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Helping Children Decode Words in Reading: The Three P's Formula

Updated on June 1, 2012

Pause, Prompt, Praise

Your child gets stuck on a word. What do you do? The most common response is to ask the child to sound it out. They still don't get it. Then what do you do? Knowing how to support children in their attempts to decode words is important, so that sounding out does not become all they rely on. When children encounter difficult words, this is often the first thing we will ask them to do. The danger is when they lose sight of other important reading cues. Children do require strong phonics skills, and they must able to apply them in their reading, but they also need to use information from the meaning and structure of the text. By adopting the Three P's Formula (Pause, Prompt, Praise) children are encouraged to draw on all sources of information for decoding words. It also helps to ensure they do not get stuck on just sounding out.

The Three P's Formula

The first part of the Three P’s Formula is Pause. If your child stops at a difficult word, wait for a few moments (about five seconds) without saying anything. Give your child the opportunity to figure out it out. This allows them to reflect on all the information available in the text to help solve the word. Don’t jump in too quickly. Make sure your child has a good chance to do some uninterrupted thinking.

If it is necessary to jump in, offer some help by giving the child a Prompt. The prompt should be one that moves the child beyond sounding out and gets them to think about what they are reading. Ask your child to “Read the sentence again” to use the meaning and structure of the text as cues. With this prompt children are taught to go back, to the beginning of the sentence, and read it once more up to the word. Rereading gets children back into the groove and helps them to think of words that makes sense. You can also try the prompt “What would make sense?” If after two prompts a child is still unable read the word, then say it for them. and have them reread the sentence with the correction.

The last part of the Three P’s Formula is adding Praise to the child’s attempts at decoding words. If the child was able to sound out the first letter, tell them how pleased you are that they gave the word a try, and were able to get the first letter right. Help them to become independent at rereading a sentenct to solve difficult words, and then praise them when they take the initiative to do it on their own. Praise will go a long way in fostering a productive and enriching reading session with your child.

It All Needs to Make Sense!

The Three P's Formula offers some practical strategies for ensuring that children observe the various reading cues, when they encounter difficult words in reading. Sounding out is important but children also need to stay focused on the meaning and structure of the text. If a child reads the sentence The horse gapped quickly, rather than The horse galloped quickly, it is a chance to talk about making sure words make sense. Bringing this, and similar examples, to the child's attention will teach them to draw on importantant information needed for decoding. It will also provide opportunity to share a good laugh together, if the examples are looked at in a humorous light.

Reading with Meaning

This resource is highly recommended among teachers and would be of interest to parents who want support strategic reading in their children. Interesting stories and descriptions, this resource clarifys for educators and parents the comprehension strategies children need to be successful readers..

Teach Your Child to Read

Is your child halfway through first grade and still unable to read? Is your preschooler bored with coloring and ready for reading? Do you want to help your child read, but are afraid you'll do something wrong? Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is a complete, step-by-step program that shows parents simply and clearly how to teach their children to read. Twenty minutes a day is all you need, and within 100 teaching days your child will be reading on a solid second-grade reading level. Extensively reviewed and highly rated this resource offers parents a sensible, easy-to-follow, and enjoyable way to help your child gain the essential skills of reading.


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    • Sturgeonl profile image

      Sturgeonl 4 years ago

      Hope you find it useful. You might also find this article with useful spelling strategies helpful Happy reading!

    • AlisonRuth profile image

      Alison 4 years ago from USA

      Timely article , my 9 year old son just brought home his first spelling homework today. Thanks, I'll give this a go.