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Black female teacher working one-on-one with Latino middle school student on fluency

Teach Students How to Fluently Read Multisyllabic Content Vocabulary

Corwin Press

Learn a strategy to develop students’ fluent decoding skills with multisyllabic words, so that they can focus more on understanding the content. 

How to get started

Many middle and high school students have never had instruction in how to divide multisyllabic words into parts (syllables) to make them pronounceable, Unfortunately, most of the “meaning” or content words in middle and high school texts contain more than one syllable. Therefore, even if your students have the appropriate vocabulary and background knowledge to understand a word, their inability to decode and pronounce it prevents them from accessing the text.

Although you probably won’t have the time to embark on a full-scale program to teach this skill, there are several simple things you can do on a daily basis to increase the likelihood that your students will learn how to fluently identify the vocabulary of your discipline. To that end, choose five to eight key words each week and follow these steps:

  1. After you have identified the key words, look them up in a dictionary to see how they are divided into syllables.

  2. Write out the divided words on chart paper or poster board.

  3. At the beginning of a week or unit, point out the list of words to students and tell them that to become a historian, scientist, mathematician, musician, and so forth, they will need to know how to identify the important words of the subject quickly and accurately. Assure them that you will help them to do so.

  4. As you run your hand or a pointer under each new word, say it slowly once, so students can hear the various parts of the word, and then blend the parts together and say the word quickly.

  5. Practice the list together one or two more times, and then move your hand or pointer around to prompt students to say the words with you.

  6. Provide a sheet of flashcards for each student with the syllabicated words on one side and a student-friendly definition of the word on the reverse side.

  7. Review the words once or twice every day for both pronunciation and meaning. When you say the word in the context of an explanation or discussion, run your hand or the pointer under the word to affix the sounds and corresponding spelling firmly in students’ minds. Even bright students who may know the meanings of words can have problems pronouncing them correctly if they have not had the benefit of instruction in earlier grades.

  8. Look for word parts at the beginning and end of the word and vowel sounds in the rest of the word,

    1. Say the parts of the word

    2. Say the parts fast

    3. Make it a real word

A resource to get you started

Archer, A.L., Gleason, M.M., & Vachon, V. (2005). Rewards: Multisyllabic word reading strategies. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Publication Date:

McEwan, E.K. (2007). Raising reading achievement in middle and high schools(opens in a new window). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Raising Reading Achievement in Middle and High Schools