pencil is difficult, this is a good activity as it focuses on simply building the words using sounds and letters before adding in letter formation. Pictured below is what we call the Movable Alphabet. To substitute in your home, you can get magnetic letters, wooden letters, or cardstock with letters on them for this activity of word-building.

You can have pictures for them to spell out. You could have little objects they must spell. You may even tell them to word build the colors or names of family members. They then get to look at the letters, put them in place, and make words all on their own.

At this age, we are trying to build confidence in writing and sounding out words, so even if they spell “laugh” L-A-F this does not need to be corrected yet as they have not learned the advanced phonograms and spelling rules.

Once they have built simpler words, you can move into harder words. From there, you can have them build sentences or even stories or poems with this movable alphabet.  

They then can transition into reading small words and matching them to pictures. You are introducing the decoding process. This builds their confidence to see that they truly are reading.

Encoding helps them see their reading skills and be ready to decode books all on their own! They’ll be reading in no time!

Blog Post written by:

Jamie Leatherby

Jamie Leatherby