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!