Traditionally, we have taught children to begin to decode (or read) by learning the sound each letter makes and then by blending the letter sounds together as in the word c –a –t. In Reading Mates, in keeping with the practice of the READ3 program, I’ve written the books with the intention of decoding words using the onset and rime of a word. This is obvious in the book, That’s Mat. 

The onset of a word is the first letter eg t as in tip, digraph eg sh as in ship or consonantal blend eg tr as in trip. The rime of a word is the part of the word containing the vowel and the end of a word. This is the part that can rhyme, eg t-ip, sh-ip and tr-ip. The theory behind this way of decoding is that it reduces the load on working memory – and many children with dyslexia, do not have a strong working memory.

Working memory is used when decoding new words. A child must hold the sound of each letter in memory, then blend them together to make the whole word to understand its meaning. It is far less strain on working memory to decode stump as st-ump rather than s-t-u-m-p. By breaking the word into two pieces – onset and rime - the number of “chunks” to decode becomes two.  The child decodes the onset sounds then the rime sounds and blends the two chunks together. When sounding out each letter, sound-by-sound, the child is trying to hold five pieces in working memory. This may be more than his memory is capable of holding. If he can’t hold all of these sounds, he has difficulty blending them together accurately. Chunking helps him overcome this problem.

I have been using this onset and rime method with children with literacy difficulties for many years and found it to be very effective. Please refer to for more information on when and how to teach decoding in this way.

Decoding Practice

Once beginning readers have learnt the sound-letter associations, they then need to blend and decode words and most importantly make meaning of what they decode. It is vital that children quickly begin to practise their new skills in decoding meaningful material and as we all know in learning new skills, practising little and often is the key to mastery.

For children with reading difficulties, keeping motivation high through success in reading, is very important and hard to achieve as there are few books in most series at one level. When completed, Reading Mates aims to have available four to five readers at each of the early levels in particular, to encourage children to practise what they have learnt.