The Tools to Achieve Reading Success

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Key Points and Effective Multisensory Activities to

Directly Establish Phonologic Processing

& Help Students Achieve Reading Success

Skill targeted/ objective for reading instruction:

The targeted objective is for the student to develop proficient phonologic processing of print. They need to read by ‘sounding out’ words. Phonologic processing is the foundation for proficient reading and essential to develop fluency. To become a skilled reader, the student first needs to read by converting print to sound. For additional information see How Reading Works.

Key Points for Instruction:  

Effective Activities to Directly Develop Phonologic Processing:

As with all learned skills, practice is essential to develop proficiency. The following activities can be used to provide the student practice in correct phonologic processing of print. Click on the activity title or scroll down the page to find details.  


1. Practice Reading Decodable Text:

2. Word Making Activities with Sound Tiles

3. Word Changing Activities with Sound Tiles

4. Spelling by Sound ~ Recoding

5. Guided Reading

1. Practice Reading Decodable Text:

The student must practice correct phonologic processing by reading decodable text. The student needs lots of practice applying all skills including phonemic awareness, knowledge of the code, smooth blending, proper tracking and attention to detail in the process of correctly ‘sounding out’ words. An important reminder, the ability to smoothly blend sounds together (see Blending Explained) is integral to proper sounding out and must be emphasized in the beginning stages.

In order to develop proficient phonologic processing pathways the student MUST practice reading decodable text.  In reading instruction, the term ‘decodable’ refers to words/text containing only the sounds (phonetic code) the child or student has already learned.  Although decodable text is simple in the beginning when the child has limited knowledge of the phonemic code, the amount of text that is decodable rapidly expands as the child learns more of the phonemic code. For more information on why decodable text is essential and how the material that is decodable rapidly expands see Decodable Text Explained.

The ability to create and provide decodable text is one of the key reasons it is essential to introduce and teach the phonemic code in a pre-planned direct systematic order. (Please see the article Teaching the Phonemic Code: Sequence for Teaching Letters and Sounds of the Phonemic Code ).

The essential practice reading decodable text can include word lists, simple sentences, paragraphs and eventually stories. The student needs lots of practice reading decodable text to develop correct phonologic processing pathways and to develop the neural systems that allow the development of ‘fast’ fluent reading.    

Reading Decodable Word Lists:

Create word lists of decodable words for the student to read and have the student practice reading these word lists. Once again, these word lists must be decodable based on the sounds/phonemic code the student has learned.

Word lists are especially beneficial because by design they force the student to develop and use correct phonologic processing skills. When reading isolated words in a list, the student must look at the sounds and use correct processing. The word can not be guessed from pictures or context clues. Incorrect strategies will not work. You force the child to develop correct phonologic processing! Word lists are useful as they provide a quick way to offer practice in decodable text when sound knowledge is limited and it is challenging to create sensible decodable sentences and stories.  In addition, word lists are highly effective in remediation as not only do most older students do not care to read the ‘easy’ decodable text such as “The cat sat on the rug”, but by design these word lists extinguish incorrect strategies most struggling readers tend to use and instead force the student to use phonologic processing to read. (The purpose of effective remediation is to intentionally re-wire the brain to develop phonologic processing pathways and decodable word lists are a highly effective tool for accomplishing this goal!)  

Word lists offer a terrific tool for developing phonologic processing and providing practice. Decodable word lists can also be created quickly and inexpensively (cost of typing up the list) and can be easily customized to fit the needs of the student (Example, need extra practice with the ‘oi’ sound, then just add a few more of those words in the list). Remember, the word lists MUST be decodable based on the code knowledge the student has learned.

To create a decodable word list start with the sounds/code knowledge you have directly taught the child and then create words using only those sounds. Remember decodable text is based on the sounds/phonemic code NOT the letters.

Example:  A young child has only learned the following basic sounds:  a=/a/, m=/m/, t=/t/, s=/s/, d=/d/, i=/i/, r=/r/, e=/e/, n=/n, h=/h/, o=/o/. Decodable words on a list could include: rat, net, miss, hit, sit, him, hat, rest, rim, man, nest, not, rod, hot, and, red, mist, hid, in, on, sat, tan, ran, mast, rant, sand, hand,  …

Words that would not be decodable are words such as: art (the child has not yet learned ‘ar’=/ar/); rain (child does not yet know ‘ai’=/ay/); chair (child does not yet know ‘ch’=/ch/ or the ‘r-controlled vowel combination ‘air’=/air/), hate (child has not yet learned the vowel-consonant-e combination); teacher (not yet learned ‘ea’=/ee/, ‘ch’=/ch/ or the ‘er’=/er/); contain (child has not learned the o=/u/, ‘ai’=/ay/ plus young beginners should not start with multisyllable words).

Additional examples of making decodable lists and explanations can be found in the article Decodable Text Explained.

To view samples of decodable word list and see how the amount of words that are ‘decodable’ rapidly expand, please view the following lessons from Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons.

From Right Track Reading Lessons

From Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons (remediation program for students 3rd grade through adult)

Decodable word lists are a terrific tool for helping students develop and practice correct phonologic processing!

Reading Decodable Sentences, Paragraphs and Short Stories:

Practice reading decodable sentences, paragraphs and short stories is essential. The child needs to learn how to combine words into sentences and then combine sentences into paragraphs and stories. Remember to build proficient phonologic processing, this beginning reading material MUST be decodable.

To select appropriate beginning reader material, you must evaluate the text. The determination of ‘decodable’ is based on:

Always evaluate the vocabulary carefully! Do not rely on the grade level rating printed on the book.  Many very simple children’s picture books with only one or two words per page and numerous books actually labeled “early phonics readers” are full of words like ‘rhinoceros’ and  ‘laugh’ that contain complex code and multisyllable word such as ‘carnival’ and ‘investigations’ that are absolutely not decodable by beginners. It is not simplicity of the book, but rather the phonemic structure of the words used. In addition, even books that are specifically written to be decodable need to be compared to the child’s code knowledge to see if they are decodable for that child at that point in the development of code knowledge.  

To determine if a book is decodable evaluate if the phonemic code used in the text meets your child’s code knowledge. Remember what is ‘decodable’ changes as your child learns new sounds and expands their code knowledge. Once again the ability to provide decodable text that matches the code knowledge of the child is one of the key reasons why it is essential to teach the phonemic code in a pre-planned direct systematic order. Please see the article Teaching the Phonemic Code: Sequence for Teaching Letters and Sounds of the Phonemic Code

The following examples state the students code knowledge and then provide sample sentences that would be decodable at the given level of code knowledge:

Examples of short decodable sentences and paragraphs and how the text that is ‘decodable’ expands as the child learns more of the phonemic code can be found in the Right Track Reading Lessons. Find the sentences at the end of the lessons. Please see:

Additional examples of free decodable stories are found on the Resources for Users of Right Track Reading Programs page.  

IMPORTANT NOTE: After the complete phonemic code has been directly taught to the student and they have had the opportunity to practice applying the complete code, the student can decode most words. At his point all age appropriate text will be decodable. In other words a 2nd grade child may struggle reading a college chemistry book but will have no problem with Little House on the Prairie.  With exception of a few advanced sounds such as ‘tion’ and the development of advanced skills in handling multisyllable words, the foundation of correct phonologic processing should be established. The student moves from the foundational ‘learning how to read’ stage to continuing to improve proficiency and developing advanced skills (fluency, comprehension, vocabulary) and into the ‘reading to learn’.  Practice with decodable text builds the essential foundation of phonologic processing essential for proficient reading.

2. Word Making Activities with Sound Tiles:

A highly effective technique for directly developing phonologic processing is ‘word making activities’ conducted with sound tiles. The ‘sound tiles’ allow the student to actually see and physically manipulate the accurate phonemic structure of our language. The word making activity provides a tangible way to learn correct phonologic processing. The activity forces the student develop phonemic awareness, visualize and identify sounds as proper printed units and physically combine these distinct printed sounds into words. By design, these activities integrate kinetic, visual, and auditory processes to develop correct phonologic processing of print. These ‘sound tile’ activities are especially beneficial in remedial situations as they directly teach and develop correct phonologic processing. As a bonus, these activities are enjoyable. Even older students enjoy ‘making words’. In word making activities, the student listens to a spoken word and then ‘makes’ the word with the sound tiles. Once again to be effective in developing phonologic  processing, the words that you have the student make must be decodable based on the sounds/code knowledge the student has learned. Please see Effective Multi-sensory Word Making Activities for a description of this activity, pictures and sample lessons.  

3. Sound Changing Activities with the Sound Tiles:

This is another word making activity with the sound tiles, except the student listens and determines how to change the word one sound at a time.  This activity is particularly effective for building specific phonemic awareness and attention to detail skills. Word lists are designed to change one sound such as making the word ‘stamp’ and then changing it to ‘stump’ and then changing ‘slump’ to ‘plump’. The student listens and makes the necessary change with the tiles.  Please see Effective Multi-sensory Sound Changing Activities for a description of this activity, pictures and sample lessons.

4. Spelling by Sound ~ Recoding:  

Spelling or writing words based on sound (spoken word to print) is the converse of reading (print to sound). This process of spelling or recoding strengthens phonologic processing. Spelling can also be a terrific tool to build phonemic awareness as the student must listen to the sounds to write the word. Writing spelling words directly links and targets the process of saying the sounds (oral), hearing the spoken sound (auditory), physically forming the letters (kinetic) and seeing the printed letters (visual) to help the students effectively develop phonologic processing. Repeated word writing can also be an effective tool to help build fluency of new words. This activity is not a spelling test, it is a tool to directly teach and build phonologic processing.  Once again the words must be decodable for the student/based on sounds they have learned. The student needs to say the sounds of the words NOT the letter names.   

When using spelling/recoding to develop reading skills:

-use decodable word lists (base on the student’s current knowledge base)

-beginning spelling should be simple and phonetic

-group by spelling patterns to teach code

-teach systematically/coordinate with reading instruction

-the student can use paper pencil, individual whiteboards, or sound tiles if writing is difficult

-have student repeat word into their phonic phones before spelling to enhance phonologic link and help develop phonemic awareness

For additional information on linking spelling and reading see the informative article Effective Spelling Instruction: Teaching Children How to Spell

For examples of effective decodable spelling lists see Decodable Spelling Lists for Right Track Reading Lessons.

5. Guided Reading:

Guided reading is essential in the learning stages. The validated research shows that guided out loud reading has significant beneficial impact on word recognition, fluency and comprehension across a range of grade levels (National Reading Panel’s “Teaching Children to Read” Summary Report). Guided reading is reading out loud to an adult, or other proficient reader, with feedback.  This is NOT independent silent reading. In order to achieve significant beneficial impact on word recognition, fluency and comprehension: #1 The student must read out loud to an adult (or other proficient reader) and #2 The adult must provide correction, feedback and instruction on specific skill development.

Bottom line, this is having your child read to you with ‘guidance’ and feedback so you can help them develop skills. In the beginning this guided reading will be with simple decodable text and simple decodable stories and will then rapidly expand to include more advanced text as the student progresses. For further information, please see the articles:


In conclusion, the key to proficient reading is the development of phonologic processing pathways. The student must convert print to sound . We can help students develop this proficient phonologic processing by using effective direct systematic phonics programs that directly teach all skills and require practice sounding out decodable text. Techniques such as practice with decodable text, word making activities, and decodable spelling can be used to intentionally develop these proficient phonologic processing pathways. We can help our children and students achieve reading success!

To learn more about Right Track Reading Lessons & Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons and how you can use these effective reading programs to help your child or student build proficient phonologic processing see Preview Right Track Reading Programs.

Additional free information on teaching students to read using effective direct systematic phonics instruction is located at Reading Information and Information & Resources for Teaching Reading pages of the Right Track Reading website.

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This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at ~ Copyright 2010-2013 Miscese R. Gagen

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