Decoding the Writting Word: The Basic Part of the Reading Process - Teaching Reading Skills
Decoding: The Basic Part of the Reading Process - Teaching Reading Skills

Sometimes, reading may seem simple, while at other times, the written word may seem difficult to understand. Reading involves a complex process that involves visual, neurological, and cognitive functions. Breaking down the reading process may help many students improve their reading skill and speed, as well as comprehension of materials. This article is going to focus on the various components of reading that relates to three areas: decoding, comprehension, and retention of the written word. From words, to sentences, to paragraphs, to pages, reading is a gradual process that is built upon, one brick or word at a time. Reading Components

Let's start with the most basic part of the reading process, called decoding. This is not a mysterious or scientific method, but a term that is given to the process of absorbing information. For example, children and adults who learn to read in any language must first begin with the basic elements of that language. For example, the sounds of an alphabet are joined together to form words, or vocabulary. From there, words are connected to form sentences, which may then be connected to form paragraphs.

Letters or sounds designate words, or word meaning, in every language, from English, to Spanish, to Chinese and Arabic. Sounds are used alone or together to create words that define objects or thought processes. This process is known as decoding.

For those learning English as a second language, or for native English speakers hoping to increase their reading comprehension and speed, knowledge of basic English sounds and elements are essential. For many of us, joining sounds together to form words or thought processes is automatic, and does not require much thought. Many of us can read simple vocabulary words and understand them without confusion. We may even be able to understand a sentence or paragraph without knowing the meaning of every single word found within it, because we are absorbing the content and definition of surrounding words.

Comprehension is a process of understanding the written word. This is accomplished by understanding basic vocabulary and sentence structures. Comprehension is the ability to understand and truly relate to what is being read and what is already known. A key to increasing reading comprehension is the ability to stay focused.

As mentioned earlier, it is not always necessary to know the definition or meaning of every single word in written materials. By understanding the majority of vocabulary words that make up sentences or paragraphs, readers may often jump to correct conclusions as to the focus of sentence meanings, as well as those found in large paragraphs, or even pages of text.

Remembering what has been read is called retention. While it is not always necessary to memorize everything that has been read, most of us are able to remember what we have read from one paragraph to the next, or one page to the next. Of course, when reading large textbooks or novels, it may often be necessary to go back and re-read certain sections for clarity or greater understanding.

Children learning English, as well as adults learning English as a second language, should be able to organize or summarize content that is being read and make a connection to earlier passages or lessons involved in the reading process.

For many people, this ability to retain or remember certain information differs according to reading and comprehension levels and influences from surrounding environments.

Some people are able to read or study in the presence of background noise, such as music, television, or crowded environments. Others require peace and quiet when reading or studying in order to retain information. Because of this, it is often difficult to determine comprehension levels of individuals without focusing on specific testing materials.

SQ3R Techniques

A common method used by many teachers is called the SQ3R method. It's a technique that helps readers set goals and retain information that has been read in a variety of documents. SQ3R is an acronym that stands for five techniques used in the reading process.

  • Survey
  • Question
  • Read
  • Recall
  • Review

For example, surveying a document means scanning its contents to gather an overview of written text materials. For example, when viewing a textbook, students may wish to study or take a look at the Table of Contents, as well as chapter introductions and summaries. Many textbooks offer textbook summaries, or overviews, or learning objectives, which help students to recognize and look for certain areas of information found within a chapter or lesson.

This method may also be used by students looking for books to read in a library or bookstore. How many of you actually pick a book from the shelf and purchase it without browsing the back and front covers, or even a few pages found in between, before buying it? Most of us will read the information found on the back of the book to determine whether it's something that will be useful or entertaining to read.

Questioning, the second step in this technique, is the process of determining whether specific materials will help to clarify questions or issues you may have on a school subject, or various aspects of your environment, including understanding documents regarding finances, regulations, or job description tasks or expectations.

Reading the document comes next. This step requires the student to read through every section of the material, taking the time and the effort to understand relevant points of information or facts that are given to help to provide clarity. This type of reading requires a slower pace, especially if the information is very detailed or complicated. At this point in time, many students find it helpful to take brief notes, or to underline or circle various portions of sentences or paragraphs for greater clarity.

After sections of the document or book have been read, the brain has absorbed the information. Depending on how much you are concentrating, you may be able to remember some or all of what you have just read. This part of the technique, called recall, is the process through which basic facts or information has been isolated from the bulk of materials just read.

Now, review everything you have just read in the document, lesson, or book. Reviewing information may be necessary to help gain a greater understanding of the focus or theme of the document. Notes, discussing materials with others, or re-reading the document, may aid reviewing. Regardless, reviewing is an effective method of providing a final look-through or understanding of materials.

This five-stage reading technique helps readers to organize the structure, theme, or focus of reading materials.

A Simple Reading Comprehension Method

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Different readers may utilize or require different methods to help retain, comprehend, and absorb what has been written. Another method to reaching greater understanding is to think and ask questions as you're reading. For example, the following scenario will help a reader gain greater understanding, vocabulary, and retention of materials when reading for pleasure.

  • Step One - Think before you read.
  • Step Two - Read the material.
  • Step Three - Talk about the material.
  • Step Four - Learn new words.

Let's break this down, starting with Step One. Before you even start reading, take a moment to look at the material. Read the title and try to determine before you've even begun to read what the story or book is about, where it takes place, and who the main character is.

These types of questions will help encourage interest in the story as well as help focus the brain on certain bits of information. Read the story from beginning to end. At this point, you don't need to stop and look up new words in a dictionary or ask for help in clarification of materials. Read the passage, story, or book in an effort to gain as much knowledge as you can on the first read-through.

If possible, talk about the story with someone else, or talk to yourself about it. What was the story about, who was in the story, where did it take place, and most importantly, did you like the story? If you did, can you answer why you liked it? If you didn't like the story or the book, can you give reasons why?

The last step involves learning new words and checking the meaning of some of the vocabulary you didn't understand with the help of a dictionary. This will not only help to increase your vocabulary, but may help to explain certain portions of the document, short story, or book you have read that didn't seem very clear the first time around.


Depending on the type of document or material you are reading, reading basics involve various components and methods. While striving to increase your reading speed and comprehension, remember that each type of reading may require different skills and vocabulary. Many students make the mistake of thinking that word-building and vocabulary are not as important as being able to read quickly, but such is not the case. Understanding how words are formed, and how the formation of such words may alter their meaning, is a big part of increasing reading comprehension and capabilities.
Understanding Words

Learning how to read and write in the English language requires basic knowledge of word parts. In English, words are typically formed through the combination of a root, or base word, as well as a prefix or suffix. New words are formed through the different use of such prefixes and suffixes to create additional vocabulary and to clarify meaning. This section will illustrate, and provide examples of, root words and the use of prefixes and suffixes that are added to base words or word stems to create new words with different meanings, or to enhance description. A Basic Reading Principle

Reading is a basic form of communication that relies on use of vocabulary and understanding of basic words that convey meaning or thoughts. In most languages, words are created through the combination of different sounds of alphabets or characters to convey this meaning. In English languages, one of the most important parts of learning to read language is how to pronounce these letters, either singly, or in combination forms of words.

As people learn and master basics of alphabets, vocabulary, and word usage, the use of phonics is an important step to mastering a language.Phonics is defined as a set of skills that transforms the physical appearance of the letter into an audible sound. When combined, these sounds form words. Learning phonics in different combinations of sounds that are produced by joining particular letters together will increase understanding that leads to comprehension, as well as increasing vocabulary.

Every letter in English alphabets produce a different sound. Once the sounds of these letters are memorized, those learning the English language will be able to forge ahead in learning how to pronounce and understand various words and word combinations. We will learn more about this later on in this section.

Parts of Words

In the English language, words are generally formed through the use of root words, or stem words. A root word is basically any word that conveys thought, meaning, or description. These root words are also known as morphemes. Basically, those learning English as a second language, or those learning to improve their vocabulary and usage, should remember this term as providing the most definitive root meaning of a particular word.

Of course, many words will change their meaning depending on how they are used, and how they are said and spelled. However, students of English may take heart in the fact that English usage of words does not heavily rely on tones, inflection, or intonation to define meaning. For example, in English, the word "horse" means horse, unlike the Chinese language, where the same word may have four different meanings, depending on inflection or intonation.

There are several different terms assigned to describe or define the use of root words in the English language, including but not limited to, lemma, lexeme, or lexical, but for the sake of simplicity when referring to root words we are referring to the base unit of a word.

Many words in the English language have been formed through the combination of words from different languages. Many English words rely heavily on their Greek or Latin roots, but many are based in ancient Germanic languages, as well.

Prefixes and Suffixes

A prefix is a group of letters that is attached to the front of a word to convey a different meaning. The same goes for a suffix, which is added to the word stem, or the end of the word, to convey a different meaning.

Simply put, a prefix is anything that attaches in front of, or before, a word stem, and a suffix refers to the attachment that is made at the end of a word or word stem that creates a new word or function.

Some of the more common suffixes may include endings such as:

  • -ed
  • -ing
  • -s, -es, -ies
  • -en
  • -er
  • -est

The examples listed above are types of suffixes that may be calledinflectional suffixes. These endings create different forms of a word. Now look at the examples below, which may serve to change the actual meaning of the word. This type of suffix is called a derivational suffix.

  • -ism
  • -ful
  • -able
  • -ation
  • -ity
  • -ize, -ise
  • -ness

For example, look at the following words to see how such a suffix can change the actual meaning of the word.

  • beauty – beautiful
  • desire – desirable
  • history – historical

Understanding the Importance of Reading Basics

While it is not absolutely essential that a student learning how to read English understand every aspect of English grammar and sentence structure, it is certainly advisable that students take the time to learn how to correctly pronounce the sounds of each and every letter in the alphabet. Doing so will help to increase reading comprehension, as well as the ability to speak the language properly.

Reading skills are enhanced when students are able to tell the difference between the sounds produced by certain letters. For example, there is a big difference not only in the look, but the sound, produced by the letter "p" and the letter "b."

The ability to break up words into individual sounds, or phonemes, is the basis of reading phonics. This ability to isolate sounds and use them to define words and meaning is important for comprehension.

Every letter produces a phoneme, or sound. Because the English language is based on the alphabet, and certain sounds always go with certain letters, it is not so difficult for students to learn and memorize those sounds and identify them with their corresponding letters. Practicing saying the alphabet, as well as the ability to name the letters and match the phoneme sound with an alphabet symbol or letter, is the basic starting point for all students learning English language, whether native children, or those learning English as a second language.

Reading comprehension will therefore depend on the ability to recognize not only individual sounds, but also the way they are formed into words. Therefore, the greater understanding a student has of such sounds and combinations, the greater the chance of increased reading, writing, and speaking skills.

To test a student's ability to comprehend, one may ask him- or herself the following questions:

  • Do you remember words you have read before?
  • Can you decipher words easily?
  • Can you sound out new words quickly?


The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has created a basic outline of reading milestones that include, but are not limited to:

  • phonemic awareness
  • phonics
  • oral reading
  • vocabulary comprehension

The above named foundations in English ensure that students of the English language get the most from their instruction as well as providing him or her with a well-rounded education in various aspects involved in communicating in English. Phonics is one of the most important parts of such a foundation.

Therefore, in most English language reading materials, as well as those presented in foreign languages, students will find the building blocks of any language defined as the sounds that make up that language, whether through characters, Roman alphabets, or symbols.

There are many different approaches the teachers and instructors take to teaching phonics, and there is no complete right or wrong way to do so. However, one of the most important aspects of teaching a student English phonics is to allow him or her the time to learn the sounds produced by, not only the letters of the alphabet, but the unique sounds produced by the combination of two to three sounds that are found in most common English vocabulary and usage scenarios.

While it is not expected of English students to be able to memorize all these sounds, the sounds of the basic 26 letters of the English alphabet are an excellent starting point and will serve as a solid foundation for any further studies of the English language.


It may help students learning English to pronounce new words over and over again until they are easily remembered. It also helps to break words apart into their individual sounds based on the letters of the alphabet. In addition, remembering the sounds of the letters, as well as their corresponding name, will help to take much of the mystery out of learning English vocabulary. The English language consists of 26 letters, each of which produces a distinct sound in various usage forms. While some letters remain consistent throughout their use and produce only one sound, other letters, when combined with other letters of the alphabet or in certain words, will produce a different sound as well as meaning.

Learning how to create and understand the different ways in which words may be created using roots, prefixes, and suffixes, will lead to increased vocabulary-building capabilities as well as comprehension and understanding.