What Is Decoding (de / co / ding)?

In Reading Reasons, Gallagher notes many ways reading is valuable, including building a mature vocabulary, making you a better writer, more intelligent, providing financial rewards, and helping develop your moral compass while arming you against oppression.

Long words can be intimidating for readers, but there is hope! Students can decode or “break the code” to tackle increasingly complex patterns when following cumulative, sequential, and explicit instruction in English language patterns.

Decoding is the art of applying your knowledge of phonics, the relationship between letters and sounds, to pronounce words correctly.

This also allows students to broaden their vocabulary, which is critical to better writing and deeper comprehension. With the knowledge of syllable patterns (how to cut phonetic words into decodable syllables) and syllable types (how to pronounce the vowel sounds in each syllable), students increase their ability to sound out unfamiliar phonetic words.

“If reading skill is developing successfully, word recognition gradually becomes so fast that it seems as if we are reading “by sight.” The path to that end, however, requires knowing how print represents sounds, syllables, and meaningful word parts; for most students, developing that body of knowledge requires explicit instruction and practice over several grades” (Moats, 2020) and (Ehri et al., 2001).

To apply decoding strategies, students employ knowledge of individual phoneme/grapheme relationships, including identifying vowels and consonants. Next, they discover the syllable division pattern(s), which indicates how to cut the word into syllables. Then, students look at each syllable and determine the syllable type, which indicates how to pronounce the vowel sounds.

There are four-syllable division patterns in English listed by frequency: 

  1. VC/CV as in rabbit
  2. V/CV as in raven
  3. VC/V as in camel
  4. CV/VC as in lion

There are seven syllable types in English: 

  1. Closed syllables (bed)
  2. Open syllables (be)
  3. Magic-e syllables (make)
  4. Vowel team syllables (treat)
  5. Bossy r syllables (verb)
  6. Diphthong syllables (growl)
  7. Consonant-le syllables (noble)

Finally, these strategies are systematically applied to phonetic multisyllabic words in a multi-sensory manner to read the whole word. Over time, the brain develops automaticity (fast, accurate, and effortless word identification at the word level) and fluency (automatic word recognition plus the use of appropriate prosodic features of rhythm, intonation, and phrasing at the phrase, sentence, and text levels) to decode and comprehend efficiently.


Be sure to check out the rest of our blog series on Encoding vs. Decoding:

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About The Author

Ginny Simank is a Level 4 IMSE OG Master Instructor living in Dallas, Texas. She has a master’s degree (M.Ed.) with a Reading Specialist certificate and holds certifications in special education, English as a Second Language, and generalists for Early Childhood through 6th grade & ELA 4th-8th grades. She is an IDA-certified Structured Literacy Teacher and full-time instructor for the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE), whose mission is to train others across the country (teachers, administrators, tutors, education professionals & parents) in the Orton Gillingham methodology of multi-sensory language instruction. Ms. Simank previously served on the national board of directors for the Learning Disabilities Association and was a member of the LDA’s Education & Nominating Committees.


  1. Bowers, Peter (2009). Teaching How the Written Word Works. www.wordworkskingston.com.
  2. Ehri, L. “Orthographic Mapping in the Acquisition of Sight Word Reading, Spelling Memory, and Vocabulary Learning,” Scientific Studies of Reading 18 (2014): 5–21; and Kilpatrick, Essentials of Assessing. 
  3. Ehri, L., et al., “Systematic Phonics Instruction Helps Students Learn to Read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s Meta-Analysis,” Review of Educational Research 71 (2001): 393–447.
  4. Gallagher, K. (2003). Reading Reasons: Motivational Mini-Lessons for Middle School and High School. Portland, ME: Steinhouse Publishers.
  5. Henry, Marcia (2004). Unlocking Literacy, Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company, Second Printing.
  6. Liuzzo, Jeanne (2020). Intermediate Training Manual, Institute for Multi-Sensory Education, p53-56.
  7. Moats, Louisa C. (2020). Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science (2020): What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able to Do. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.
  8. Olson, Carol Booth. 2003. The Reading/Writing Connection: Strategies for Teaching and Learning in the Secondary Classroom. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.