When students can’t decode but can encode and vice versa.

when students can't decode

It’s a common complaint among teachers: “My students can read but their writing is terrible!” or “My students can’t decode but they can encode! I’m so frustrated!” If only we had a dollar for every time we heard this! The truth is, there’s a crucial balance missing in many classrooms – the balance between decoding and encoding.

Encoding and decoding are like two sides of the same coin when it comes to literacy instruction. They should be taught together, hand in hand, to ensure comprehensive literacy development in students.

Quite often, teachers who are following a phonics program, omit an activity due to time constraints or feeling that students have already ‘got it’. However, the encoding side of phonics is often the activity that is omitted, leading to an imbalance in the way students receive their phonics instruction. It’s important that teachers deliver a program with fidelity – including print to speech and speech to print practise.

Not only will combining encoding and decoding within our lessons help our students, but it will increase our efficacy as a teacher, making our job easier – win-win!

So, if we are seeing an imbalance in our students’ skills, what can we do to help our students improve both their encoding and decoding skills?

When students can’t encode or decode, assess Phonemic Awareness and Phonics:

Before diving into decoding and encoding instruction, it’s essential to assess students’ phonemic awareness and phonics skills. Tools like the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Assessment can provide valuable insights into students’ abilities in this area. Finding the gaps in student phonological awareness and phonics skills is crucial to addressing their needs.

When students can’t encode, try these encoding strategies:

  • Oral Segmenting and Blending: Encourage students to break words down into individual sounds orally before writing them. Similarly, practice blending sounds together orally to form words.
  • Use of Elkonin Boxes: Elkonin boxes provide a visual scaffold for segmenting words into phonemes. Students can move manipulatives or write letters in each box to represent the sounds they hear. My preference is for students to write with a pencil or on a whiteboard, especially when encoding is a weakness.
  • Dictation of Decodable Texts: Choose decodable texts that align with the phonics skills students are learning and dictate sentences or passages for them to write. This allows for immediate application of encoding skills within the context of reading. You can dictate phoneme/grapheme correspondences, words and sentences.
  • Formation of Letters/Handwriting: Don’t overlook the importance of handwriting practice! Encourage students to focus on proper letter formation and legibility, which supports encoding skills.

When students can’t decode, try these decoding strategies:

  • Assess Phonological Awareness: Many decoding struggles stem from weaknesses in phonological awareness. Assess students’ abilities to manipulate sounds within words to identify areas of need.
  • Teach Continuous Blending: Instead of relying solely on sounding out each individual letter, teach students to blend sounds together smoothly to read words fluently.
  • Phoneme Substituting: Use word chains, preferably printed, to practice substituting one phoneme for another within a word. This reinforces decoding skills and encourages students to think flexibly about sounds.

Linking Encoding and Decoding:
To reinforce the connection between encoding and decoding, integrate activities that bridge the gap between the two skills. For example, after decoding a word, have students encode it by writing it down. This solidifies their understanding of the relationship between spoken and written language. It’s important that encoding and decoding are linked together in your planning and are not taught in isolation (although they must both be explicitly taught!).

Achieving a balance between decoding and encoding is key to unlocking literacy success in students. By assessing phonemic awareness, explicitly teaching both encoding and decoding strategies, and linking the two skills together, educators can help their students become proficient readers and writers.

Are you looking for resources to help your students with encoding and decoding? Try these:

How to Teach Encoding and Decoding

Encoding and decoding

Today, we’re diving into the fascinating world of encoding and decoding —two skills that hold the key to unlocking the magic of language. I recently heard encoding and decoding compared to breathing. Encoding is the in breath and decoding is the out breath. Undoubtedly, encoding skills are as important to reading as decoding skills.

“Encoding is not simply a first step to writing; it is a vital but under-appreciated route to reading.” 

Herron and Gillis, 2020.

So, how does encoding help students to read (decode?)

  1. Phonemic Awareness: Encoding helps students develop phonemic awareness, which is the ability to recognise and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. When students encode words, they learn to segment spoken words into their constituent phonemes, helping them understand the sound-letter correspondence.
  2. Letter-Sound Correspondence: Through encoding, students learn the relationship between letters (graphemes) and the sounds they represent (phonemes). This understanding of letter-sound correspondence is essential for decoding, as it allows students to recognise written words by sounding them out.
  3. Segmenting and Blending: Encoding requires students to segment words into individual phonemes and then blend those phonemes together to form words. This process of segmenting and blending helps students develop phonemic blending skills, which are vital for reading fluency.
  4. Spelling Skills: Encoding involves spelling words phonetically, which helps students develop spelling proficiency. By encoding words, students learn to apply spelling rules and conventions, such as vowel patterns and syllable structures, which contribute to their overall literacy skills.
  5. Vocabulary Development: Through encoding, students expand their vocabulary as they encounter new words and learn to spell them phonetically. This active engagement with language helps students internalise new vocabulary words, improving their reading comprehension and overall language proficiency.
  6. Metacognitive Awareness: Encoding requires students to think critically about the sounds and structures of words, fostering metacognitive awareness of language. By reflecting on their encoding processes, students develop a deeper understanding of word formation and language patterns, which enhances their reading and writing abilities.
  7. Reading Fluency: As students become proficient at encoding, they transfer their skills to decoding, which contributes to improved reading fluency. By recognising letter-sound relationships and quickly decoding words, students can read more smoothly and efficiently, leading to enhanced comprehension and enjoyment of reading.


How do we help students to decode?

  • Tell students to ‘sound out’ in their heads and then say the whole word out loud.
  • Remind students to keep their eyes on the print as they decode and as they blend the word.
  • Teach continuous blending (NOT segmenting or tapping before blending – read the research here)
  • Practice fluency reading daily.

How do we help students to encode?

  • A good basis in phonemic awareness such Heggerty’s
  • Use Elokin boxes to tap/segment the sounds
  • Begin with VC words. Once students are fluent in VC words,  then begin CVC words, swapping initial sounds where possible
  • ‘Singing’ the sounds can help!
  • Teach using a synthetic phonics sound sequence, where sounds build on previously taught sounds.

Bringing it all together:

  • Pair decoding and encoding activities together, such as in these Encoding and Decoding Color By Code Activities.
  • Boggle type games where students blend sounds to make words
  • Blending consonants and vowels to create words using letter cards or magnetic letters. You can set up two baskets of consonants and one basket of vowels. Students draw one letter from each basket and create a word. They then write if the word is a real word or a nonsense word.
  • Using familiar decodable readers for dictation. Students write the story as they hear it.
  • Word ladders – exchanging one letter at a time to create new words – decoding the words that are made.

One of my favourite tools to aid in encoding are my Word Mats! I’ve got different mats for different seasons and they are all FREE (create a free Teachie Tings account to download)! Check them out here below!

Reading Comprehension Today – What’s Changed?

reading comprehension today

In recent years, the science of reading has significantly transformed teaching practices, bringing about a more evidence-based and nuanced approach to literacy instruction. This knowledge has influenced teaching methodologies, emphasising the importance of systematic and explicit phonics instruction, decoding skills, and phonemic awareness.  We’ve got a great decoding freebie here!

Yet, while the primary focus of the science of reading is on foundational skills such as phonics, decoding, and fluency, it also encompasses comprehension. The science of reading recognises that successful reading involves a combination of skills, including the ability to understand and make meaning from the text.

Moving away from teaching skills in isolation

Today, the move is away from teaching skills in isolation (eg: ‘this week we’re focusing on inferring’) but rather developing the cognitive strategies students need to comprehend texts (summarising regularly, asking questions, metacognition), as well as understanding of the written language and embedding comprehension within content instruction, integrating reading comprehension into all curriculum areas.

Reading Comprehension is an OUTCOME

“You can’t teach reading comprehension – it’s an OUTCOME” – Dr Sharon Vaughn .

If you haven’t listened to the Science of Reading Podcast featuring Dr Sharon Vaughn, listen HERE. This episode is fantastic for helping you to make the shift from what reading comprehension is, and what it isn’t.

Furthermore, here are two schools of thought around how readers comprehend texts:

  1. Cognitive strategies that help students to comprehend texts: summarising regularly, asking questions about what is read, and paying attention to if the reader is understanding.
  2. Written language – word and sentence level understanding, text structure, morphology, cohesion of texts and authors organisational strategies.

Both work in conjunction with the other and can be synthesised into the following nine reading comprehension lesson ideas:

  1. word level study
  2. sentence level study
  3. text structure study
  4. vocabulary
  5. morphology
  6. Tier 2 words that help students to access a range of texts
  7. cohesion of texts
  8. summarising frequently
  9. self questioning – what am I reading and do I understand what I am reading?

In addition, teaching students these strategies, as well as giving students the opportunity to practise these within their own writing is more efficient and effective (Prof Timothy Shanahan). There’s a great clip on this, hosted on the Reading Science in Schools YouTube channel, as well as some general tips to improve student learning, HERE.

Finally, we LOVE this fabulous paper by Debbie Draper, ‘Five Ways to Improve Instruction – Comprehension’, which you can read HERE. It gives you the ‘how-to’ and highlights which practises to focus on within your reading comprehension instruction.

If you’re looking for some starting points for resources to support your reading comprehension lessons, we’ve curated a ‘playlist’ of sorts for you, from the Teachie Tings catalogue.

Reading Comprehension ‘playlist’

Embark on an Adventure: The Magic of Reading Skills!


Hey there, fellow educators and book enthusiasts! Today, we’re diving into a topic that’s close to our hearts – the enchanting world of reading skills! Picture this: books that open doors to knowledge, imagination, and a whole lot of fun! As teachers, we know the value of nurturing strong reading abilities in our students. So, grab your favorite cuppa, and let’s explore the wonderful world of reading and how our secret weapon, the Reading Skills Bump It Up Wall, can sprinkle some magic into our classrooms!

1. Let’s Talk and Connect!

Reading skills aren’t just about mumbling words; they’re the key to unlocking exciting conversations! When our students can read fluently and understand what they’re reading, they can communicate their thoughts, dreams, and creative ideas with ease. And let’s be honest, nothing brings more joy than witnessing a student share their adventures through captivating storytelling!

2. Adventure into Curious Minds!

Picture this: a curious bunch of young minds, heads buried in books, and their imagination soaring high! Reading skills ignite the spark of curiosity and ignite critical thinking. They transform our students into problem-solving wizards who can tackle anything that comes their way – from decoding challenging texts to exploring the mysteries of the universe!

3. Empathy – the Superpower of Kindness!

Books are magical portals that transport readers to new worlds and perspectives. Through the enchanting tales they read, our students can walk in the shoes of fascinating characters and embrace empathy like never before. They learn to understand others, celebrate diversity, and become kind-hearted superheroes of compassion!

4. Academic Quests and Beyond!

Ahoy, aspiring scholars! Strong reading skills aren’t just for acing exams; they’re your secret weapon for conquering all academic quests! With their reading prowess, students can devour complex subjects, absorb information like sponges, and excel in all their studies. The adventure of knowledge awaits them, and they’re all set to embrace it!

5. The Never-ending Quest for Learning!

Once the reading bug bites, there’s no turning back! When our students develop a love for reading, they embark on a lifelong journey of learning and discovery. Books become their faithful companions, guiding them through every chapter of life, and lighting up their path to success in whatever they choose to pursue.

Hey, magical beings of education, ready for a big surprise? Introducing the Reading Skills Bump It Up Wall – the ultimate guide to elevate your students’ reading skills and make learning one fantastic adventure!

With this fantastic display, you’ll have a dazzling array of tools at your fingertips. Customize it to fit your classroom’s needs, and watch as your students embark on their reading quests. The Success Criteria with optional star ratings make learning a breeze, and the graduated colors bring a splash of joy to every skill they conquer.

So, what are you waiting for? Dive into the world of reading wonders and join the adventure with the Reading Skills Bump It Up Wall! Together, let’s ignite a love for reading and lead our students towards a future filled with magic, knowledge, and endless possibilities! Happy reading! 📚✨