About the Word Workout method: 




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    To Parents / Teachers / Tutors:

Are you concerned about dyslexic or other problem readers who have trouble coping with longer words? If so, this page will show you a simple and effective way to provide help. The Word Workout method teaches

  • how to break up those words into easily pronounceable parts, and
  • how to combine those parts into a recognizable whole.

The method utilizes three steps to achieve a smooth, recognizable pronunciation.

Here's a short summary of the steps:

(a) Count back from the suffix to find the accented vowel. (It's either one or two vowels back, depending on which suffix is present.) For example:

With -ic, count back one vowel:        With -ate, count back two vowels:

     majestic                   invigorate 
        1  <--                      2 1  <--

(b) Draw boxes: To enclose the whole accented syllable, include a consonant (or consonant blend) before the accented vowel, and a consonant after it:

     ma|jes|tic                  in|vig|orate

If the word ends with a"count back two" suffix, draw another box to separate the suffix syllable:                    in|vig|o|rate

(c) Build the pronunciation (if you haven't already recognized the word): Pronounce the suffix, then the final syllable, then the accented syllable, then from the accented syllable to the end, and finally the whole word:

          -ic                          -ate
        -tic                         -rate
      -jes-                      -vig-
     -jestic                     -vigorate     
    majestic                    invigorate

Important Q & A:

Q: Does this method require that students be able to hear which syllable has the accent?

A: Absolutely not!  Using these steps ensures that they say the word with the correct accent, so they can recognize it.

That summary may be all you need to know at this point. But if you'd like to learn more about why and how the method works, read on.

Why the method works:

First of all, isolating and separately pronouncing the accented syllable of a long word makes it much easier for a student to then pronounce the whole word.

    For example, the student who is falteringly rendering celebrity as "see-lee-brit-ee" or "sel-uh-brit-ee" can avoid these fumbling attempts and get right to the correct pronunciation -- and recognition of the word -- once he/she pronounces the accented syllable as leb.

Fortunately, finding the accented syllable is easy, because the suffix of the word tells you where to expect it. You can verify this fact by pronouncing the following list of pseudo-words, patterned after English words derived from Latin and Greek. First (assuming you're a competent reader), just tell yourself the most likely pronunciation for each word:

    lemidate         lemidy       lemidary     lemidism

    lemidity         lemidify     lemidist      lemiditude

    lemidation     lemidize     lemidic

You will notice that you started some words with 'LEM-uh' but other words with 'luh-MID' . (You probably said LEMidate, LEMidation, LEMidy, LEMidize, LEMidary, LEMidist, and LEMidism, but leMIDity, leMIDify, leMIDic and leMIDitude.) What made you decide one way or the other, for each word? Of course it had to be the way the word ends -- i.e., the suffix! This effect is explained in more detail below.

Also important, students are introduced to the steps of the method gradually, in a way that builds success and enthusiasm:

In the first two lessons, they practice only the final step: smoothly pronouncing words already marked for pronouncing. This experience of successfully recognizing "difficult" words builds self esteem and increases motivation. And by Lesson 3, when students are ready to "throw away the crutch" and start learning to divide words into syllables on their own, they will already know how to pronounce the words once they are divided.

How the method works ("the details"):

Step (a): Using the suffix to find the stressed (i.e. accented) vowel.

Longer words, most of which are of Latin or Greek origin, are structured differently from words of one or two syllables. So they are best approached in a somewhat different way. Most longer words end with one of about 25 common suffixes, like -tion or -ic or -y or -ate. It is the suffix that controls how the word sounds, and provides the most important clues to how to say it. What the suffix does is this: It determines the location of the accented, or "stressed" syllable. And once this syllable is found and pronounced correctly, the rest of the word falls into place.

You can observe this function of the suffix if you consider a pair of words like majesty and majestic. The first six letters of these two words are exactly the same. Yet the words sound very different from each other: "MAJ-us-ty" vs. "muh-JES-tic" -- because they have different suffixes. These pronunciations are completely predictable. Here is the key: which syllable gets the accent depends on which suffix comes at the end of the word. For example, words ending with the suffix
-y, like majesty
, normally have the accent two vowels back from the suffix, while the suffix -ic places the stress one vowel back.

As shown by these two examples, the most striking thing about the role of suffixes in pronunciation is that their effect works backward through the word, from end to beginning. Words of three or more syllables generally have a stressed vowel either one or two vowels back from the suffix. And whether this accented vowel is one vowel back, or two, depends on the specific suffix. Each of the common suffixes is associated with a typical position for the accent. (You can see this if you list a large number of words with a given suffix: virtually all of them will have an accent the same number of vowels back from the suffix. )

Thus, with words ending with -ic or -tion you can find a stressed vowel by counting back one syllable (one vowel) from the suffix, as in these examples:

    allergic         production

But if the suffix is -y or -ate or one of several others, you need to count back two vowels, as in these words:

    allergy          eliminate

And that's not all. Stressed and unstressed vowels usually alternate in words like these. So, if a very long word contains two or more additional syllables before the main stressed vowel, you can then count back two more vowels to find another stressed vowel, as shown here:

    hospitality      intervention   

Furthermore, once the stressed vowels have been located, the sounds of all the vowels in the word can be determined, as follows:

  • Any stressed vowel is normally short, i.e., it has the sound in add, edge, is, odd, or us. (In fact, one could describe Step (a) as "using the suffix to find the short vowels.")
  • The few locations where a long vowel occurs in a stressed syllable are mostly predictable. (This topic is covered in the Word Workout teaching materials).
  • Vowels that are not stressed generally have the schwa ("uh") sound.

Thus, for example, in a word like aristocratic the vowel sounds are all predictable, once you count back one vowel from the suffix: "uh-ris-tuh-crat-ic".

Familiarity with patterns like these can make all the difference for the reader trying to figure out the pronunciation of a word.

[Of course, skilled readers don't have to think about all these matters, or even be aware of them. For example, if you see an unfamiliar word like levigate, you probably automatically know, on seeing the suffix -ate, that the stressed syllable is "lev" and not "lee" or "vig." That's because back in the past, as you were learning to read, you unconsciously made generalizations about the structure of the long words you encountered in print. Those patterns, stored in your brain, are now automatically activated when you see an unfamiliar word with a familiar ending. But the students you are concerned about have not been able to generalize like this on their own. They have to be taught to do it.]

Step (b): Using boxes to separate the syllables.

Students with word recognition problems benefit greatly from seeing the syllables visually separated. The Word Workout method provides a way to do this that goes beyond simply drawing dividing lines. Students learn to add consonants on each side of a stressed (short) vowel and then create a box around the syllable. Words with a "count back two" suffix require an additional box around the suffix syllable.

In the workbooks, students mark these syllables with boxes, like this:

In the computer program, Word Workout for Windows , the student types the syllables and they then appear highlighted in color:

Note that an important advantage of this method of syllable division is that it doesn't merely separate the syllables; it also visually indicates their pronunciation. That is, if the syllable (other than a suffix) is in a box, it has a short vowel; if not, it usually has a schwa.

These two steps, (a) and (b), will enable some students to produce a fairly accurate pronunciation simply by reading aloud the row of syllables. However, sometimes a student has difficulty converting a string of disjointed syllables into a recognizable word, even when the stress is marked. This problem can be avoided through the following routine:

Step (c): Building the pronunciation by first "rehearsing" key parts of the word.

Achieving a smooth, correct, and recognizable pronunciation of a word requires saying it with the proper accentuation, or rhythm. This involves both putting the emphasis on the right syllables and de-emphasizing the others -- the syllables that should be said with the "uh" (schwa) sound. (As we all know, getting the emphasis wrong, e.g. pronouncing celebrity as "SELL-uh-britty", can render a word unrecognizable.) Thus, while students don't need to hear where the emphasis is, they do need a procedure that will cause them to place it on the right syllables, and not on the wrong ones, when pronouncing the word as a whole.

The Word Workout method includes a classroom-tested procedure that does exactly that. The fundamental idea is that if students "rehearse" the pronunciation -- by pronouncing the stressed (i.e., accented) syllable by itself, and then saying that syllable again along with the ones after it -- the end result will be a correctly accentuated and easily recognizable word. Here is how this insight is put into practice: 

    After the key syllables of the word have been marked as explained above, an accurate pronunciation is built up step by step. The student says the end of the word first, then the stressed syllable(s), and then gradually adds the other syllables, as shown for these three words:
    (Read down each column:)
    This routine seems to somehow activate the rhythm patterns that students already have in their heads. It automatically produces a surprisingly smooth and easily recognizable pronunciation. Students can even confidently and correctly pronounce new vocabulary that they have never heard before -- which makes unfamiliar words seem more user friendly. (Learning the meaning of a new word seems a lot more worthwhile when you know that you'll recognize the word the next time you see it.)
    By learning the techniques summarized here, even students who start with very weak word recognition skills can gain access to the advanced vocabulary needed for academic success. As they gain experience with the method, they begin to apply it rapidly "by eye," without needing to mark the words. Interestingly, many students report that their spelling has improved as well. This probably results from their increased awareness of the syllables within words.

    For further reading about these techniques and why they work, CLICK HERE.

    In the Word Workout workbooks and computer program, the above techniques are introduced step by step, simply and clearly but with an adult feel that students appreciate. Review of earlier material is built into each workbook lesson; new topics are first practiced intensively and then mixed with review items for further practice. To use these materials, no special training is required for teachers, tutors, or parents, since all necessary explanation is included in the workbook and in the "Lessons" section of the computer program. In addition, a sheet of "Tips for Teachers," detailing a few strategies and devices that the author has found useful, is included with the workbook, along with some suggestions for spelling practice.

    A free brochure, describing the Word Workout method in more detail and showing sample workbook exercises, is available upon request from The Word Workshop, 1317 Shawnee Drive, Yellow Springs, OH 45387, or by phoning 937-767-1142 or e-mailing info@thewordworkshop.com.
    Questions or comments about the method are also invited.

    [NOTE to practitioners who use the Wilson Reading System, Just Words, or other Orton-Gillingham-based teaching materials: Word Workout should be considered a supplement to those materials; it's designed to build on them rather than to compete with or to replace them. Students who learn the Word Workout method can continue to use previously learned methods as well. There is no confusion; students simply need to learn that when a long word ends with one of the common suffixes covered in Word Workout, that's the time to use the Word Workout method.]

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Nancy K. Lewkowicz, who holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics, is an experienced teacher of reading at both the elementary and the beginning college level. She has also individually tutored students of a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. Her articles on phonemic awareness, phonics, and word recognition have appeared in a number of professional journals. (See below).

For further reading about decoding and recognizing longer words:
Lewkowicz, N.K. (1985). Attacking longer words: Don't begin at the beginning. Journal of Reading, vol. 29(3), pp. 226-37. To see a pre-publication version in pdf format, click HERE. [To return to this page afterward, use the "back" arrow on your browser.]
Lewkowicz, N.K. (1987). On the question of teaching decoding skills to older students. Journal of Reading, vol. 31(1), pp. 50-57.

Lewkowicz, N.K. (2003). Finding the accented syllable: Start at the suffix. The Reading Teacher, vol. 56(8), pp. 737-738.
Articles about phonemic awareness and phonemic segmentation:  

Lewkowicz, N.K. (1979). Effects of Visual Aids and Word Structure on Phonemic Segmentation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, vol. 4, pp. 238-252. Co-author: Leone Y. Low.

Lewkowicz, N.K. (1980). Phonemic Awareness Training: What to Teach and How to Teach It.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 1980, vol. 72(5), pp. 686-700. Selected for inclusion in 1981 Supplement to William S. Gray Collection in Reading.

Lewkowicz, N.K. (1994). The Bag Game: An Activity to Heighten Phonemic Awareness. The Reading Teacher, 47(6), pp. 508-509. Reprinted in Rasinski et al,, Teaching Word Recognition, Spelling, and Vocabulary, International Reading Association, Newark, Del., 2000.