Help Your Child Become a Word Detective

Use these helpful sleuthing techniques to crack the code of reading.



Help Your Child Become a Word Detective

The first words your young child encounters when reading are generally simple, one-syllable words such as cat, play, and mom, which they learn with relative ease. However, many children begin experiencing difficulties when they encounter larger words with many syllables. To help your child tackle these bigger, harder words, teach him to become a word detective. When listening to him read, follow these five simple steps:  

1. Look for word parts at the beginning of the word (prefixes). Many words, such as replay and unhappy, contain common word parts called prefixes. A prefix appears at the beginning of a word and changes the meaning of the word. For example, the prefix dis- means "not" or "the opposite of," as in dislike — to not like.

2. Look for word parts at the end of the word (suffixes). Similarly, many words contain common suffixes, which appear at the end of a word. The most common suffixes are -s as in bugs, -ed as in started, and -ing as in running.

3. In the base word, look for familiar spelling patterns. Think about the six syllable-spelling patterns in English. After you remove the prefix and suffix from a word (if the word contains these parts), what is left is called the base word. Often this will be a simple one- or two-syllable word such as play in the word playing or event in the word uneventful. The six most common spelling patterns are:   

  • Closed: These syllables end in a consonant. The vowel sound is generally short: rabbit, napkin. 
  • Open: These syllables end in a vowel. The vowel sound is generally long: tiger, pilot. 
  • Consonant + le: Usually when le appears at the end of a word and is preceded by a consonant, the consonant + le form the final syllable: table, little. 
  • Vowel team: Many vowel sounds are spelled with vowels pairs such as ai, ay, ea, ee, oa, ow, oo, oi, oy, ou, ie, and ei. The vowel teams appear in the same syllable: explain, notebook. 
  • R-controlled: When a vowel is followed by r, the letter r affects the sound of the vowel. The vowel and the r appear in the same syllable: turtle, market. 
  • Final e: These syllables generally represent long-vowel sounds: compete, decide. 

4. Sound out and blend together the word parts. Once your child has found all the big chunks in a long word, it's time to put them together to read the word. So instead of sounding out the 10 separate sounds in the word uneventful, she only has to put together the three big pieces in the word — un-, event, and -ful.

5. Say the word parts fast. Adjust pronunciation as needed. Sometimes when you sound out a longer word, the actual word sounds slightly different from the way you sounded it out. That is because most multi-syllable words have unaccented syllables. An unaccented syllable has the "uh" vowel sound, as in the first syllable of the word about.
Once your child has identified the word, ask her to reread the sentence containing the word. Ask, "Does the word make sense in the sentence?" This will help confirm that she sounded out the word correctly.

Over time, your child will get used to looking for these word parts and become quite adept at tackling bigger, harder words. Periodically stopping and helping him through a new word using the five steps can help him become a master word detective and a skilled reader!

Reading Comprehension
Developing Reading Skills
Memory and Memorization
Age 7
Age 6
Reading Support
Word Recognition
Prefixes and Suffixes