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Assessment Strategies and Reading Profiles

Print Skills (Alphabetics)

Word Analysis

Acronyms and Abbreviations

C, V (as in CV, CVC, and CCVC) = Consonant, Vowel

TOWRE = Test of Word Reading Efficiency

WA = Word Analysis

Word Analysis, also called "phonics" or "decoding," is the process of using the relationships between spelling and pronunciation at the letter, syllable, and word levels to figure out unfamiliar words. For more proficient readers, Word Analysis also refers to knowledge of the meanings and spellings of prefixes, root words, and suffixes. Word Analysis instruction can be very effective in helping beginning readers learn to read with understanding.RR


Word Analysis (Phonics) Assessments should be done with any learner who is having consistent trouble decoding words. Start with an informal assessment of letters and sounds. Using the lower case letters of the alphabet, point in random order to various letters and ask the leaner to say the sound (not the name) of the letter. Does the learner know them all? Is the ability automatic—that is, without hesitation?

Next assess the basic principles of English phonics. ABE teacher Sylvia Greene created such a test, complete with a guide to which principles apply to which words. After giving this test to a learner, you can tell which Word Analysis principles are known and which need to be taught or reviewed. You can download a free copy of Greene's Informal Word Analysis Inventory from this site.

Greene's test uses lists of real words that contain the different phonic elements but several assessments such as the Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE) use pseudo-words such as blerk to evaluate Word Analysis skills.

Published Word Analysis assessments do not always include enough multisyllabic words to evaluate how well learners can chunk word parts. You may want to supplement them with your own informal teacher-made tests. Here are the six syllable types that you can use to test and practice syllabication skills:

  • closed (by a consonant), CVC or CCVC as in cot, plan - vowel is short
  • open (ends in a vowel), CV as in go - vowel is long
  • final silent -e as in in/flate - vowel in last syllable is long
  • vowel combinations (digraphs) as in sail, teach - two vowels make one sound
  • R-controlled when any vowel is followed by an r - vowel sound is changed. The vowel is neither long nor short as in doc/tor, per/son, curd, part/ner, bird.
  • final -le as in bu/gle where the le sounds like ul

Approaches to instruction

Blending (aka synthetic phonics) is a key skill to teach beginners because it mimics the process readers go through to sound out a word. Once readers have learned to match letter names with letter sounds, this knowledge is used to pronounce words by blending the separate sounds to arrive at the complete word, as in /p/-/a/-/t/ /pat/. Learners should practice to automaticity blending sounds in written words and writing words when the instructor pronounces the individual sounds.

Onsets and rimes (also called word families or phonograms) can be used to practice and reinforce phonics principles. The onset is the part of a word or syllable before the vowel, and the rime is the part from the vowel onward. The ability to use onsets and rimes allows a reader to decode many words in a family. Some common rimes are: -ack, -an, -aw, -ick, -ing, -op, -unk, -ain, -ank, -ay, -ide, -ink, -or, -ock, -ight, -ame, -eat, -ine. Five hundred words can be derived from 37 rimes by preceding them by onsets such as consonant blends (st, str, pl...) and digraphs (ch, wh, ph, th...), as well as by single consonants.RR Important (high frequency) word families should be practiced to automaticity.

Structural analysis is the process of interpreting word parts that make up a word. "[U]sing word parts enables the reader to determine the pronunciation and meaning of unknown words. This word identification technique is effective especially if it is used along with phonic analysis and context clues."RR Structural analysis skill is assessed with teacher-made inventories. Ask learners to divide compound words or to underline the root word or the affix in words with prefixes and/or suffixes. Practice can have the same format as the assessment. This activity is a good illustration of how components work together to further skill in each. Learning about affixes is both a Word Analysis and a Word Meaning activity. Thus, structural analysis is an aspect of Word Analysis that even ASE learners can benefit from.

SuffixesRR like -ed, -ing, and plural -s are part of Beginning Level instruction in Word Analysis. More advanced Structural Analysis should be part of Word Recognition and Vocabulary for Intermediate and ASE Level learners.  Suffixes usually indicate the part of speech of a word and/or its role in a sentence. Inflectional suffixes have to do with the grammar of a sentence like -s, -ed, and -ing, and derivational suffixes change the part of speech, for example, -er meaning "one who" as in teacher, or -en meaning "made of" as in golden.

PrefixesRR are additions to root words that form a new word with another meaning from that of the root word. In the word disagree, the prefix dis- (meaning not) changes the direction of meaning of the root, agree. Prefixes occur in texts from third grade level and above; the most common ones are un-, meaning "not" (as in unclear), or "opposite" (as in unpack); and under-, meaning "not enough" (as in underpaid). An interesting illustration of the complexity of English orthography are the several prefixes that indicate "not": un- (unknown), dis- (disregard), im- (impossible), in- (inaccurate), mis- (misunderstand), and ir- (irrational).

Sources of words for teaching Word Analysis

When you are planning a Word Analysis lesson, don't spend time trying to come up with your own examples of words that fit the pattern you want to teach. Take advantage of books such as these where the authors have already done that work for you.

  1. Bowen, C. (1972). Angling for words. Novato, CA: Academic Therapy Publications.
  2. Fry, E.B., Kress, J.E., & Fountoukidis, D.L. (1993). The reading teacher's book of lists, 3rd ed. West Nyack, NY: The Center for Applied Research in Education.
  3. Miller, W.H. (2002). Reading skills problem solver. Paramus, NJ: The Center for Applied Research.

Non-native Speakers of English (NNSE): Because English contains many words with Latinate roots, Non-native Speakers of English who are speakers and readers of romance languages like Spanish, French, or Portuguese can benefit from instruction in cognates—i.e., words that have similar spellings and similar meanings across two languages.

With regard to English and Spanish, some cognates are identical (secular/secular); others are slightly different (scene/escena or security/seguridad). Students can be asked to find patterns such as the fact that many English nouns ending in -ity, end in -dad in Spanish, such as nativity/natividad. Similarly, adverbs ending in -ly in English often end in -mente in Spanish, such as absolutely/absolutamente.

Examples of learner-friendly cognate dictionaries can be found on the internet: Remember, for cognate instruction to succeed, the learner has to be able to read both languages, because although cognates are spelled similarly, they are usually pronounced very differently.

Find out more about Word Analysis and suggestions for instruction:

McShane, S. (2005). Applying research in reading for adults: First steps for teachers. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Following is the summary from Chapter 4 of Applying Research in Reading for Adults:

Phonics Instruction Tips in a Nutshell

  1. Assess phonics skills of adult beginning and (some) intermediate-level readers (see Chapter 8 for an initial assessment plan).
  2. Provide explicit, systematic phonics instruction that is matched to the assessed needs of learners.
  3. Follow a defined sequence of skills or adopt a structured phonics-based program.
  4. Provide practice in the phonics elements you have taught, possibly including the use of controlled vocabulary texts.
  5. Do not make decoding skills the entire focus of the reading lesson. In each lesson, address the other needed component skills as well, and provide opportunities for learners to gain access to adult-interest reading materials.

See Published Tests for published assessments of Word Analysis.

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