Decoding: The Basics

Elementary teacher working one-on-one with student on reading

Get the basics on guidelines for decoding instruction, speech sounds in English, and why children confuse certain speech sounds.

Decoding is the ability to apply knowledge of letter-sound relationships, including knowledge of letter patterns, to correctly pronounce written words. Understanding these relationships gives children the ability to recognize familiar words quickly and to figure out words they haven't seen before.

Guidelines for decoding instruction

An effective program does the following:

  1. Provides children with opportunities to use their knowledge of sound-letter relationships to practice decoding.
  2. Helps children use context to confirm the meanings of words they have identified by applying their knowledge of sound-letter relationships.
  3. Provides children with structural analysis practice as a way to identify word parts and multisyllabic words.

Why do children confuse certain sounds?

Phoneme Pairs
These eight pairs of consonants differ only in voicing. Everything else is the same. The top sound in each pair is the voiced phoneme (the phoneme that makes the vocal cords vibrate). The bottom sound is unvoiced. Children often confuse sounds in the same pair.

Phoneme Pairs

/b/
/p/

/d/
/t/

/g/
/k/

/v/
/f/

 

/TH/
/th/

/z/
/s/

/zh/
/sh/

/j/
/ch/

The sounds of speech

These charts and the video below can help you learn the correct sounds of letters. There are 44 speech sounds in English.

Phoneme

Spelling
(Initial Position)

Spelling
(Final Position)

Examples

/p/

p

p

pick, hop

/b/

b

b

bid, knob

/t/

t

t, bt, ed

tap, doubt, flipped

/d/

d

d

deck, bad

/k/

c, k, ch

k, ck

can't, kick, crook, lock

/g/

g, gu, gh

gue, gg

give, bag, guitar, plague, ghost, egg

/m/

m

m, mb, mn

map, jam, limb, hymn

/n/

n, kn, gn

n, gn

neck, pen, knick, sign, gnat

/ng/

--

ng

sing

/f/

f, ph

f, ff, ph, gh

fate, leaf, photo, off, graph, enough

/v/

v

ve

vote, give

/th/

th

the

thank, math

/TH/

th

the

this, bathe

/s/

s, c, ps

ce, se, ss, s

sick, mice, center, base, psychology, bliss, bus

/z/

z

se, ze, zz, s, z

zap, please, sneeze, buzz, has, whiz

/sh/

sh, s

sh

shoe, rash, sure

/zh/

si (medial position)
s (medial position)
z (medial position)

--

vision, treasure, azure

/ch/

ch

ch

chick, batch

/j/

j, g

ge, dge

juice, gauge, giant, dodge

/y/

y

--

yell

/hw/

wh

--

what

/w/

w

--

warm

/h/

h, wh

--

house, who

/l/

l

ll

look, fell

/r/

r, wr

r

rake, far, wrong

 

Phoneme

Spelling

Examples

/a-/

a_e, ai, ay, ea, ei, ey, eigh

late, bait, say, steak, veil, they, sleigh

/e-/

e, ee, ea, y, ie, e_e, ey, i_e, ei

me, feet, bead, many, field, these, key, machine, receive

/i-/

i_e, y, i, ie, igh, ye

time, try, mild, pie, high, lye

/o-/

o, o_e, oa, ow, oe, ou, ew

so, hope, coat, low, toe, soul, sew

/a/

a, a_e

sat, have

/e/

e, ea, ai, a

pet, head, said, many

/i/

i, y, e, i_e, ee, ui

six, gym, pretty, give, been, build

/o/

o, a

log, watch

/u/

u, o, o_e, ou

but, ton, love, young

/?/

a, e, i, o, u

alone, system, easily, gallop, circus

/ûr/

ur, ir, er, or

turn, girl, her, work

/är/

ar

car

/ôr/

or, our, ar

or, four, war

/aw/

aw, au, a[l], a[ll], ou

saw, cause, walk, ball, cough

/oi/, /oy/

oi, oy

boil, toy

/ou/, /ow/

ou, ow

cloud, now

/o-o-/, (yo-o-)

oo, u, ue, ew, u_e, o, ou

hoot, ruby (cute), blue (fuel), new, tube, do, soup

/o(o(/

oo, u, o, ou

book, put, wolf, would


Adapted from: Moats, L., CORE Sourcebook.

Louisa Moats, Reading Rockets (2012)

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You are welcome to print copies for non-commercial use, or a limited number for educational purposes, as long as credit is given to Reading Rockets and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact the author or publisher listed.

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"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." — Victor Hugo, Les Miserables