Reading is a remarkably complex cognitive process. Although people generally consider reading as a singular activity, the entire process involves a number of tasks. If we break down the different elements that go into reading, we may break it into vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, awareness, and phonics.
The five components work together for making up someone’s reading experience. When children learn to read, they develop skills in all these areas for becoming skilled readers.
Any good reading program supports these components of reading identified by the National Reading Panel and recognized as foundational reading skills. In this guide, we will dig deeper into these elements to see how they connect together for creating a reading plan.
1. Phonemic Awareness
The smallest units that make up spoken language or Phonemes combine together to create words and syllables. Phonemic awareness is a student’s ability to manipulate these phonemes and focus on spoken words and syllables. As per the National Reading Panel, children can drastically improve their reading through phonemic awareness.
Children acquire phonemic awareness when they learn about phonemes or sounds, words, and syllables. Each word in the English language comprises a combination of individual units of sound or phonemes. For instance, if we consider a word such as ‘crab,’ it comprises four individual sound units: c/r/a/b. By developing phonemic awareness, children can identify, hear, and manipulate these individual units of sounds.
Phonemic awareness is a crucial skill that children must acquire for learning how to read. Through word games, language play, rhyming, and listening, teachers and parents can help children develop this skill. Here are a few easy ways to teach phonemic awareness.
- Stretch out a word so that it breaks into its individual sounds
- Blend individual sounds for making a word
- Make a new word by swapping in a different sound to the middle, beginning, or end.
The relationship between the letters and their sounds in spoken language refers to as phonics. Through phonics instruction, students learn how to use these relationships for spelling and reading words. According to the National Reading Panel, phonics increases a child’s learning and reading success. Phonics involves mapping the sounds in words to written letters and is one of the initial skills children must develop. Through phonics, children understand the link between letters and sounds or the alphabetic principle.
If readers do not receive phonics instruction in their early childhood, they can have reading difficulties later. Hence, it is important for parents and teachers to help children develop their early phonics skills. However, no activity will offer any benefits if you don’t integrate them with a regular reading program. Here are some helpful phonics activities.
- Mix and match sounds to make words
- Let the children color the beginning sounds
- Read phonics books to children
- Use a variety of CVC picture cards and let the children pronounce the letters.
Fluent readers can read orally with accurate expression and speed. Fluency is the ability to read and speak effortlessly. According to research by Reading Panel, guided and repeated oral reading had a positive impact on comprehension, reading fluency, and word recognition.
A wide variety of skills strengthens reading fluency in young children. Through reading, kids can improve their phonic decoding skills and grow their bank of high-frequency words. That will help them improve their reading and comprehension levels. When children finish reading a good number of books, they can read at an accurate rate and speed.
Fluency allows readers to bridge the gap between understanding a word and knowing its meaning. Fluent readers don’t have to concentrate on decoding the words. That means they have the freedom to comprehend the meaning of words they are reading without any delay. With regular reading, children can develop fluency. Parents should read aloud to their children regularly and provide them with a vocal model to help them understand how different words sound. When children are not fluent, they fail to create a complete picture of the story or text they are reading. Hence, they are unable to master the expression connected with the words, and all meaning is lost.
Here are a few effective ways of teaching fluency to students.
- Choral reading: Read a story or text to your students and then ask them to read it aloud in unison for matching the same pace and flow.
- Use audiobooks: Make children listen to audiobooks. You can choose from hundreds of libraries online.
- Paired reading: Allow children to read a text aloud to one another. That will help them develop the flow and expression required for fluency. Teachers can pair students of different ability levels to get meaningful results.
Vocabulary development is another important component of comprehension. Children with better and larger vocabulary are able to make sense of a text more easily. The National Reading Panel suggests that children can learn vocabulary through listening or reading storybooks.
Parents and teachers can benefit from two primary ways of teaching new vocabulary words. The first one is explicit instruction, which involves either the parent or the teacher telling the students how to pronounce a word. Context clues offer another method for learning new words. These clues are the ‘hints’ in a text that help readers determine the meaning of a new world.
Here are some common ways to increase the vocabulary of children.
- Glossary: When studying or reading a text, create a list of new words, and ask the children or students to find out their meanings. A child must be able to create a glossary page that has all the relevant information. For example, this page should have a definition, sentence example, pronunciation guide, and image representing the meaning.
- Vocab bookmarks: Allow students to design a bookmark with a space for writing down any new words they learn during reading. Encourage them to find out the meaning and laminate them so they can be useful to children for a significant period.
- Word of the Day: Focus on a specific word and base all the worksheets and lesson plans on that word.
This complex cognitive process allows readers to understand the purpose of reading. Vocabulary instructions and development play a crucial role in good comprehension. According to the National Reading Panel, young children acquire comprehension skills through various techniques, including summarization and quizzes.
Comprehension is understanding what a text is all about and involves putting together different facts and bits of information. However, comprehension is a lot more than that. Not only does comprehension involve reading a text but also using prior knowledge for developing meaning. Comprehension is the most complex component of reading. That’s because it involves all the other four aspects of reading. When a reader engages with a text actively, they ask questions about the story and can summarize the text. Much like vocabulary, comprehension skills need time to develop.
Here are some effective ways to develop comprehension skills.
- Drawing: Allow children to paint or draw a scene from a text. Students will use their imagination to create a scene using the information they collect through reading.
- Character Analysis: Let children explore the different characteristics or traits of different characters. For instance, if children are reading about a negative character, ask them about the things they do or say which make them negative.
- Reflection: Let children reflect on the text they read to decide whether the actions of the characters were right or wrong.
Encourage connections: Let children connect their lives to the text they read. Introduce real-world concepts to which students can relate for a better understanding of the text they read.
Although the National Reading Panel Report does not feature spelling as an essential reading component, phonics instructions and phonemic awareness have a positive effect on the spelling skills of children. When children struggle with one or more of these skills, they have trouble reading and learning spellings. Reading stories to children and helping them learn new words can not only build their vocabulary but also help them learn spellings of new words.
Remember that an average reader needs to see a word anywhere from four to fourteen times before it becomes a ‘sight word.’ Once a kid becomes familiar with a word, they can read it automatically, without help or knowing the spellings. A good literacy program involves grooming these essential skills of students, so they become proficient readers. All these components work together to create rich, strong, and lifelong reading abilities. Children can become fluent and confident readers when you give them the best resources and materials to develop their reading skills.
When you become an adult, you don’t even remember the time and effort that went into acquiring reading skills. However, each one of us mastered the skills of writing and reading in school or at home with the help of our teachers and parents. Remember that children learn at a different pace, and some children require extra encouragement and support for making progress and improve their reading skills.