Learning Strategy
Phonics & Decoding
Tier I,II
Target Student

All students can benefit from this learning strategy if they have difficulty decoding multisyllabic words.


DISSECT is an acronym for a mnemonic word identification strategy that can be used to help students to decode unfamiliar multisyllabic words using a combination of context clues and word analysis strategies. This strategy aids students in identifying difficult words in context, , building vocabulary, and reducing errors during reading.


DISSECT is a learning strategy. Use explicit instruction (explanation, modeling, guided practice, independent practice) to teach DISSECT to students.

How To

1. Create a baseline. Using a timed reading test around 400 words, evaluate a student’s word identification skills on ability and grade passages. This score can be used to measure progress.

2. Explain the strategy. Use a DISSECT poster as a visual aid. The strategy should be introduced by explaining the purpose, the steps, expected results and the situations in which the strategy can be applied.

3. Model the strategy. Next, use modeling- Use a think aloud strategy, and voice aloud the thought process behind each stage. This may need to occur over the course of several days based on the needs of the students. Students can also create a list of prefixes and suffixes and these can be used later as an aid for practicing.

4. Guided practice: Guide students in performing the DISSECT strategy in small groups or in pairs. During this time, scaffold the learning and support students who need assistance in using the strategy. They can also model the think aloud strategy (when in pairs) to strengthen comprehension and learning of the steps involved. A DISSECT checklist can be used, with each stage checked out after its completion.

5. Independent practice: After guided practice, students should use the strategy independently, once they have shown they have mastered the strategy. Students can also be given the opportunity to reflect on the strategy.

The steps of the DISSECT strategy are listed below:
1. D: Discover the content: In this step, students are told to read the entire sentence by skipping over the unknown words. Using the context of the passage, they are asked to guess the word that is suitable to that sentence. If the guessed word is incorrect, they are to proceed to the next step.

2. I: Isolate the prefix: From the first few letters of the word, are the students able to identify any prefix which they can pronounce? If yes, isolate the prefix by drawing a box around it. To facilitate recognition, students are first taught a list of prefixes and suffixes prior to the activity.

3. S: Separate the suffix: The suffix is separated in a similar manner as the step before.

4. S: Say the stem: If students are able to identify the ‘stem’ of the word, they are asked to pronounce it along with the prefix and suffix. For example, in the word “inseparable,” “in” is the prefix, “able” is the suffix and the remaining “separ” forms the stem. If students are unable to pronounce or identify the stem, then they are to progress to the next step.

5. E: Examine the stem: In this step, students are taught to dissect the stem into simpler readable portions using the rules of twos and threes. 1. The first rule is that if the stem begins with a vowel, the first two letters are separated and the stem is to be read out; if the stem or any part of the stem begins with a consonant, then separate the first three letters and try to pronounce it. This rule is to be applied until the end of the stem is reached. 2. If the word is still un-readable, then the second rule is to be applied. In this, the first letter of the stem is isolated and students try to pronounce the remaining word by applying rule one. 3. The third rule is that when two vowels are present together, students are to try out the various possibilities using the rules of pronunciation they are familiar with. If the student is still unable to pronounce the word, they should progress to the next step.

6. C: Check: They are to check with the teacher to see what the word means, and how it is pronounced.

7. T: Try the dictionary: Students use the dictionary to identify the word and pronounce it using the pronunciation guide. They are also asked to read up on the definition and examples there to understand the word well.


Adapted from the Professional Learning Board


Deshler, D. D., & Schumaker, J. B. (1988). An instructional model for teaching students how to learn. In J. L. Graden, J. E. Zins, and M. J. Curtis (Eds.), Alternative educational delivery systems: Enhancing instructional options for all students (pp. 391-411). Washington, DC: National Association of School Psychologists.

Lenz, B. K., & Hughes, C. A. (1990). A word identification strategy for adolescents with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(3), 149-158, 163.

Related Resources


Related Websites

Information on the DISSECT Strategy

DISSECT Slideshare

Professional Learning Board

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