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  • Lisa Joesten

Encoding: The Missing Link

Many children are taught that letters make specific sounds (print to speech or decoding). But this is only half the story. Children also need to be able to produce the letter(s) when given a sound (speech to print or encoding).

Phonemic Awareness is an essential skill that skilled readers possess. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, move or change sounds, called phonemes, in spoken words. Most often, this skill needs to be taught in a systematic, explicit way.


The following are strategies we use in our learning center, Empowering Student Success, to strengthen Phonemic Awareness in our students:

  1. Visual/Auditory Drill: Given a stack of sound cards, students are asked to orally state what sound/sounds each letter(s) make. Then they are given a sound without a visual aide and asked to write the letter(s) that each sound makes.

  2. Phoneme Blending: The teacher breaks down words into individual sounds auditorily, then the student states the word. For example, the teacher says /s/ /a/ /n/ /d/; the student responds with the whole word, 'sand'.

  3. Phoneme Segmentation: The opposite of Phoneme Blending. Given a word, the student is asked to tap each sound out on fingers or use manipulatives such as chips or tiles. For example, if the teacher says 'fish', the student would tap three fingers or move three manipulatives to represent the sounds /f//i//sh/.

  4. Phonics Chaining: Sound boxes are provided for each sound in a word. Words are chained together by changing one sound. For example, students are asked to write sat, then bat, then bit, then bib, then rib, etc. Students are asked which sound changed (beginning, middle, or end).

When working with struggling readers, it is important to work on encoding skills in each lesson, along with decoding, fluency, comprehension, and writing. A comprehensive, systematic, science of reading approach is essential for a child's success in reading and in school.

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