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Teaching English: The Five Essential Components of Reading

by Voyager Sopris Learning on January 17, 2023

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  • Reading Comprehension
Voyager Sopris Learning

Learning to read is a complex process made up of five key components, which means teaching reading essentials is also a complex task. The five essential reading components are identified as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Together, these components form the foundation for good reading skills and are essential for helping young children become proficient readers. 

A student’s ability to read has a vast impact on their life that goes far beyond the classroom setting. Therefore, implementing research-based reading instruction is vital for student success. According to the National Reading Panel, “There is a growing body of research that shows correlations between aspects of formal teacher preparation and quality of teaching or student outcomes.” Teachers are an important factor in student success, and equipping teachers with general methods and strategy instruction is also important for institutions to remember when considering professional development opportunities. 

There is a science of reading that must be taken into consideration when addressing reading instruction. Each grade level of reading comes with its own intricacies and challenges, and therefore different ages, abilities, and approaches must be taken into consideration. Institutions such as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Reading Panel have looked at decades of research on reading to provide their findings on the best teaching methods. Learning Point Associates reported, “Scientific research reviewed by the National Reading Panel revealed that these different approaches or methods of teaching the five essential components are not equally effective. The most reliably effective approach is called systematic and explicit instruction.” Through both explicit instruction and frequent opportunities to practice and apply reading skills, teachers can help develop stronger readers and therefore stronger learners.

1. Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the individual sounds, or phonemes, in spoken words. It is an important skill for learning to read and spell, as it helps children understand that spoken words are made up of a series of smaller sounds that can be blended together to form words.

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a word that can change the meaning of the word. For example, the word “bat” has three phonemes: /b/, /a/, and /t/. If you change the first phoneme to /s/, the word becomes “sat.” If you change the first phoneme to /m/, the word becomes “mat.” Phonemes are represented by letters in the alphabet, but they are not the same as letters. For example, the letter “b” can represent multiple phonemes, such as /b/ in “bat” and /b/ in “bebop.”

The Importance of Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is essential for forming reading skills because it helps children understand that spoken words consist of smaller sounds, or phonemes, that can form words when blended together. This understanding is crucial for learning to read, as it allows children to connect the sounds of spoken language to the letters of the alphabet and blend those sounds together to read words.

If a student does not develop a good understanding of phonemes and how they affect language, it can make it difficult for them to learn to read and spell words accurately. It can also make it challenging to understand the relationships between words and use phonemic awareness to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words. Ultimately, a lack of phonemic awareness can have a negative impact on a student’s reading and spelling skills and their overall language development.

How to Effectively Teach Phonemic Awareness

  • Rhyming games: Play games that involve rhyming words, such as “I'm thinking of a word that rhymes with ‘cat.’ Can you guess what it is?”
  • Phoneme segmentation: Teach children to break words into their individual sounds by clapping, saying, or writing out the phonemes in a word. For example, the word “cat” has three phonemes: /c/, /a/, and /t/.
  • Phoneme isolation: Help children identify the individual phonemes in a word by asking them to say the first, middle, or last sound in a word. For example, you could ask a child to say the first sound in the word “cat.”
  • Phoneme manipulation: Play games that involve changing the phonemes in words to make new words. For example, you could ask a child to change the first phoneme in the word “cat” to /m/ to make the word “mat.”

2. Phonics 

The Hechinger Report once stated, “Schools too often leave out a key piece of the reading puzzle because teachers aren’t trained to teach phonics.” Phonics instruction often gets overlooked or filed under the previous component of “phonemic awareness.” Instead, phonics must be broken down and given its own place in explicit instruction for students. 

Phonics is a method of teaching reading that focuses on the relationships between the sounds of spoken language and the letters that represent those sounds in written language. It involves teaching children to blend the sounds of individual letters or letter groups together to read words. Graphemes are these letters or groups of letters that represent the sounds or phonemes in spoken language. For example, the letter “b” represents the phoneme /b/ in the word “bat,” and the grapheme “sh” represents the phoneme /sh/ in the word “ship.”

These graphemes and phonemes in phonics instruction are often considered the mechanics of reading instruction. Students must learn the mechanics first before they can truly begin reading. One theoretical review put it this way: “If they are taught to read before they have learned the mechanics—the sounds of the letters—it is like learning to drive by starting your car and driving ahead.”

The Importance of Phonics

Phonics is essential to forming reading skills because it helps children understand the relationships between the sounds of spoken language and the letters that represent those sounds in written language. By learning to match the sounds they hear in spoken words to the letters they see in written words, children are able to decode unfamiliar words and read them aloud. This process of decoding helps children develop their reading fluency and understand the meanings of the words they are reading.

If a student does not develop a good understanding of phonics, it can make it difficult for them to learn to read and spell words accurately. They may struggle to match the sounds they hear in spoken words to the letters they see in written words, which can make it challenging to decode unfamiliar words and read with fluency. This can also make it difficult to understand the meanings of the words they are reading and use phonics to figure out the pronunciations of unfamiliar words.

The connection between the written word and spoken language is essential for understanding how phonics works. When children learn to read using phonics, they are learning to match the graphemes they see in written words to the phonemes they hear in spoken words. This helps them to understand written language is a representation of spoken language and the letters of the alphabet correspond to the sounds of spoken language.

How to Effectively Teach Phonics

  • Begin with letter-sound correspondences: Teach children the sounds that each letter of the alphabet represents and how those sounds can be blended together to form words.
  • Use decodable texts: Use books and other texts that are specifically designed to help children practice their decoding skills. These texts typically contain only words that can be sounded out using the phonics skills that have been taught.
  • Practice blending sounds: Help children practice blending the sounds of individual letters together to read words. This can be done through games and activities such as “Sound Bingo” and “Mystery Word.”
  • Use word families: Group words with similar phonetic patterns together and have children practice reading and spelling words within each group. For example, words like “cat,” “bat,” and “rat” belong to the “at” word family.

3. Reading Fluency

Effective reading instruction will involve a strong focus on reading fluency, which is the ability to read text accurately, smoothly, and with expression. When students can read fluently, it allows them to read text quickly and easily, which frees up their mental energy to focus on understanding the meaning of the words they are reading. Along with explicit reading fluency instruction, frequent oral reading will allow students to practice the skills learned within a reading program. 

Reading fluency involves the use of decoding skills, which are the skills that children use to match the letters (or graphemes) they see in written words to the sounds (phonemes) they hear in spoken words. These skills are important because they allow children to decode unfamiliar words and read them aloud accurately. 

Decoding skills can affect reading comprehension in a number of ways. If a child has strong decoding skills, they are more likely to be able to read unfamiliar words accurately and read with fluency, which can make it easier for them to understand the meaning of the words they are reading. On the other hand, if a child struggles with decoding, it can make it difficult for them to read unfamiliar words accurately and to read with fluency, which can make it harder to comprehend the meaning of the words they are reading.

The Importance of Reading Fluency

Reading fluency is essential to forming reading skills because it allows children to read text with ease and eloquence. When children can read fluently, they are able to comprehend text quickly and effortlessly, allowing them to focus their mental energy on understanding the content.

If a student does not develop good reading fluency, it can make it difficult for them to read text automatically, which can make it harder to comprehend the meaning of the words they are reading. They may struggle to read text accurately, which can lead to misunderstandings and difficulty following the story or information in the text. They may also struggle to read text with expression, which can make it less enjoyable and engaging. A lack of reading fluency can have a negative impact on a student’s overall reading skills, understanding of a passage, and enjoyment of reading.

How to Effectively Teach Reading Fluency

  • Repeated reading: Have students read a passage several times in a row, with the goal of increasing their speed and accuracy. This can be done individually or in small groups. This can also be done silently or as oral reading. Silent reading allows students to focus on their own reading skills and practice reading at their own pace. Reading aloud allows students to practice reading with expression and get feedback on their fluency from the teacher and their classmates. 
  • Choral reading: Have students read a passage together as a class with the teacher leading and the students following. This can help to model good fluency and can be a fun and engaging activity.
  • Timed readings: Have students read a passage for a set amount of time, such as one minute, and then record their words per minute (WPM) score. 

4. Vocabulary Development

Vocabulary development is the process of learning new words and increasing one’s understanding of their meanings. It is an important component of reading because a strong vocabulary is essential for good reading comprehension. When children are exposed to a rich vocabulary, they are able to better understand the words they are reading and make connections between new words and their prior knowledge.

Systemic vocabulary development is crucial within a school system because it is an ongoing process that occurs throughout a person’s lifetime. Students must continue to learn new vocabulary and expand their understanding of the meanings of those words to improve their reading comprehension and overall language skills, just as adults will continue to come across unfamiliar words in their day-to-day life that they must decipher. 

The Importance of Vocabulary Development

Vocabulary development is essential to forming reading skills because it helps children understand the meanings of the words they are reading and make connections between new words and their pre-existing knowledge. When children have a rich vocabulary, they are able to better comprehend the text they are reading and make sense of new and unfamiliar words.

If a student does not develop a wide vocabulary, it can make it difficult for them to understand the meanings of the words they are reading and make connections between new words and their prior knowledge. This can make it harder to comprehend the text and make sense of new and unfamiliar words. A lack of vocabulary can also make it more difficult for children to express themselves and communicate effectively with others.

Vocabulary development is important for both reading fluency and reading comprehension. When children have a strong vocabulary, they are more likely to read text fluently, as they are able to better decode unfamiliar words and read with expression. A strong vocabulary also helps children comprehend the meaning of the words they are reading and make sense of the text as a whole, which is essential for good reading comprehension. 

How to Effectively Teach Vocabulary Development

  • Direct vocabulary instruction: Teach children the meanings of specific words and how they are used in different contexts. This can be done through activities such as sight words, word sorts, vocabulary lists, word maps, and word walls.
  • Contextualized instruction: Help children learn new words by providing them with context clues, such as definitions, synonyms, and examples. This can help children understand the meanings of words in the context of the text they are reading.
  • Word study: Teach children about the different parts of words, such as prefixes, suffixes, and roots, and how these parts can change the meanings of words. This can help children understand how words are related and learn new words more easily.
  • Word associations: Help children make connections between new words and their prior knowledge by encouraging them to think about how the new words are similar to or different from other words they know.

5. Reading Comprehension

According to an article published by the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, “Reading comprehension is one of the most complex cognitive activities in which humans engage, making it difficult to teach, measure, and research.” When put like this, we can see the vast importance of reading comprehension. The ability to understand and make sense of written text must be explicitly taught from a young age. After all, reading comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading instruction and encompasses all the previous reading components that have been discussed. When students have good reading comprehension, they are able to understand the meaning of the words they are reading and make connections between the text and their prior knowledge. There is a “ layered nature of impactful comprehension instruction” that can be seen throughout our discussion of these five essential components of reading. It is complex, and it is crucial.

According to The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “In 2022, the average reading score at both fourth and eighth grade decreased by three points compared to 2019.” While three points may not seem like a huge shift, this could be evidence of the importance of in-person instruction that was not consistent for a few years during the global pandemic. Educators and institutions must refocus on the significance of direct reading comprehension. 

The Importance of Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is essential to forming reading skills because it allows children to understand the meaning of the words they are reading and make connections between the text and their prior knowledge. When children have good reading comprehension, they are able to make sense of written text, which is essential for learning and communication.

If a student does not develop good reading comprehension skills, it can make it difficult for them to not only understand the meaning of the words they are reading but also for them to engage with the material and learn new information. A lack of reading comprehension skills can also make it more challenging for children to express themselves and communicate effectively with others.

Because reading comprehension is so important for students, teachers should have more professional development opportunities to foster a deeper knowledge of impactful literacy instruction. There is a need for research-based literacy professional development that aligns the science of reading with students and the way they best learn to read. 

How to Effectively Teach Reading Comprehension

  • Previewing: Have students preview the text by looking at the title, headings, and illustrations to get a sense of what the text is about.
  • Asking questions: Encourage students to ask questions about the text as they read to help them make connections and better understand the meaning of the words.
  • Making predictions: Have students make predictions about what they think will happen next in the text to help them engage with the material and make connections between the text and their prior knowledge.
  • Summarizing: Have students summarize the main ideas of the text to help them understand the key points and make connections between the text and their pre-existing knowledge.

Conclusion

Teaching children to read involves several different components, and each component has an essential role in the learning process. Young readers may experience reading difficulties in any one of these areas, so knowing the aspects of each is vital to creating effective reading instruction that meets the needs of each individual student. Voyager Sopris Learning® has science of reading-aligned solutions and interventions to help with teaching these essential components of reading.

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