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Teaching Reading: K-2 Workshop

Key Terms | Teaching Reading: K-2 Workshop


Aesthetic Response
An aesthetic response is an affective response or reaction to a text. It reflects the reader’s personal and emotional response based on background knowledge, attitudes, and experiences. Aesthetic responses to a text are student-initiated and will vary from reader to reader. (Adapted from Rosenblatt. The Reader, the Text, and the Poem.)

Anecdotal Record
An anecdotal record documents an informal observation of what students are learning, their learning behaviors, social interactions, and academic performance. While anecdotal records may be brief recordings of single learning situations, they are most beneficial when they are gathered over time to reveal meaningful patterns that can guide the teacher’s planning. (Harp and Brewer, 2000). When taking an anecdotal record, teachers should record only what they see and hear without making judgments or interpretations. Because of their informal nature, anecdotal records are often used while observing children in learning centers. These observations allow teachers to assess children’s understanding of specific concepts as well as how children are using these concepts in reading and writing.

Assessment refers to specific practices that are informal, classroom-based, and reflect the curriculum and daily instructional routines. Assessments are developed and used by teachers to determine children’s literacy needs and to plan appropriate instruction. Classroom assessments are authentic, multidimensional, collaborative, and ongoing. Often, teachers of young children will focus on one or two students each day to assess their literacy performance and behaviors throughout the day. Teachers assess both the process and products of learning during regular instructional times. This might include taking a Running Record during guided reading time, assessing comprehension with story retellings during class discussions, or completing a checklist for students in Writing Workshop.

Author’s Chair
The Author’s Chair is a special place for students to sit as they share their finished writing with the class. This is a time to celebrate children’s accomplishments and encourage peer interactions and response.

Automaticity is fast, effortless, and accurate word recognition that grows out ot 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 students to concentrate more on other aspects of reading, such as comprehension. (Adapted from Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn. Put Reading First, 22 and 24).

Background Knowledge
Background knowledge is the collection of ideas and concepts one has for a given topic or situation based on experiences and/or reading. The background knowledge of English Language Learners may differ from that of mainstream learners.

Someone who is bilingual knows two languages to different degrees and uses each language for different purposes. Someone who speaks more than two languages is referred to as “multilingual.” The use of the languages can range from casual conversation to academic use.


The process of “arranging ideas to form a clear and unified impression and to create an effective message” is composition (Harris and Hodges. The Literacy Dictionary, 38). In the classrooms shown, 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 Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn. Put Reading First, 48-49.)

Concepts About Print
Coined by New Zealand educator Marie Clay, concepts about print (CAP) refers to what emergent readers need to understand about how printed language works and how it represents language. Successful beginning readers develop concepts about print at an early age, building on emergent literacy that starts before formal schooling.

  • Print carries a message. Even when children “play read” text using pictures and memory, they demonstrate an understanding of this concept, even if they cannot read the words, or read them backwards or front to back.
  • Books are organized, with a cover, title, and author, and reading in English flows in a particular and consistent direction, left to right and top to bottom. When young students successfully point to or otherwise track the print as someone reads aloud, they demonstrate their understanding of orientation and directionality.
  • Printed language consists of letters, words, and sentences. Emergent readers gradually learn to distinguish between these forms, learn the concepts of “beginning” and “end,” and understand punctuation that marks text (e.g., period, comma, and question mark).
  • Recognition of matching or upper- and lower-case letters, as well as some common spelling sequences, are slightly more complex concepts about print mastered by more experienced beginning readers.

Concepts about print can be taught using shared reading of Big Books, enlarged charts and poems, or other kinds of engaging texts. It can also be taught through interactive writing, language experience dictations, or exploring print in the classroom environment.

Many teachers use Clay’s Concepts About Print assessment tool in late kindergarten or beginning first grade to assess students’ concepts about print.


Efferent Response
An efferent response is the reader’s focus on what information will be learned and remembered. It emphasizes comprehension of text information and is supported by explicit instruction in comprehension strategies. It is frequently tied to curricular goals and response activities are frequently teacher-initiated. (Adapted from Rosenblatt. The Reader, the Text, and the Poem.)

Emergent Literacy
Emergent literacy refers to the young child’s developing knowledge of how print works before formal instruction begins. Once referred to as “reading readiness, emergent literacy supports the understanding that young children begin to develop knowledge about and use of literacy well before formal schooling begins. Children’s emergent literacy behaviors are developed as a result of early experiences with print in the home, in preschool programs, and in kindergarten. Children may enter kindergarten with a wide range of experiences with print. The basic components of emergent literacy are oral language development, concepts about print, alphabet knowledge, and phonemic awareness.

English Language Learners
An English language learner (ELL) is a student who speaks one or more languages other than English, and who is just developing proficiency in English. In the Teaching Reading workshop and library, both dual language learning and careful scaffolding of literacy experiences in English enhance ELL students’ learning of oral and written English.

Evaluation requires teachers to use the evidence collected during assessments to determine levels of student achievement and progress. Evaluation usually compares student performance with some predetermined standards to measure performance and plan subsequent instruction. While assessment is ongoing, evaluation takes place during specific times in the year. Evaluation might include aggregating data from multiple assessments or administering other performance measures.

Explicit Instruction
Explicit instruction is carefully planned instruction in a skill or strategy that shifts the responsibility for learning from teacher to student. Explicit instruction begins with teacher modeling, demonstration, or explanation of the skill or strategy. This is often accomplished through “think-alouds” in which the teacher demonstrates the thinking involved in using the strategy. After sufficient modeling and demonstration, students then use the strategy in the context of “guided practice,” with the assistance of the teacher or other students. When students have demonstrated effective use of the strategy, they apply it flexibly in individual reading and writing. Explicit instruction is especially useful when new strategies are introduced to students and in teaching struggling readers and writers.

Flexible Grouping
Flexible grouping covers a range of instructional options for instruction including whole class, small group, and independent reading. Effective instruction includes a balance of these options throughout the day to address the needs of all students.

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 Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn. Put Reading First, 22 and 24).

Funds of Knowledge
Coined by professor and researcher Luis Moll funds of knowledge refer to those historically developed and accumulated strategies (e.g., skills, abilities, ideas, and practices) or bodies of knowledge that are essential to a household’s functioning and well-being. They are the inherent cultural resources found in communities, and are grounded in the networking that communities do in order to make the best use of those resources (Conner, 2002). In their studies of bilingual literacy with Latino families in Tucson, Arizona, Moll and colleagues demonstrated the importance of communities of learners within large cultural and familial networks. They suggest that the integration of these local funds of knowledge in education forges strong links between parents, educators, and children, and the validation of this knowledge allows families to bring more to their children’s education.


Guided Reading
In guided reading, the teacher guides small groups of students in reading short, carefully chosen texts in order to build independence, fluency, comprehension skills, and problem-solving strategies. The teacher often begins by introducing the text and modeling a particular strategy. Then students read to themselves in quiet voices as the teacher listens in, noting strategies and obstacles, and cuing individual students as needed. Students then discuss content, and share problem-solving strategies. Guided-reading materials usually become increasingly challenging and are often read more than once. The teacher regularly observes and assesses students’ changing needs, and adjusts groupings accordingly. Guided reading allows a teacher to provide different levels of support, depending on the needs of the students.

Home Literacy
Family or home literacy encompasses the ways parents, children, and extended family members use literacy at home and in their community. Family literacy may be initiated purposefully by a parent or may occur spontaneously as parents and children go about the business of their daily lives. Family literacy activities may also reflect the ethnic, racial, or cultural heritage of the families involved. (Adapted from Morrow, Paratore, and Tracey. Family Literacy: New Perspectives, New Opportunities.)


Independent Reading
In independent reading, students read books on their own, exploring different kinds of texts and applying new learning. Students should be able to read these books easily, without assistance. Students often choose their reading materials, but independent reading can be organized by leveled book baskets or recommendations from the teacher. Teachers confer individually with students during independent reading or model their own silent reading. Independent reading is sometimes called DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) or SSR (Sustained Silent Reading).

Independent Writing
In independent writing, students write about literature or other topics on their own. In the video programs, students write and illustrate creative stories or journal entries on topics of their own choosing. Often followed by a time to share written work with a partner or with the whole class, independent writing allows students to be recognized as authors and to receive feedback.

Interactive Writing
In interactive writing, the teacher helps groups of students compose and write text together, usually on large chart paper. With guidance from the teacher, individual students take turns writing, as classmates offer ideas and suggestions. Students practice writing strategies and skills modeled by the teacher, including letter formation, phonemic awareness and phonics, and concepts about print. Interactive writing is sometimes called “sharing the pen.”

Invented Spelling
A child’s attempt at spelling a word using what they know about the English spelling system is referred to as invented or temporary spelling. Invented spelling allows emergent writers to explore written language and experiment with writing at a very early stage. Early writing is a valuable developmental indicator of the conventional spelling patterns and the sound/symbol relationships the child has internalized. It can be used to help the teacher’s instruction. (Adapted from Harris, and Hodges. Literacy Dictionary, 128)

Journal Writing
Children write daily in journals to document or explain their ideas and experiences, compose stories, describe events, and respond to reading. Children write in journals across the curriculum. Journal entries do not have to incorporate the writing process, but children may decide to expand on a journal entry during writing time.


Coined by Yetta Goodman (1985), kidwatching is an observational assessment of children’s performance and responses to instruction throughout the school day. Anecdotal records or more structured teacher checklists document kidwatching. This focused observation provides teachers with authentic measures of children’s performance as they engage in literacy and language.

Learning Centers/Work Stations
Learning centers and work stations are designated areas within the classroom where students explore activities and practice skills and strategies, in small groups or alone, while the teacher is working with other students. The teacher models each activity first and then invites children to explore the center. Through center routines, children learn to work independently and cooperatively while developing specific skills.


Mainstream Group
The mainstream group in a society is the group or groups of people, who largely control and hold power in that society. This group may also be referred to as the “language majority” or “dominant culture.” People from different ethnic groups can participate in both the mainstream culture and in their ethnic or home culture at the same time. These people are regarded as “bicultural.” Teachers’ understanding of their students’ home culture is important for planning and implementing effective instruction, especially for literacy learning. (Adapted from Au. Literacy Instruction in Multicultural Settings, 5-12.)

In relation to reading, Luis Moll and Norma Gonzalez (1994) formulated an instructional model in which teachers and students read and negotiated the meaning of written texts in light of the students’ imagined worlds and funds of knowledge. The goal of the model was essentially for teachers and students to develop “mediated and literate relationships” as they explored knowledge funds through literacy. The composite term, “mediate and literate relationships” emphasizes several key features of how literacy development is understood and conducted. Mediated refers to the historical, cultural, and social context in which knowledge is constructed. Literate refers to mastering the tools of using and interpreting words. Relationship acknowledges the dialogical nature of learning. In an instructional model that calls for a mediated and literate relationship, the student and the teacher collaborate to uncover cultural knowledge funds. Dialogue and negotiation of meaning is key to the process. The student and teacher work together to find conventional ways to express cultural insights and idiosyncratic ways of using words. The result is a creative product whether illustrated, oral, or written that b ridges cultural and conventional learning. (Taken from Boyd-Batstone. Reading With a Hero: A Mediated and Literate Experience.)

Metacognition is the awareness individuals have of their own mental processes and the subsequent ability to monitor, regulate, and direct themselves to a desired end. Students demonstrate metacognition if they can articulate what strategies they used to read and understand a text. Metacognition helps readers monitor and control their comprehension on an ongoing basis and adjust their reading strategies to maximize comprehension. (Adapted from Harris and Hodges. The Literacy Dictionary, 128.) (See Self-Monitor.)

The mini-lesson is part of Writers’ Workshop and provides a short (5- to 10- minute), structured lesson on a topic related to writing. Topics are selected by the teacher and based on student need or curricular areas. These topics address aspects of the writing process or procedures for independent Writing Workshop time.

Coined by Ken Goodman in the mid 1960s, a miscue is any departure from the text when reading orally. Use of miscue instead of “error” suggests that mistakes are not random, but occur when the reader tries to use different strategies to make sense of text, and emphasizes that not all errors are equal — some errors represent more highly developed reading skills than others. Miscues can be analyzed to suggest what strategies the reader is using or lacking, and what kinds of additional instruction might be helpful. (See Miscue Analysis.)

Miscue Analysis
Miscue analysis is a way of closely observing, recording, and analyzing oral reading behaviors to assess how the reader is using specific cuing strategies, like the use of syntax, semantic information, and graphophonics. The teacher uses a specific code to record actual reading. Miscue analysis is usually done with an unfamiliar, long text, followed by a taped retelling. Scoring and analysis is more complex than with a running record, and is usually done at a later time. While running records are most often used with beginning readers, miscue analysis can be used for more advanced readers.

Native Language
Native language is the first language learned and spoken by individuals based on their culture, country, and/or family. Native language is often used interchangeably with “first language” or “home language.” Children may be fluent speakers in their native language, but not necessarily literate in it. Literacy in one’s native language often correlates with ease of second-language literacy development.


Onsets and Rimes
The onset is all of the letters up to the vowel; the rime is the vowel and everything after it (until the next vowel).

Most words and many syllables can be separated into onsets (the initial consonant sound such as /c/ in cat) and rimes or phonograms (the vowel and letters which follow, such as /-at/). Whole words can be separated into onsets and rimes, such as /f/ /-or/, as can syllables, such as /tr/ /-ans/ /f/ /-orm/. Some words and syllables have only rimes, such as /on/ or /-ing/.

Opportunistic Instruction
Opportunistic instruction can arise while students are engaged in literacy activities. It is not planned but, rather, supports individual students’ needs as observed by the teacher, while children are reading and writing. Effective teachers create a balance of explicit and opportunistic instruction during the course of a day. Opportunistic instruction often follows explicit instruction to provide individual support and scaffolding of student learning.

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 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.

Peer Dyads
Peer dyads are a grouping option when two children work together to support each other as they read and respond to text. Teachers pair students based on their literacy strengths and needs, the nature of the task, and how they work with others. Children may work with a partner to read or reread a text, write in response to reading, make predictions, discuss a story after reading, or research a topic. Students working in peer dyads may have similar strengths and needs; or one student may be stronger than the other to provide peer support.

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.

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.

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.

Portfolio Assessment
Portfolio assessment is the collection and interpretation of evidence of student learning including both the processes and the products of learning (Johnston, 1992). Evidence for the portfolio is gathered over time to provide a more complete picture of a child’s literacy development. Contents of a portfolio could include sample running records, pages from writing journals, written responses to reading, story retelling forms, spelling tests, reading record logs, and student self-assessments. A new portfolio can be constructed each year, or a summary, or “showcase” portfolio can follow students from year to year. Teachers and students may collaborate to select pieces for the portfolio. They are especially useful in parent-teacher conferences to show a child’s progress over time.


In read-aloud, the teacher reads to the whole class, building on students’ existing skills while introducing different types of literature and new concepts. Read-aloud models fluent and expressive reading, develops comprehension and critical thinking strategies — including the ability to make connections, visualize stories, and formulate questions — and builds listening skills. A read-aloud can be conducted without interruption, or the teacher can pause to ask questions and make observations.

Responsive Instruction
Responsive instruction describes small-group or individual instruction that promotes students’ comprehension and response to text. Teachers work with students before, during, and after reading to discuss student connections and responses to the text. During the discussion, teachers provide prompts and support to help students effectively construct meaning from their reading.

A rubric is a criterion-based scoring guide that uses a descriptive scale to assess student performance. Rubrics can be teacher-made or purchased; they are used as a tool to assess student performance on specific assignments or projects. Rubrics often list specific descriptors for an assignment with an assigned value or a list of characteristics for each descriptor. Rubrics can provide students with a clear understanding of what is expected and allow teachers to systematically review student work with explicit criteria.

Running Record
A Running Record (RR) is a method for closely observing and assessing a student’s oral reading of a complete story or book, or 150-300 words excerpted from a longer text. Running Records can be taken spontaneously without advance preparation, using whatever text the student happens to be reading; or they can be taken using a photocopy of a prepared text. Running Records differ from miscue analysis because they are simpler to use on a day-to-day basis in the classroom.

Running Records can be used to assess familiar text for accuracy and fluency. They may also be used with new texts to see how the student applies reading strategies. Running records may be taken weekly or monthly to document growth over time, or periodically (two or three times a year) as part of an assessment profile to place students in reading groups or to document progress along specific benchmarks.

To take a running record, the teacher sits close enough to see the text as the student reads aloud and uses a special code to mark the precise reading response. Without comment, the teacher marks a check for each word read accurately and notes any substitutions, omissions, additions, and self-corrections. This process usually takes about 10 minutes, but it may take less time with an emergent reader.

At the end of the reading, the teacher quickly totals the number of miscues and self-corrections, then calculates the rate of reading accuracy and self-correction. The calculation helps the teacher determine whether reading material is at an appropriate level and what subsequent texts might be chosen. The teacher can also analyze the types of miscues made on the RR to understand what reading strategies the child uses and what kinds of additional instruction might be helpful.


Scaffolded Instruction
During instruction, teachers assist and guide students so that they can read, learn, and respond to text in ways they may not be able to do without support. Teachers continue to provide this support until students are able to effectively read or write independently. Scaffolding student learning is especially important when students are reading a challenging text or writing a difficult piece. Examples of scaffolded instruction are: helping students to sound out the letters in unfamiliar words; providing a graphic organizer and discussing the major parts of a text before reading; supplying a beginning sentence or idea as a start for writing; and reading aloud with students as they are reading.

Scaffolded Reading Experience (SRE)
The Scaffolded Reading Experience is an instructional approach to assist students in effectively reading and comprehending text. The SRE consists of two components: planning and implementation. In planning, the teacher considers the needs of the students, the difficulty of the text, and the purposes for reading. Implementation incorporates teacher-planned lessons and activities before, during, and after reading. Teachers use both phases flexibly to adapt instruction to specific student needs and learning situations. The SRE framework is especially useful when teaching English Language Learners and/or struggling readers. (Adapted from Graves, and Fitzgerald. Scaffolding Reading Experiences for Multilingual Classrooms, 96-124.)

Students self-monitor when they pay attention to their own work to make sure that it is clear and makes sense. During reading, students attend to meaning and use fix-up strategies such as re-reading or reading ahead to clarify meaning. During writing, students check and reflect on the clarity of the message and on the features of text (words, grammar, and conventions) they need to communicate effectively with an audience. In this workshop, students self-monitor during interactive writing when they discuss and analyze their writing, and during independent writing when they check for meaning and grammar. Students also self-monitor during shared and guided reading when they think aloud to share their understanding of a text with the teacher or with other students. Self-monitoring is an aspect of metacognition. (Adapted from Harris, and Hodges. The Literacy Dictionary, 229)

Shared Reading
In shared reading, the teacher leads the class in reading or chanting a text — a book, poem, or message on a chart — that is often enlarged for the whole class to see. Shared reading allows students to observe the reading process and to practice reading strategies or concepts in the safety of a group. The same enlarged text is read and reread several times over a few days. Initially the teacher takes the lead, and then gradually pulls back as students progressively master the text. In each reading, children are encouraged to focus on or discover new concepts about print.

Sight Vocabulary
Sight vocabulary consists of words that students can identify immediately without decoding. It is an important component of word study instruction since children with a strong sight vocabulary can read more fluently and comprehend text more effectively. Beginning sight vocabulary includes words from the child’s own experiences, including names of family and friends. High frequency words — words that children encounter in texts frequently — are the focus of sight vocabulary instruction. Children develop sight vocabulary through daily opportunities to read, repeated readings of texts, and activities using word walls.

Strategic Instruction
Based on the levels of knowledge, students need to use reading strategies flexibly. Strategic instruction teaches students to understand: 1) what the strategy is, 2) specific procedures in using the strategy, and 3) when and why the strategy is useful in reading. These three components of information are important when introducing a new strategy to students so that they understand when and why to use it.


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 the video programs, teachers help students develop reading and oral vocabulary during read-alouds or shared and guided reading, and other carefully designed activities. (Adapted from Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn. Put Reading First, 34-35.)


Writers’ Workshop
Writers’ Workshop (or Writing Workshop) is an instructional approach that develops students’ skills and motivation for writing. Children write on topics of their own choice every day or several times a week. Emphasizing the writing process, Writers’ Workshop includes teacher mini-lessons, time for individual writing, peer and teacher conferences, sharing sessions, and publication celebrations.

Writing Process
The writing process describes the steps writers take when they compose both formal and informal pieces. The steps include planning, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. During the prewriting or planning stage, children select topics, collect related information, discuss ideas with other students or the teacher, take notes, and even draw. Children then begin to write one or more drafts, expanding and clarifying ideas with each draft. Often, children read their writing aloud to another student or the teacher to help in revising the draft. Students then edit their final draft for writing conventions, including spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. Editing can be done independently or with a partner. The final step, publishing, can be in the form of a bound book, an oral reading of the piece, or writing displayed on a bulletin board. Young children often “publish” their books during Author’s Chair.

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

  • Recognizing or identifying whole words that follow irregular spelling patterns (sometimes called “sight words”), like havetheir, or of; recognizing high-frequency words that appear in early texts, like andfor, 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.

Word Wall
A word wall is made up of carefully selected and displayed lists or groups of words used by students to build familiarity with common sight words. It serves as a visual scaffold, provides students with familiar word patterns to assist them in decoding unfamiliar words, and is useful when students write. Word walls do the following:

  • build word recognition;
  • facilitate word analysis;
  • serve as a reference for commonly misspelled words; and
  • build vocabulary for a new text or content area.

Students and teachers use word walls to see and monitor what has been taught and learned. They are used for planned instruction and as a resource for unplanned instructional opportunities, or “teachable moments,” that arise unexpectedly during the day. (Adapted from Brabham, and Villaume. “Building Walls of Words.” Reading Teacher 54.)

Zone of Proximal Development
The ZPD is a social-constructivist theory of learning attributed to the psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978). Effective learning does not occur in a vacuum but in collaboration with more capable others. The conditions for learning range from tasks that can be completed independently to those that are too challenging under any circumstances. The ZPD refers to the point at which children can achieve more difficult tasks with the support of a more capable teacher or peer. This theory is the foundation of scaffolded instruction to advance student learning. Teachers apply this theory during guided reading instruction, whole-class instruction with grade-level texts, and meaningful practice using a peer dyad grouping format.


Au, K.. Literacy Instruction in Multicultural Settings. New York, N.Y.: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1993.

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.

Boyd-Batstone, P. “Reading With a Hero: A Mediated and Literate Experience”. In Garcia, G. C., ed. English Learners: Reading the Highest Level of English Literacy. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association, 2003.

Brabham, E. G., and S. K. Villaume. “Building Walls of Words.” Reading Teacher 54 no. 7 (2001).

Graves, M., and J. Fitzgerald. Scaffolding Reading Experiences for Multilingual Classrooms. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association, 2003.

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

Morrow, L. M., J. R. Paratore, and D. Tracey. Family Literacy: New Perspectives, New Opportunities. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association, 1994.

Rosenblatt, L. The Reader, the Text, and the Poem. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978.

Vygotsky, L. Mind in society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Series Directory

Teaching Reading: K-2 Workshop


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2003.
  • ISBN: 1-57680-681-2