Tap it Out to Decode Words

When working with words, students benefit from using small hand movements to engage their brain
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About This Strategy

In this strategy, students are taught tapping movements using their fingers, hands, and arms to build neural connections for phonemic awareness and segmenting and blending words for decoding that will enhance the students' ability to read successfully.  Using movement helps to activate neural connections for students as they are learning. Consistent research demonstrates that instruction using direct, explicit, systematic, multi-sensory phonics changes how weak readers utilize pathways in the brain for reading.  This strategy is especially useful for reading instruction with decoding and sentence structures in writing. 

Implementation Steps

  1. Determine the academic focus for tapping it out. Examples include:  blending and/or segmenting phonemes in words,  syllables in words, or words in a simple sentence.  

  2. Create a list of words that match your academic focus. See resources below for word list ideas. 

  3. Model the tapping it out process to the student with 2-3 examples. For the first one or  two examples demonstrate tapping it out and then on the last example have the student repeat what you modeled to tap out.  For example:

    • Model how to tap the phonemes in the word "cat" by holding up your hand and tapping one finger to your thumb for each phoneme starting with the index finger. For /k/ tap index finger to thumb, then /a/ tap middle finger to thumb, finally /t/ tap ring finger to thumb.  

  4. Continue to provide words or sentences for students to tap out.  

  5. If a student is practicing spelling words, the student could use the non-dominant hand to tap on a table beginning with pinkie finger moving towards thumb for right handed students and beginning with thumb towards the pinkie for left handed students, so the flow of the tap matches the order of the sounds in the word. 

  6. Consider tapping in a different manner to address words that don't follow typical spelling patterns commonly referred to as sight words or red words. See Arm Tapping Video in Resources.  For example: the word "said".   

    • Instead of tapping out a word like this using my fingers, demonstrate with students that since this is a tricky word, they can practice it by stretching out their arm and tapping down their arm for each letter of the word.   Then they can slide their hand down their arm to say the whole word.   The emphasis on these types of words is to say the letters and not the sounds because these are words that cannot be sounded out. 

  7. Consider asking students to reflect on how tapping it out helped them read words correctly. Questions to ask students include:

    • How many words did you read correctly when you didn't tap it out?

    • How many words did you read correctly when you did tap it out?

    • How do you think tapping it out helps you to hear each sound in a word? 

EL Modification

English Language Learners need opportunities to recognize individual sounds within words that they might not be familiar with. This strategy gives them the opportunity to connect the sounds that they hear with what they might see or need to write.  An article in the resources discusses the benefits to English Language Learners with the Orton-Gillingham approach and tapping it out is a tool that is used with Orton-Gillingham.

Implementation steps:

  1. Consider the native language of the student and identify sounds in the English language that might not occur in the native language and give opportunities to practice tapping out those sounds in simple words. An example would be initial s blends like sl, sm, scr, spr, str that don't exist in Spanish.   See resource below for more descriptions of differences between English and Spanish.

Special Education Modification

Students with disabilities benefit greatly from information being presented in multisensory format.  The act of identifying and tapping out sounds/syllables allows for students to avoid omitting, transposing, or inserting sounds/letters.   This strategy is often utilized when instructing students with dyslexia to continue the connections in the brain from phonemes to written language.

  1. Spend time practicing individual phonemes and the sounds they make before working to blend words.

  2. Beginning as an oral and auditory practice helps the students pay attention to the sounds in words instead of focusing on the letters. This skill is especially helpful when learning about digraphs/diphthongs and other dual letter spelling patterns. 

  3. Develop routines and be consistent with tapping out words will help students that have executive functioning challenges because it provides predictability and forms patterns. 

  4. For students who may benefit from clearly defined goals, have students set a reading goal and reflect on how tapping it out helps them achieve their goal. Consult the resource below for more on goal setting.

  5. Beginning as an oral and auditory practice helps the students pay attention to the sounds in words instead of focusing on the letters. This skill is especially helpful when learning about digraphs/diphthongs and other dual letter spelling patterns. 

  6. Develop routines and be consistent with tapping out words will help students that have executive functioning challenges because it provides predictability and forms patterns. 

  7. For students who may benefit from clearly defined goals, have students set a reading goal and reflect on how tapping it out helps them achieve their goal. Consult the resource below for more on goal setting.

Tap It Out for Distance Learning

This strategy is versatile and can be done in many different places at any time.  There are some considerations a teacher may need to make when dealing with virtual teaching.  One of those being this strategy is best used as part of a synchronous lesson and small groups. 

Implementation steps:

  1. Moving from tapping out on using fingers,  tap it out on your chin in a video chat so that students can clearly see your fingers tap your chin with each sound I made. 

  2. Consider recording audio of you saying different words and have a student complete a Flip Grid tapping out the sounds in the words.  This would be an asynchronous option. 

  3. Give time for lag between screens and be prepared to repeat slowly and clearly the words or phrases. 

Related Lessons

  • This strategy can be used with my Digraphs Daily Meet with 2nd Grade because throughout the lesson we use the skill of tapping it out to practice segmenting words into phonemes. 
  • This strategy can be used with my Breaking Words into Syllables - 4th Grade because in this lesson students use tapping it out to break big words into syllables.