Jul 6, 2010 by Martha Burns, Ph.D

teaching children to read5 Essential Skills for Learning How to Read

According to the Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read Reports of the Subgroups, the capacity to learn and grow as a reader depends on five essential skills:

Foundational Skills for Beginning Readers:

1) Phonemic Awareness: The insight that every spoken word can be conceived as a sequence of phonemes. Phonemes are the speech sounds that are represented by the letters of an alphabet.

2) Phonemic Decoding: The ability to capture the meaning of unfamiliar words by translating groups of letters back into the sounds that they represent, link them to one's verbal vocabulary, and access their meaning.

Skills Needed to Read for Meaning:

3) Vocabulary: Understanding the words in a passage, including the specific dimensions of their meanings or usage that matter in context.  For example, knowing that “tree” when reading about a “family tree” has a different meaning from “maple tree.”

4) Fluency: The ability to read with sufficient ease and accuracy that active attention can be focused on the meaning and message of the text and the text easily retained.

5) Comprehension: Thinking about the meaning of each segment of the text as it is read, building an understanding of the text as a whole, and reflecting on its meaning and message.

Teachers today are fortunate to have access to a wealth of scientifically based research into what works when teaching children to read.  The links that follow are courtesy of the National Institute for Literacy:

Birth to Early Childhood

Children begin building literacy skills long before they go to school.  Even very young children can be prepared to become successful readers later on.  Research has identified certain skills that are important for later literacy development; these skills include knowing the names and sounds of printed letters, manipulating speech sounds, and remembering what has been said for a short time.  Here are some ways to teach younger children these pre-reading skills.


From kindergarten through third grade, young readers are actively developing all five of the core reading skills from phonemic awareness to fluency and comprehension.  Research has shown that teaching children to read successfully during this window requires a combination of strategies and instructional approaches.  Teachers must know how children learn to read and be able to tailor instructional approaches to individual children--especially those who are struggling readers.  Here are some instructional approaches for the five essential skills.


While many adolescent readers have mastered phonemic awareness and decoding strategies, they are often still challenged to fully understand what they read.  In middle and high school, it is common for literacy skills to be developed not only in language arts courses, but also in a variety of different content areas.  To prepare students for the literacy challenges of secondary school, language arts and content area teachers need to focus on the last three components of reading: vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.  Here are some approaches to teaching vocabulary and comprehension skills.

Related reading:

Sing the Alphabet Backwards Sometimes: Kindergarten Phonemic Awareness Activities

Sharing the Practices of Phonics Practice: 5 Instructional Approaches

Categories: Reading & Learning