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1497 East Main St
Ashland, OR 97520
Phone: (541) 488-2684
Fax: (541) 488-2687
Contact: Dannette Catropa

Young Readers

Strategies for Problem Solving New Words

(excerpts from Guided Reading by Fountas and Pinnell
and …And with a Light Touch by Carol Avery)


Since information is communicated in a number of ways, readers can call upon several sources of information to problem solve new words. (Our goal is to help children explore, learn, and use multiple strategies to help them problem solve new words in text.) Here is some related information to think about as you work with children.


Readers are encouraged to use their knowledge of language to assist with fast, accurate decoding. (Example: Jim saw a ____. Readers’ knowledge of how English works tells them that the word is a noun.)

The visual information in the text will also assist readers (Example: In the sentence The rabbit hopped away, a young reader might use picture cues to identify the animal. Thevisual information in the wordwill help the reader know that the text says rabbit, notbunny.)

Readers also use context clues (Example: Jim looked in the nest. He saw a ____. The reader’s knowledge of nests and what is typically found there limits the possibilities.)

Readers use phonetic clues.  Emerging readers will spend more time trying to sound out each letter of an unknown word. Through continued reading exposure and practice they develop an awareness of patterns in the structure of words and they become more efficient at applying those patterns when they come upon unknown words.

Noticing part of a word that is like another word(example: “to” in “together”) speeds up solving the new word and is much more effective than letter-by-letter analysis.

Asking for help from peers or adults in the room.  We want to avoid a child spending too much time trying to figure out a new word to prevent frustration. It is ok to give a child a word. Here are some prompts you can experiment with as you work with students:

  • Check the picture.
  • Does that make sense?
  • Does that look right?
  • Does that sound right?
  • Let’s sound it out together.
  • What word might work here?
  • Is there a chunk of the word that you do know?
  • Does that word look like any other word that you know?
  • Do you know a word that starts with those letters?
  • Do you know a word that ends with those letters?
  • Would this word make sense?
  • Would this word fit here?
  • Could it be ____?
  • Read that again and start the word.
  • Check it. Does it look right and sound right to you?
  • What’s wrong with this? (repeat what child said)
  • You almost got it. See if you can find what is wrong.
  • Try that again.

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