Accessibility links

Breaking News

Early Literacy: Introduction to Reading Skills

Early Literacy: Introduction to Reading Skills
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:05:51 0:00
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:06:57 0:00

Reading and writing in English are very valuable skills. But unlike learning how to speak, these skills do not come naturally. Reading instruction needs to be carefully and clearly explained.

Direct, planned instruction is needed for success.

Each stage in this reading skills series has its own video and article with tips, strategies, and suggestions for assessment. This article explains those stages. It also gives tips on using teaching strategies and methods.

Stages and skills of reading

Reading uses many skills. These skills build upon each other. But they can also develop at the same time. Reading begins with pre-reading stages. These stages are print awareness, phonological awareness and phonemic awareness. Then come the reading skills of phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Here are some short definitions of these terms.

1. Print awareness

As children begin speaking, they realize letters and words have meaning. They learn how books work. They notice letters and words on food products and signs around town. Educators call this print awareness.

2. Phonological awareness

In the next stage, students find and work with the sounds in language. Phonological awareness is understanding the sounds of spoken language. It involves many skills – from making rhymes to counting syllables to counting words in a sentence. As students master these early phonological skills, they can begin to move on to the next stage.

3. Phonemic awareness

Phonemic awareness is the most advanced type of phonological awareness. It deals with the smallest units of sound in a word – a phoneme. With this skill, students can do things like separate and blend sounds in words.

4. Phonics is the linking of spoken language and written language. The alphabet is part of this stage.

5. Vocabulary describes the whole set of words a person uses to speak, write, and read.

6. Fluency is the ability to read quickly and with understanding.

7. Comprehension is the end goal of reading -- to understand the content.

Instruction for English language learners

Research shows there are certain things to consider when teaching reading to English language learners (or ELLs).

• ELLs should know the sounds of the English language before they begin more advanced instruction. Sing fun songs and chants with your students. Read poems and stories too.

• Identify difficult English sounds. Teachers need to identify sounds in the English language that are difficult for their students. Some English sounds may not even exist in the students’ native language. Practice those sounds a lot.

• Research suggests that if a student develops phonological awareness in their home language, they will be able to use that skill to learn other languages. However, students who cannot read in their home language will need to develop sound-language skills.

Also, students who have had interrupted learning — refugees, for example — may need additional early instruction. Assess students to find out if they understand the connection between sounds and language.

Notes on using strategies

Strategies are simply methods for teaching content. Here are some tips for using literacy strategies.

• Teach in a direct way. Tell your students the name of the strategy and explain its purpose. To make sure they understand, ask them questions. Show them how to use a strategy. This is called modeling.

• Do not use too many strategies. Only use a few strategies for each lesson topic. Using too many strategies may confuse students, especially early learners.

• Do not worry about your students becoming bored with or tired of the same strategy. Routines are good for students. Using the same strategies or activities allows students to focus on the content instead of learning new rules. Knowing the strategies well can also increase a student’s confidence.

• Some strategies can be used for more than one stage of reading. It may need changing a bit. Feel free to move things around and to make changes to fit the needs of your students.

I’m Anna Matteo.

And I’m Caty Weaver.

Anna Matteo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English. It is part of a larger collection of Early Literacy Materials.



Reading Rockets;

University of Toronto’s Balanced Literary Diet;

“Put Reading First – Kindergarten Through Grade 3, The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read";

“Teaching Our Youngest”;

For Students Who Are Not Yet Fluent, Silent Reading Is Not the Best Use of Classroom Time";

What Does Research Tell Us About Teaching Reading to English Language Learners?”;

“Types of Informal Classroom-Based Assessment


Words in This Story

tip –n. a short piece of advice or useful information

syllable –n. a unit of spoken language that consists of one or more vowel sounds alone or with one or more consonant sounds preceding or following

strategy –n. a plan to reach a goal or aim over time

chant –n. a word or phrase repeated many times out loud

bored –adj. to be uninterested or bothered because there is not enough to keep one’s attention

routine –n. something done regularly almost every day

confidence –n. a feeling that you can do something correctly; a feeling of sureness that a person has about doing a job or task