How to Teach Decoding Strategies to Little Readers

Sunday, January 17, 2021

I am often asked for tips and ideas about how to help young learners become better readers so I thought I'd share a way to teach reading strategies to students. Many of you probably teach these strategies automatically already, but I have found that the addition of cute animal characters is useful in helping your students recall and connect with the strategies on a deeper level. It’s very important to teach and support students' love for reading at an early age, and with that comes providing practical strategies that they can use as they begin to read independently.

So here are the strategies!

Tips for Teaching the Strategies:

1. Order - I suggest teaching the strategies in the order I have shown above as they tend to become more difficult as you go down the list. However, in saying that, it's also important that you make the most of any teaching opportunities that arise. Learning is always more powerful in context.

2. Duration - How much time you spend on a strategy depends on the strategy itself and the students you are teaching it to. For example, Eagle Eye and Helpful Kangaroo do not require as much practice in comparison with Stretchy Snake and Chunky Monkey.

3. One at a Time - In most cases, I suggest teaching the strategies one at a time. With higher level students, you might like to teach two at a time. 

4. Review - Spend LOTS of time reviewing the current strategy you are teaching as well as any previous ones taught.

Read on to learn more about the strategies and to discover some helpful activities I created to help teach them. 

The Strategies

The best part about the following strategies is that they create independence and help students to problem solve before raising their hand and asking “what is this word?” They equip students with the skills they need to become empowered readers. The animals and their names are helpful and easy for students to remember and that’s why I believe they are effective reading strategies.

Eagle Eye

Our early readers rely heavily on pictures to guide them as they read, so the Eagle Eye strategy is perfect to show your students how the pictures can help them decode unfamiliar words. When teaching this, you can talk about how eagles have great eyesight and so do great readers! A great way to teach this is to use purposeful activities that show students that a picture can help them work out an unknown word. See the activity above for an example of an activity that I created. Another method is to use an easy reader book (a big book for whole group instruction) and cover up words with sticky notes and have your students use their eyes and picture clues to figure out the word! 

Lips the Fish

Once students know to use their eyes to help them decode unfamiliar words, the next strategy to teach them is Lips the Fish. Lips the Fish reminds students to look at the beginning of the word and get their lips ready for the first sound. To introduce this, show students different pictures and have them practice getting their lips in the right place to say the word. Please note, it is super important that they have well-developed phonics skills to be able to master this strategy effectively. 

Stretchy Snake

This strategy will really help your students with blending sounds in words. Stretchy Snake reminds students to stretch out the letter sounds and blend them together to form a word. I've previously taught this strategy with a slinky and it worked phenomenally. This hands-on approach helps students make the connection even more! Start out with a few short CVC words and demonstrate how we can slowly stretch out those sounds and then blend them together to form the word! The activity shown above has students search their reading books for words that they can stretch out like Stretchy Snake.

Chunky Monkey

Chunky Monkey reminds students that you can look for smaller, known chunks in unfamiliar words. You can practice looking for those smaller chunks they already know by using activities such as the one shown above. Practice it further by displaying words on an anchor chart or Smartboard. You can show students how to find many VC words/chunks! Encourage your students to use Chunky Monkey and Stretchy Snake together!

Flippy Dolphin


Flippy Dolphin is a great strategy for students who come across a word that doesn’t make sense or sound right. Flippy Dolphin can help students learn to flip the vowel sound in a word to see if it makes more sense!  You can use simple CVC or CVCe words to have students help you flip the vowel sounds.

Skippy the Frog

Skippy the Frog is a reading strategy that tells students to skip over unfamiliar words and read to the end of the sentence. This strategy helps to reduce frustration. If all of the other strategies haven’t helped your students, Skippy the Frog reminds them to skip past the tricky word. Remind your readers that this strategy might help them find other clues that can help them decode the tricky word.


Tryin’ Lion

Tryin’ Lion is such an important strategy to teach because it reminds your students to not give up. Tryin’ Lion reminds readers to try all of our other strategies first, and if they still can’t figure it out, they can try a word that they think will make sense. Provide a sentence with a tricky word in it covered up, read the sentence together and then work back to figure out what word could make sense in that place.

Helpful Kangaroo

The final strategy to teach is Helpful Kangaroo. You can tell your students that if they’ve tried all the other strategies they’ve learned and they are still stuck, they can ask someone for help!


Reading Strategies - Worksheets and Activities

If you’re looking for engaging and purposeful activities to use as you teach these strategies to your students, this activity packet is a great resource for your classroom.

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