Teaching Beginning Reading to Young Children

What is the Research on Teaching Beginning Reading?

Over the last 50 years, teaching beginning reading to young children has been the subject of much research and considerable controversy (i.e., “The Reading Wars”).

In the late 1990’s Congress convened the National Reading Panel and tasked them with identifying the most conclusive on reading instruction. The panel, made up of some of the top reading , evaluated a multitude of research and published their findings in the National Reading Panel Report in April, 2000.

The report cited 5 critical areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension and summarized effective teaching practices for each critical area of instruction.

Despite the passage of 22 years, little has changed in what researchers know about effective practices in teaching beginning reading. The National Reading Panel Report still contains the best practices for teaching beginning reading in the classroom.

 In 2019, the Deans for Impact organization reviewed the research data on beginning reading to learn more about how young children develop agency, numeracy, and literacy. 

This guide summarizes the most recent scientific knowledge about how children develop, learn to read and write proficiently and develop math skills. Here is a summary of what has been learned about the best instructional practices for teaching beginning reading.

Learning Alphabetic Principles

Children need to learn both letters and sounds in the English language to understand letter-sound relationships.

Letter sound relationships form the foundational understanding needed for fluent reading. Students need explicit instruction in letter-sound relationships to learn the sounds that letters and combinations of letters represent.  

Phonemic awareness skills help students understand how spoken sounds connect to letter symbols.

Children also need to understand the connection between spelling patterns and word pronunciations. This connection helps them decode printed words into words or word parts they already know through segmenting and blending.

Young female reading an Oxford Dictionary to learn new words.
Learning New Words Builds Stronger Understanding

Teaching Beginning Readers to Become Fluent Readers

Understanding phonics is a foundational skill for beginning readers and helps them become stronger readers. Phonics helps students understand how to decode new words.

By learning graphemes, students recognize patterns and can sound out, recognize and write more words. Phonics skills must be explicitly taught so that students can become fluent readers.

Reading with fluency requires automaticity. This means that students must be able to recognize word parts and words quickly and automatically as they read.

Beginning readers need to decode words quickly and efficiently. If children devote too much cognitive energy to decoding the words on the page, comprehension lapses.

This takes practice and training in segmenting and blending the graphemes of words.

Teaching Beginning Reading by Modeling with Read Alouds

Teachers can model fluent reading through daily read alouds. This helps children hear what proficient reading sounds like. It also gives children a feel for the “lilt” of the English language.

While reading aloud, teachers stop to call attention to essential elements in the passage. These elements include new vocabulary, punctuation markers, and unfamiliar word types in the passage.

Teachers might also ask students to summarize what as been read or answer a few higher level questions such as “Do you agree or disagree with Kat’s idea and why?”

Follow-up Activities for Teaching Beginning Reading

Re-reading is also a powerful follow-up activity to strengthen beginning reading. After listening to the teacher, students practice reading the same passage several times aloud.

Each time the passage is read, the student’s goal is to improve their performance. The teacher provides guidance and feedback to strengthen student reading success.

Explicit instruction on morphology (word parts) and word families build vocabulary and move beginning readers toward more automatic word reading and fluency.

As with any skill, practice – along with with guidance and feedback – improves the teaching of beginning reading. Give students access to books and reading materials as much as possible at school and at home.

Supporting a child’s intrinsic motivation by giving them fun and interesting materials is more likely to result in reading improvements than are extrinsic rewards or incentives.

The more children want to read and view reading as enjoyable, the quicker their reading skills will grow and develop as competent beginning readers.

Post Updated 10/01/2022

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