Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Reading: K-2  Lens on Literacy

Lens on Literacy

Essential Components

Teaching Practices

Classroom Environment

Other Terms

General Resources

Essential Components of Literacy Development

(Note: These components are listed in order of development, from beginner to more advanced.)

Oral Language
A fundamental element of literacy is the development of oral language. Teachers encourage students' language development through informal and guided conversation, by asking questions, and by providing opportunities for students to explain their learning or thinking. Teachers model and discuss vocabulary and formal English grammar while reading, writing, or sharing experiences, without correcting or evaluating students' speech patterns.

Phonological Awareness
Developing literacy requires an awareness that the spoken language can be taken apart in many different ways: sentences broken into words, words divided into syllables (sis/ter), and syllables divided into smaller, individual sounds (phonemes) such as /c/ /a/ /t/. Words can also be separated into onsets and rimes /c/ /at/. Phonological awareness includes knowledge of rhyming, alliteration (hearing similarity of sounds, as in "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers"), and intonation.

Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is one small part of phonological awareness. Spoken words are made up of individual sounds (phonemes) that can be heard and manipulated. For example, the word for has three phonemes, help has four; cane has three phonemes, as does same or make. Phonemic awareness activities include listening for, counting, and identifying distinct sounds (not letter names); hearing, matching, adding, chopping off, or rearranging sounds; and separating or blending sounds to make words. Phonemic awareness can be taught explicitly or indirectly through games, manipulative activities, chanting, and reading and singing songs and poems.

Word Study
Word study includes both vocabulary/concepts and word identification/phonics.

Sometimes referred to as sound/symbol connections, or graphophonics, phonics is the understanding of how letters or spelling patterns (graphemes) represent sounds of speech (phonemes). It involves awareness of the sounds of individual letters or letter combinations. Phonics requires the understanding that sounds can be blended to make a word, and a mastery of some rules about certain sound patterns. Phonics can be taught in many ways. All learners do not require the same amount or sequence of phonics instruction. Phonics should be balanced with instruction on language and meaning. A student may be able to sound out a word, but not understand its meaning. In order to read with accuracy and understanding, words to be read must be part of a student's oral language.

Word Identification
This refers to the strategies or skills readers use to figure out words when reading and spelling. In this video library, word identification includes phonic analysis, structural analysis, context clues, sight word recognition, use of configuration, and picture clues. Strategies readers use to identify words:

  • Recognizing or identifying whole words that follow irregular spelling patterns (sometimes called "sight words"), like have, their, or of; recognizing high-frequency words that appear in early texts, like and, for, and this.
  • Using configuration clues. Sometimes the distinct shapes of words can help readers figure them out. Elephant is a long word, and unusual in its shape; up is a little word. Because many words have the same shape, readers cannot rely solely on configuration.
  • Recognizing the formation of words (also called morphology or structural analysis). Beginning readers need to be taught to identify and understand the meaning of word parts -- roots, prefixes, and suffixes. For example, begin with simple words such as play and play-ing, and then move to more complex words like agree and dis-agree-ment.
  • Using context clues. Good readers think about the meaning of what they are reading and use their understanding of the surrounding words, sentences, or even paragraphs to help them read an unfamiliar word
  • For English language learners, using cognates, words that are similar in two languages. Sometimes this strategy needs to be explicitly encouraged, as English language learners may not use cognates spontaneously.

The process of "arranging ideas to form a clear and unified impression and to create an effective message" is composition (The Literacy Dictionary, IRA. 1995, p. 38). In this video library, teachers help young writers develop and write down their ideas to convey a message to an audience. Purposes for writing include describing, sharing feelings and thoughts, expressing opinions, and creating a story or narrative.

Finding and constructing meaning in a text is the reason for reading. If readers can read the words but do not understand what they are reading, they are not really reading. Comprehension comes from engaging with ideas and constructing a sense of the whole. Students who are good at monitoring their comprehension know when they understand what they read and when they do not. Research shows that instruction, even in the early grades, can help students become better at monitoring their comprehension and developing strategies to build understanding. Explicit modeling and instruction can help students be aware of what they do understand; identify what they do not understand; and use appropriate "fix-up" strategies to resolve problems in comprehension.

Teachers build students' comprehension by predicting, asking questions, helping students access background knowledge, and making connections during read-alouds, shared reading, or in guided-reading groups. (Adapted from Put Reading First, The Partnership for Reading. 2001, pp. 48-49.)

Vocabulary encompasses the words we must know to communicate effectively, including oral or reading vocabulary. Oral vocabulary includes words we use when speaking or words we recognize when listening. Reading vocabulary includes words we recognize or use in print. Students learn the meanings of most words indirectly through their experiences and conversations with each other and adults in school and their communities. They also develop vocabulary as they read on their own and listen to adults read aloud. In this video library, teachers help students develop reading and oral vocabulary during read-alouds or shared and guided reading, and other carefully designed activities. (Adapted from Put Reading First, pp. 34-35.)

Fluency is the ability to read text accurately and quickly. During silent reading, fluent readers recognize words automatically and group them so they can understand what they read. Fluent readers do not concentrate on decoding words. Instead they focus their attention on what the text means. In short, fluent readers recognize and comprehend words at the same time and their reading is effortless and expressive. Shared reading with the teacher and classmates, and repeated readings of text as in Readers' Theater, help beginning readers develop fluency. (Adapted from Put Reading First, pp. 22 and 24).

Fast, effortless, and accurate word recognition grows out of repetition and practice. Automaticity does not refer to reading with expression or evidence of comprehension. Games and activities using lists of high frequency words, personal word lists, and word walls help students develop automaticity. Automaticity allows a student to concentrate more on other aspects of reading, such as comprehension. (Adapted from Put Reading First, pp. 22 and 24).

For further reference

Armbruster, B. B., F. Lehr, and J. Osborn. Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children To Read. Jessup, Md: National Institute for Literacy, 2001.

Harris, T. L., and R. E. Hodges. eds. The Literacy Dictionary. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association, 1995.

Savage, J. F. Sound It Out: Phonics in a Balanced Reading Program. Boston, Mass.: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2001.

Vacca, J. L., R. T. Vacca, and M. K. Gove. Reading and Learning To Read 4th ed. Boston, Mass: Addison Wesley, 2000.

Yopp, H. K., and R. H. Yopp. "Supporting Phonemic Awareness Development in the Classroom." The Reading Teacher 54, no. 2 (2000): 130-143.

Zarillo, J. J. Ready for RICA: A Test Preparation Guide for California's Reading Instruction Competence Assessment. Upper Saddle River, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 2002.

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