Blog Series - Part 7: Reading Strategies to Avoid (or employ!)

Blog Series: Top “helpful” reading strategies to AVOID!! (and what to do instead)

Part 7: Chunky Monkey

This blog series explores some strategies that a parent of a Grade One student received from their school.  I am reviewing these strategies and ranking them from worst to best.  Welcome to part 7!! (You can revisit previously reviewed strategies by clicking on the links below).

Strategies that will be reviewed in this blog:

Here is a list of strategies, in random order.  Each of the strategies has a catchy title, a short description, and a picture of an animal to cue/remind the student to use the strategy when reading.

Skippy Frog:  Skip the word, then go back (reviewed in Part 1 HERE)

Lips the Fish: Say the First sound (Reviewed in part 6 HERE)

Stripes the Zebra: Find the pattern

Stretchy Snake:  Stretch the sounds

Chunky Monkey: Find the chunks or little words you know

Eagle Eye:  Check the Picture (Reviewed in Part 2 HERE)

Flip the Dolphin: flip the vowel sound

Tryin’ Lion: Try another strategy (Reviewed in Part 5 HERE)

Slow Down Snail: Slow down if it doesn’t seem right (reviewed in Part 4 here)

Check it chicks: Make sure it looks right, sounds right, and makes sense (Reviewed in Part 3 HERE)

food spelling letters

Strategy Countdown Worst-to-Best Blog post #7:

Strategy #4: (countdown from worst to best) 

 Strategy Name: Chunky Monkey: Find the chunks or little words you know

Pros: ANY word structure/sound analysis strategy is valuable

Cons: English letter-sound correspondence is inconsistent (so this may not help); is easier to do this for more mature readers

Rating 7

First Impressions:

This strategy promotes looking inside of words and breaking words into manageable pieces, as well as looking for and recognizing “chunks” that have been previously introduced.

That IS valuable, as we want to move students away from “whole word” recognition, as described in previous blog posts.

This strategy may have the MOST utility when tackling multisyllabic words, or words that contain a base word plus suffixes.

Bear in mind that this strategy was being used with a Grade One student – so it may not have as much utility for younger readers or struggling readers.  However, I think it is beneficial as students are starting to form a visual vocabulary, are demonstrating some reading fluency skills, and are tackling multisyllabic words.

Pros and Cons discussion:

This strategy may help a student recognize the segment “eat”, which may help to recognize and read words like “heat” and “beat”.

This is especially true if students have demonstrated some Orthographic Mapping skills and have started to demonstrate that they are mapping rime units when reading and spelling.

However, this strategy is not going to help you read “weather”; in fact, it may be detrimental in trying to attack a word like “weather”.

Sound – symbol correspondence in English is not consistent, so this strategy will work sometimes, for some words – and not others.

This strategy does not help you read “ough”, which makes different sounds in cough, bough, through, although … etc.

A concern I have is that children start “looking through” words for segments that they recognize.  This will not be helpful.

Research shows that as mature readers, we look at every letter in a word, from left to right.  This strategy may interrupt that left-to-right scanning, which is a detrimental habit that poor readers may adopt.

Further, research shows us that “sight words”, or a visual vocabulary for words, move into long-term permanent storage through a process called Orthographic Mapping.

Orthographic Mapping occurs when we are looking at the letters in a word from left to right, while near-simultaneously thinking of the sounds in the word from first to last.

In other words, automatic word recognition happens when the letters you are seeing are “mapped” to the sounds in the word.  The sequence here is paramount.  This strategy may UTILIZE the process of mapping, but it does not TEACH it.

Again, we have a strategy that is going to have more utility for those students who are on track, and is not going to be that helpful for struggling readers.

I like that this strategy has some application to spelling as well (it may even be a better strategy for spelling than for reading!).  I am a HUGE proponent of spelling instruction.

Spelling assessment can show you which of your students have an underlying language disorder.

Poor spellers who are good readers are compensating with language meaning, comprehension, prediction, and visual memory skills.

There is a lot of information available in spelling assessments, AND there are gains to be made in understanding sound-symbol correspondence through spelling instruction.  This leads to reading accuracy, reading fluency, can support reading comprehension, supports spelling accuracy, and writing fluency.

What Can You Do Instead?

For younger readers, focus on SKILL-BASED instruction rather than STRATEGY instruction.

  • Strategies usually require some kind of self-reflection or meta-cognitive skill. We can work into this, but you are better off teaching a skill like phoneme blending, and then teaching them to apply phoneme blending while decoding.  We teach the discrete foundational skill, then we apply and integrate the skill into higher-order processes.
    • This allows you to focus on a hierarchy of skill development, such as blending words with 2 sounds, then 3, then 4, and integrating more and more sounds, which allows you to introduce more and more letters, as well as letter combinations (digraphs).

Promote a process of mapping

  • Activities that relate sounds to letters, and letters to sounds, and focus on the SEQUENCE (breaking the word apart or building the word, but moving away from “whole words” and the gestalt of a word).
  • If you are chunking, ALWAYS pair the ‘chunk’ that you are SEEING with the phonemes you are HEARING, so that auditory-visual information is integrated and given equal attention to promote mapping.
  • When you see that your student is demonstrating some mapping skill, such as approaching orthographically irregular words (is, was, what, of etc.), and/or you see evidence of mapping for simple, common words (dog, cat) or rime units (hot, spot, shot), then this strategy will have more utility, and may help you approach further visual vocabulary development (e.g., is – his, but not quiz, this) or may help with spelling accuracy (e.g., the word “what” has “at” hidden inside it, even though we can’t hear it).
    • I ALWAYS promote teaching what is regular first, then teaching what is irregular. I want children to spell orthographically-regular words with 1-1 correspondence before approaching words that have unexpected letters for sounds
      • E.g., spelling hat, pan, ram to mastery before introducing all the other sounds that the letter “a” may say such as was, water, any).
      • E.g., spelling tan, had before introducing than

Work within a hierarchy that is appropriate for your student

  • This idea is integrated into the example above. Working on “word families” or mapping rime units is an appropriate instructional step, but don’t get stuck here.  Once a student is having success with onset-rime blending and is accurately reading and spelling words with consistent rime units, it is time to go phoneme-by-phoneme.
    • This may mean a back-step in the hierarchy, e.g., if a student has been blending, reading, and spelling rime units like hop, stop, flop, drop, you may need to back up to 2 phoneme words like up to start to segment and break apart rime units

Include language-rich instruction that promotes an understanding of word structure and orthographic structure, rather than focusing on exposure and memorizing the look of a bunch of words

  • If your student is ready for multisyllabic words, include some instruction on parts of speech, prefixes, suffixes, suffix-adding rules, and suffix meaning. Teach the vocabulary and concepts of word parts.  (e.g., unhappily has a prefix “un” that means no/not; happy is our base word; happy is an adjective to means to feel positive or pleasant; we convert the letter “y” to “i” to add a suffix; “-ly” creates an adverb that describes the verb; “-ly means ‘has the quality of the base word’ – in this case, the quality of being happy”).


This strategy has utility when used with an appropriate reading level.  Focus on a skill-based approach and follow a hierarchy of skill development that takes into account language development, and language complexity.

Focus on mapping, and then you can use meta-cognitive strategies to APPLY mapping to read more complex words.

This strategy may have more utility for spelling – attending to a specific sequence of letters – but be SURE you are relating letters to sounds (and research shows, even more advantageous – use a SPEECH-TO-PRINT approach and move from sounds to letters).  Also be sure you are always moving through a word from left-to-right and not looking for chunks in the middle of words.

Teach the sequence of spelling and decoding – we go from first sounds in a word to last, and move from first letters to last (left-to-right).

This teaches the PROCESS of decoding, and limits guessing, looking at first letters and guessing, skipping grammar words to leap ahead to content words, and other detrimental compensatory patterns that we see in poor readers.

We need to teach students to code and decode to read and spell – to understand at a deep, automatic level the relationship between letters and sounds.


Watch for part 8 and beyond of this blog series as we move from the WORST of these strategies to the BEST.

Got questions, concerns, yeah buts?  Visit to engage in some delightful conversation on how you can improve your reading instruction or your child’s learning.