Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties: Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine continues looking at the decoding of language, this time focusing on reading multisyllabic words. There are two approaches to teaching syllabic analysis: the rules approach and the pattern approach, and both techniques can be used in conjunction with the pronounceable word-part and analogy strategies that were discussed in the previous chapter.

 In the rules approach, the reader works in a very similar way as in reading single syllable words, by parsing the words into clusters or chunks. However, because the words are longer, the chunks are longer too. So instead of simple onset and rimes like d-og or b-ird, the words are now split on the syllables, such as an-i-mal or fla-min-go. If students are having difficulty spotting syllables, Gunning suggests first introducing the concept using compound words such as starfish, ladybug, blackbird, etc. First get the child to separate the two words from each other and then have the reader parse the words even further, (for example, jellyfish becomes jelly and fish and then becomes jellyfish).

 The pattern approach works off of the rules approach, but instead of merely presenting one long polysyllabic word to the student, the teacher “starts with a single-syllable word and shows how multisyllabic words are related to it” (301). The example Gunning gave was starting with the word tie, then moving to the two-syllable word ti-ger and then mixing it up with spi-der, di-ner and mi-ser.

 Another way to teach students syllable analysis is through morphemic elements like affixes (aka prefixes and suffixes). Morphemes are the smallest unit bearing meaning in a word. The morphemic approach is the method I still employ to decode unfamiliar words. For instance, if I was reading a historical paper about 19th century England for some ungodly reason, and I stumbled upon the word antidisestablishmentarianism, I would start decoding the word by finding the affixes I was familiar with, which are the following: anti, dis, ment, ian, and ism. I would also look for other words hidden in the longer word. In this case we have establish (or establishment, if we add that suffix and remove it from our affix list). Once I have parsed this word thusly, I am able to find how the morphemes are connected to each other. For instance, the suffixes ment and ian are linked by the morpheme ar, so when I read the whole word, those three morphemes will be pronounced together. Then I can sound out the whole word as anti-dis-establish-mentarian-ism, or anti-disestablishment-arian-ism, or any concoction I can invent. As Gunning points out, it doesn’t matter where you divide the word, “as long as [your] analysis of the word enables [you] to pronounce it,” (299). When I decode a word it takes little more than a second to do it, but when students are just beginning to read, or if they have difficulties, they can struggle for minutes on one word. Practice is very important to ensure that readers develop their decoding skills. If they practice enough, eventually it will become second nature to them, and that is what all teachers strive for when educating their students.


Thomas G. Gunning, Assessing and Correcting: Reading and Writing Difficulties, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 299-306.



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