Learning to Read: Word Attack Strategies Beyond Sound It Out

Learning to read individual words is a tricky business.

Some words kids memorize – those are the sight words.
(*Sight word printables here.)

But most words require kids to decode, or figure out, the word.

When your child comes to a non-sight word, a word he doesn’t know, he needs strategies to attack that unknown word. Most of us parents automatically say, “Sound it out.” But is that the best strategy for figuring out a word? (Hint: it isn’t.)

Phonics rules are important but they don’t always work for figuring out (decoding) a word. So, we need other strategies besides “sound it out” to help our kids read words. Ready for some better word attack strategies?

word attack strategies beyond sound it out

Decoding Strategies Beyond Sound It Out

Beginning Sound
“Look at the first letter. Do you know a word that starts with that letter? What is that letter’s sound?”

Ending Sound
“Be sure the ending looks and sounds right.”

Chunk It
“Cover the last part of the word with your finger and say the first part first. Now cover that part and say the last part. Can you put the two part together?”

Find a Small Word
“Can you find a word you know in that word?”

Stretch It Out
“Read with your finger and say it slowly.”

Use Picture Clues
“Use the picture clues to figure out what that word might be.”

Skip It, Go Back
“Why don’t you keep reading until the end of the sentence, the period, and then go back to the word and try again.”

Ask for Help
“Do you need help? Have you tried all your strategies?” *It’s fine to tell kids words – don’t make the suffering go on and on and on! Just remember to keep a balance of both helping and having the child figure it out.

Does It Make Sense?
“Hmm, that word you read doesn’t really make sense to me – does it to you?”

One Strategy at a Time

Work on one strategy at a time. Use a sticky note with the strategy as a bookmark reminder or this printable bookmark with the strategy starred to remind you and your child of the strategy.

free printable bookmark of word attack strategies

What if a child makes a mistake and keeps going?

Sometimes kids aren’t paying attention to meaning. Okay, a lot of times. Gently remind them that what they read needs to make sense.

“Does it make sense?”

“Try that part again.”

“Think about the story.”

“Go slowly.”

“Does that look right?”

“Read that again and check to see if it looks right.”

“Are you making it up or really looking?”

“You got the first part right, now check the ending.”

Three Positives, One Correction

Try not to over-correct your child. Work on one thing and LET THE REST GO. I’m serious. One correction and three positives. Or more than three.

One more reminder: make the positive comments meaningful. By that I mean, “good job” is not meaningful where as “I loved how you made your voice sound like the character” is meaningful and specific.

“Wow! You made sure that ending was just right.”

“You found that tricky part on your own and fixed it.”

“I like how you used a chunking strategy to read that word.” 

Recommended Books:

Catching Readers Before They Fall by Pat Johnson and Katie Keier

Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader by Melissa Taylor

Recommended Products:

Letter magnets – play with the letters to make words

Sticky notes – label things around your house with their words, write simple notes to your child

POP Sight Word game


Chunks, the Incredible Word Building Game 

On a scale of 1 – 10 how hard is it for your child to decode words?

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links” which means I will receive an affiliate commission, but you pay the same price as you usually would. I only recommend products or services I recommend personally and believe will add value to my readers. 


  1. Susan Syddall says

    It’s great to have so many strategies to use. It’s sort of like arming children with a pile of different tools in their tool box so they can use them at different times when they need a new approach. Thanks for sharing.


  1. […] 4. What Is That Word? Prepare for word battle. Kids need word attack strategies. Can your child decode words she doesn’t know? Show her your strategies beyond “sound it out.” Look for smaller words in bigger words, use the pictures as clues, figure out the beginning and ending sounds, or skip it and keep reading. Learn more word attack strategies in this article. […]

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