What are word attack skills?

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Developing word attack skills is necessary to help beginning readers and writers become independent and fluent.


Word attack skills are the ability to convert graphic symbols into intelligible language.

Also known as:

decoding skills


Reading skills come from the following:

  • Seeing language as made up of units of sound and units of meaning
  • Seeing print as letters symbolizing sounds, words, and discourse units of language such as sentences, paragraphs, and quotations
  • Seeing relationships of ideas and the ability to infer, evaluate, and conclude (This is both a goal of reading and a skill.)


The order of recognition for a fluent reader may go back and forth from recognizing letters to recognizing words, phrases, or even larger segments. For new readers, whether recognition begins with the letter or the word depends on the way they learned to read. As fluency is gained, each reader develops his or her own strategies and interplay of skills. Proficiency in one skill aids proficiency in another.


Here are some examples of word attack skills:

  • Seeing the component parts of words
  • Blending these parts into new words
  • Recognizing syllable patterns
  • Recognizing symbols for consonant sounds
  • Recognizing symbols for vowel sounds
  • Recognizing symbols for tone and other suprasegmental features
  • Recognizing capital letters (upper case) and knowing when to use them
  • Recognizing punctuation and how it affects reading for meaning and expression
  • Recognizing the use of space to mark word breaks and paragraphs
  • Using the above skills simultaneously with comprehension and critical reading skills
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Page content last modified: 28 June 1999

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