• In 2000, the report of the National Reading Panel highlighted five (5) “pillars” of reading: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Oral Fluency, Vocabulary Development, and Comprehension.

    Reading with children and helping them practice specific reading components can dramatically improve their ability to read. Scientific research shows that there are five essential components of reading that children must be taught in order to learn to read. Adults can help children learn to be good readers by systematically practicing these five components:

    • Recognizing and using individual sounds to create words, or phonemic awareness. Children need to be taught to hear sounds in words and that words are made up of the smallest parts of sound, or phonemes.

    • Understanding the relationships between written letters and spoken sounds, or phonics. Children need to be taught the sounds individual printed letters and groups of letters make. Knowing the relationships between letters and sounds helps children to recognize familiar words accurately and automatically, and "decode" new words.

    • Developing the ability to read a text accurately and quickly, or reading fluency. Children must learn to read words rapidly and accurately in order to understand what is read. When fluent readers read silently, they recognize words automatically. When fluent readers read aloud, they read effortlessly and with expression. Readers who are weak in fluency read slowly, word by word, focusing on decoding words instead of comprehending meaning.

    • Learning the meaning and pronunciation of words, or vocabulary development. Children need to actively build and expand their knowledge of written and spoken words, what they mean and how they are used.

    • Acquiring strategies to understand, remember and communicate what is read, or reading comprehension strategies. Children need to be taught comprehension strategies, or the steps good readers use to make sure they understand text. Students who are in control of their own reading comprehension become purposeful, active readers.


    What it is: The ability to hear, identify, manipulate and substitute phonemes-the smallest units of sound that can differentiate meaning-in spoken words.

    What it means:  Students begin by learning individual phonemes, then joining phonemes, and finally, building words.  The first skills a child must have in order to learn to read are the abilities to hear and produce the basic sounds of the English language and demonstrate the awareness by orally using those sounds in syllables, words, rhymes, and simple sentences.  The ability to differentiate between different sounds and reproduce them is KEY!

    Why it matters:  Phonemic awareness is a strong predictor of long term reading and spelling success.  Teaching sounds along with the letters of the alphabet helps students better understand how phonemic awareness relates to their reading and writing.



    What it is: Phonics is understanding that there is a relationship between sounds (phonemes) and the letters (graphemes) that represent them in written language. Phonics is the ability to connect sounds to visual symbols and results in the ability to read words. It is taught through a systematic continuum of skills.        

    What it means: Phonics instruction teaches children how to build relationships between sounds and letters and how to use those relationships to read and spell words.   

    Why it matters: Phonics is a systematic approach that teaches children the foundational skills that are needed to read and spell words.  Once a strong phonics foundation is established, children are able to use these skills to read unknown words.  



    What it is: Reading fluency is the ability to read quickly, correctly, and with good expression.  Do you know a reader who struggles with fluency?

    • He. reads. every. word. like. This. 
    • Or maybe you know a reader who trips over words. To them, reading is awkward and painful.
    • Or maybe you know one who reads automatically and with little stumbling. But he readslikethiswithoutabreath. He doesn’t read with expression, pay attention to punctuation, or read with inflection in his voice.

    What it means: Fluency is the ability to read as well as one speaks and to make sense of what is being read without having to stop or pause to decode words. Fluency is different from memorization, which can occur when students interact with the same text so frequently that they can repeat it without actually reading it. Actual fluency is developed with the repeated, accurate sounding out of words.

    Why it matters: Whether our learners read haltingly, stumble over words, or read without expression, comprehension suffers.  Better fluency leads to greater understanding.

    Fluency is critical to a student’s motivation to read. When students struggle to sound out letters and words, reading can become an exhausting task and students may begin to think of reading as a negative activity. At home, read aloud every day! The best way to help fluency is to model fluent reading.




    What is it:  Vocabulary is the growing and stored collection of words that students understand and use in their conversation and recognize in print.

    What it means:  Vocabulary is very closely tied to reading comprehension.  Children can learn new vocabulary both by hearing new words and reading.  Most vocabulary is learned through everyday listening of conversations, reading aloud, or independent reading.  There are studies that show that there are close links between how many words children hear spoken at home and how well they excel in 3rd grade.  Children are building their oral vocabulary all of the time, even if they don’t know it! 

    Why it matters: In order to really comprehend a story, students must know what the words mean that they are reading.  When students are first learning to read they use oral vocabulary to make sense of the words they see in print.  When they come upon an unfamiliar word, their reading is interrupted until the word is added to their mental vocabulary.  We need to work with our children to help them build a flourishing vocabulary.  This will improve their reading fluency and comprehension.  



    What it is: The ability to understand, remember, and make meaning of what has been read. This is the purpose of reading-to make meaning by combining reading with thinking and reasoning.  A big part of comprehension is knowing the meaning of words and having a sufficient vocabulary. 

    What it means: Students with developed reading comprehension abilities can predict, infer, make connections, and analyze what is being read.  Good readers use their experiences and knowledge of the world, vocabulary, language structure and reading strategies to make sense of the text.  During reading, students often make mental pictures as they read and learn to monitor their understanding.  After reading, they check their understanding of what they have read. Summarizing requires the students to determine what is important in the text and retell, verbally or in writing.

    Why it matters:  Even before children become independent readers, they can begin practicing and developing comprehension skills when books are read to them.  Students who comprehend what they read are both purposeful and active readers.



    What it is:  Engagement is the ability to keep attention and effort into a topic. As K-2 students learn to read, they have to put in effort to think about the sounds of the letters, look at all the letters in each word, use their sight words and then think about what each word is and what the words mean when they are put together. Early learners need to have focus, and the persistence to learn to read fluently and with comprehension. 

    Parents and families can also be engaged in helping their early learners learn to read. Approaching reading like an important goal and treating reading as fun for everyone. By reviewing letter sounds, reading with their children, reviewing sight words and listening to their children practice reading, families help early learners become readers!

    What it means: Engagement is the mental effort to learn phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, engagement, and fluency to learn to be readers. As students begin this journey their practice, effort, and the persistence to keep trying are necessary - even when it is hard. 

    Why it matters: Without engagement, learners, and especially early learners, are not able to make the jump from gaining independent skills to becoming a fluent reader. The English language is dependent on understanding the nuances of language in order to build comprehension and become literate citizens. The work done at the earliest grade levels is essential to each child’s development as a reader. 

    Learning to read is hard work! Families can help their early learners become readers with their support, practice and enthusiastic pride as reading skills are grown. Most importantly, families who model their own reading with their early learners help build readers.