About Education: Essay #7, Word Attack Skills

The following information, regarding how to teach word attack skills, is presented as a  rudimentary overview and is given in outline form. I hope that this post will aid curriculum area teachers, as well as parents, in teaching their students or children how to “break words into their smaller components” so that students can process unknown words for their meanings in context, without undue interruptions to their reading experiences.



** Teaching Approach: “Sound out” single syllables, or one-syllable words, as follows:

1. Single Consonant Sounds

Examples: b, d, f, m, s

2. Consonant Blends

Examples: bl, sk, gr, nd

3. Long Vowel Sounds (Vowels to be sounded are given in capital letters.)

Examples: Ate, sEe, Ice, nOte, Use

4. Short Vowel Sounds (Vowels to be sounded are given in capital letters.)

Examples: cAt, pEt, bIg, gOt, bUs

5. R-Controlled Vowels (Vowels to be sounded are given in capital letters.)

Examples: ARe, hER, sIR, fOR, fUR


can be visualized, understood, and “sounded out” phonetically)

**Teaching Approach: Link single syllables together to form a word.

1. Endings (Suffixes)

Examples: -ing (call ing)

-ed (call ed)

-er (small er)

-est (small est)

2. Compound Words (Seeing small words in larger words)

Examples: every one

news paper

Thanks giving

3. Syllabication Patterns (v=vowel; c = consonant)

NOTE: VCCV and VCV are common patterns within words. It is important to remind students that long words can be effectively divided into smaller syllables around the vowels in the words. Once the smaller syllables are ascertained, the student should “sound out” the syllable units individually and then “string” the syllables back together, sounding out all syllables in sequence in a given word to figure out the total sound of the long word.  Example: discontinuance    dis . con . tin . u . ance  This long word is made up of the prefix “dis” and the suffix “ance” which can first be “broken off” from the long word in order to start to “break” the long word into smaller syllabic units for sounding out purposes (Note that the “e” at the end of the word is silent). What is left is “con . tin . u”  Notice how that part of the word is broken into syllables around the sounded vowels within the word. (Silent vowels are never used for dividing, such as the “i” in the word “sail,” or the “a” in the word “boat,” so that the word “sailboat” is correctly divided into only two parts, i. e. “sail . boat.”)

The word “discontinuance” is divided correctly, thus, in order to break this long word into smaller units for sounding out (and meaning) purposes: dis . con . tin . u . ance.  In terms of meaning, the prefix “dis” means “not” or “the opposite”; the suffix “ance” means “the act of” and indicates that the word is a noun; the syllable “con,” is a form of “com” which means “together,” as in the words “connection” and “communicate” (“Con” can also mean “against,” but not in this case.); “tin” is a form of “ten” which means “to hold.”  Thus, the word “discontinuance” literally means “the act of no longer holding together” or “to cease to operate.”

a. VCCV Pattern (Divide, thus: VC . CV)

Examples: but ter

hel lo

pen cil

-vc cv-

b. VCV Pattern (Divide, thus: V . CV)

Examples: pa per

mo lar

o pen

-v cv-

4. Prefixes, Root Words, Suffixes (or the “etymology” of words)

**Teaching Approach: When the teaching of etymology of words is approached through teaching the MEANING of the various prefixes, roots, suffixes (as well as how to visualize breaking the words into smaller units for pronunciation), students quickly learn both word attack skills and strategies for figuring out the meanings of many unknown words.

They learn – through manipulation of suffixes – how to change words from a verb, to a noun, or to an adjective or adverb form.

They learn – through manipulation of prefixes and roots – the subtle meaning variances (connotations) of words.

They also learn that many words come from the same basic root source.


auto = self

bio = life

graph = write

-er = one who (noun)

-al = adjective form

-ist = one who (noun)

geo = earth

ology = study of (noun)

Examples showing how words are “built” by prefixes, roots, and suffixes (notice meanings of each of the separate parts to build the overall word’s meaning):

auto . bio . graph . i . cal = “that which describes. . .the self. . .writing. . .of (one’s) life,”  as in “an autobiographical book”

bio . graph . er  = “one who. . . writes (of). . . (a) life

geo . logy  =  “the study of. . .the earth”

geo . log . ist  = “one who. . .studies. . .the earth”

NOTE: A comprehensive list of prefixes, roots, and suffixes, as well as their meanings (such as given in the example of the word “discontinuance,” above), can be found within any SAT book. Check any bookstore for its SAT Section of books. Preview various SAT books before purchasing in order to determine which book’s format and comprehensive list best suits your needs.

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This entry was posted in Etymology of Words, Prefixes, Root Words, Suffixes, Uncategorized, Word Attack Skills. Bookmark the permalink.

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