The Five Areas of Reading Terminology

When teaching literacy, it is important to know the five main parts of reading and some basic terms that are used by teachers and researchers when referring to these reading areas.   Below is an explanation of what each of these areas entails.

See my other blogs and sites at and


Area One: Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with individual sounds in spoken words. Children show phonemic awareness in the following ways:

  1. Recognize words that start with the same sound
  2. Isolate and say the first or last sound in a word
  3. Combine or blend sounds to say a word
  4. Segment words into separate sounds
  5. Show phonological awareness by
  6. identifying and making oral rhymes
  7. identifying and working with syllables in spoken words
  8. identifying and working with onsets (initial consonant sound in a syllable) and rimes (the part of a syllable that contains a vowel and all the sounds that follow that vowel)
  9. identifying and working with individual phonemes (the smallest part of spoken language; the word check has three phonemes)

When children develop phonemic awareness, they are able to hear, identify, and manipulate sounds in spoken words. Several skills make up this awareness . These include the ability to:

  1. Isolate phonemes, or recognize individual sounds in words.
  2. Identify phonemes, or recognize the same sound when it appears in different words
  3. Phoneme categorization, or the ability to recognize a word in set that does not belong
  4. Phoneme blending, or combining separately spoken phonemes into a word
  5. Phoneme segmentation, or breaking a word into separate sounds
  6. Phoneme deletion, or recognizing a word that remains when a phoneme is taken away, such as smile into mile
  7. Phoneme addition, or making a new word by adding a phoneme, such as park to spark
  8. Phoneme substitution, or switching one phoneme for another to get a new word, such as bug into bun

Area Two: Phonics Instruction

Phonics instruction teaches two basic concepts. One is the relationship between letters, or graphemes, and individual sounds, or phonemes. Two, that there is a systematic relationship between letters and spoken words, also known as the alphabetic principle. Phonics instruction should be systematic and explicit, teaching sound-letter relationships in a clear sequence. Phonics instruction improves word recognition and therefore comprehension as well as spelling. Phonics instruction is important for children having difficulty learning to read, and early intervention is best. However, phonics instruction should never be taught alone. It should round out a program that includes phonemic awareness activities, listening to interesting texts, reading texts, and writing. Effective phonics instruction:

  1. Explicitly and systematically teaches letter sound relationships
  2. Explains the purpose of letter sound relationships
  3. Applies new phonics knowledge to reading and writing
  4. Is adapted to individual student needs
  5. Includes alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, and reading of interesting texts

Phonological Awareness:

A child with phonological awareness can recognize that words are made up of sound units, called phonemes. Additionally, this awareness includes understanding that words can be broken into syllables, and that each syllable begins with a sound, called an onset, and ends with a sound, called a rime. Phonological awareness is needed to learn phonics, the understanding that printed letters represent sounds. Skills that demonstrate phonological awareness include identifying and using rhymes, segmenting words into syllables, blending sounds into syllables and words, finding the beginning and ending sounds of syllables and words, and seeing smaller words in larger ones, such as sun in sunlight.

Phonemic Awareness:

Phonemic awareness is a part of phonological awareness. This term means a child is aware that words are made up of phonemes, which are the smallest units of sound that hold meaning. Phonemes are blended into syllables and words. The word this was three phonemes: /th/ /i/ and /s/.

Area Three: Fluency Instruction

Fluency is the ability to read text both accurately and quickly. It involves the ability to recognize words automatically, group words quickly for meaning, and read with expression. Fluency is an important component of comprehension because the reader does not place great effort on decoding, but rather recognizes words and comprehends text at the same time. Fluency develops over time and only with practice. A fluent reader is able to chunk text into phrases and clauses and can pause within and at the end of sentences correctly. A fluent reader is also able to change their emphasis and tone according to the meaning indicated in text. Fluency, of course, will change for an individual reader based on the text, familiarity with a text, and the amount of practice applied to a text. Instruction in fluency involves:

  1. Repeated and monitored oral reading: the student reads a passage aloud several times and receives guidance and feedback. This improves word recognition, speed, accuracy, and overall fluency. Use independent reading level text that is 50 -200 words in length.
  2. Extensive independent reading, practiced daily.
  3. Provide models of fluent reading, reading a text fluently and then have students reread the text on their own three to four times while receiving guidance.
  4. The student reads along with a podcast of a passage or reads with a more fluent partner.
  5. Convert dialogue rich text into a script and read it as Reader’s Theatre.

To assess fluency informally, listen to the student read and assess the level of fluency by ear. For a more formal assessment, follow this procedure :

  1. Choose a grade level text and have the student read for one minute.
  2. Count the number of words read to compute an average word per minute rate.
  3. Count the number of errors made to find the errors per minute rate.
  4. Subtract the errors from the words per minute to find the words correct per minute (WCPM)
  5. Compare the WCPM to established grade level norms
  6. Repeat this assessment several times a year to chart progress

Area Four: Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary knowledge consists of listening, speaking, reading, and writing vocabulary. Beginning readers need to use words they know in their speaking and listening vocabularies to make sense of the words they see in print. It is much more difficult for readers to make sense of words that are not in their oral vocabularies. Children learn most of their vocabularies indirectly through everyday experiences, including oral language, being read to, and independent reading. The rest of a students vocabulary needs to be taught directly. For direct vocabulary instruction:

  1. Teach students how to use the dictionary: how to navigate an online and text dictionary, what information can be found and where.
  2. Teach students the most common prefixes and roots and their meaning along with how to use this information to decipher a word meaning.
  3. Practice using context clues to determine word meaning.
  4. Teach words that students will encounter frequently.
  5. Teach difficult words with multiple or idiomatic meanings.

Some vocabulary instruction will help students indirectly learn vocabulary. To engage students in activities that foster indirect vocabulary instruction:

  1. Read aloud frequently to students and discuss the text before, during, and after reading.
  2. Talk about new vocabulary and guide students in relating new words to familiar ones.
  3. Encourage students to read extensively on their own, as most new vocabulary is gained in this way.
  4. Foster an awareness of the power and usefulness of words by
  • calling attention to an author’s use of words to convey meaning
  • playing with words through word play, puns, and palindromes
  • researching an interesting word’s origin and history
  • searching for examples of new and interesting words in everyday life.

Area Five: Text Comprehension:

Good readers are active readers who think actively about what they are reading and use prior knowledge, knowledge of word meaning and language structure, and a flexible range of reading strategies to gain meaning from text. Good readers are also purposeful, utilizing a purpose for reading that clearly accomplishes a goal. Nine important strategies exist for improving reading comprehension.

Strategy One: How to monitor comprehension. Students need to be able to

  • identify where they are having difficulty in a text
  • identify what the difficulty is
  • restate the difficult passage in their own words
  • look back in the text for clues to meaning
  • look ahead in the text for more information that might clear up confusion

Strategy Two: Use graphic organizers to focus on key concepts and graph how they are related.

Strategy Three: Answer questions: Answering questions about text allows students to

  • have a purpose for reading
  • focus their attention
  • think actively about their reading
  • monitor their own comprehension
  • review content
  • work with right there, pull it together, implied, and outside the text information

Strategy Four: Generate questions: Students can gain further insight into text when they generate questions for others to answer. These questions should be of four different types:

  • Right There – these are questions whose answers can be found in one place in the text.
  • Pull it Together – these are questions whose answers are in the text, but the reader has to pull the information from several areas, such as across a paragraph, page, chapter, story, or book.
  • Implied – these are questions whose answers are not directly in the text, but the author gives information that can be used to answer the question.
  • Outside the Text – these are questions that can be answered without having read the text, but the question is based on ideas or themes within the text.

Strategy Five: Recognize story structure: This strategy focuses on the idea that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and that the conflict will develop in the beginning, peak in the middle, and resolve at the end. Understanding this will give insight into the text and make navigating the ideas in narratives far easier.

Strategy Six: Summarize: It is important that students be able to retell the main ideas and key supporting details in a text. Practicing this skill allows readers to focus on main ideas and supporting details while eliminating irrelevant information.

Strategy Seven: Use a Four step process for teaching comprehension:

  • Step One: Direct instruction – explain how a reading strategy works and when to apply this strategy.
  • Step Two: Modeling – demonstrate using the strategy by doing a think aloud while reading a text the students are using
  • Step Three: Guided Practice – guide the students in using the strategy
  • Step Four: Application – help the students practice the new strategy until they can use it independently

Strategy Eight: Use reciprocal teaching: Pause at pre-selected places in a shared text to ask questions, summarize, clarify words or sentences, and predict what will come next.

Strategy Nine: Use prior knowledge and mental imagery: Before reading, complete an activity in which students will bring into their minds what they already know about a topic, setting, or genre. While reading, help students to picture what is happening by describing the mental images created by reading the text.


One response to “The Five Areas of Reading Terminology

  1. Are you aware of the Reading Skills Pyramid? This organization of skills was really the Bush NCLB vision of focusing on phonics versus whole word instruction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s