What Is Reading?

Reading is a multifaceted process involving word recognition, comprehension, fluency, and motivation. Learn how readers integrate these facets to make meaning from print.

Reading is making meaning from print. It requires that we:

  • Identify the words in print – a process called word recognition
  • Construct an understanding from them – a process called comprehension
  • Coordinate identifying words and making meaning so that reading is automatic and accurate – an achievement called fluency

Sometimes you can make meaning from print without being able to identify all the words. Remember the last time you got a note in messy handwriting? You may have understood it, even though you couldn't decipher all the scribbles.

Sometimes you can identify words without being able to construct much meaning from them. Read the opening lines of Lewis Carroll's poem, "Jabberwocky," and you'll see what I mean.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Finally, sometimes you can identify words and comprehend them, but if the processes don't come together smoothly, reading will still be a labored process. For example, try reading the following sentence:

It          isn't          as         if          the          words
     are        difficult                   to          identify          or
understand,                   but          the          spaces
                   make                   you          pause                   between
    words,                    which                   means        your
                   reading                   is                    less                    fluent.

Reading in its fullest sense involves weaving together word recognition and comprehension in a fluent manner. These three processes are complex, and each is important. How complex? Here goes?

To develop word recognition, children need to learn:

  • How to break apart and manipulate the sounds in words – this is phonemic awareness
    example: feet has three sounds: /f/, /e/, and /t/
  • Certain letters are used to represent certain sounds – this is the alphabetic principle
    example: s and h make the /sh/ sound
  • How to apply their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to sound out words that are new to them – this is decoding
    example: ssssspppoooon – spoon!
  • How to analyze words and spelling patterns in order to become more efficient at reading words – this is word study
    example: Bookworm has two words I know: book and worm.
  • To expand the number of words they can identify automatically, called their sight vocabulary
    example: Oh, I know that word – the!

To develop comprehension, children need to develop:

  • Background knowledge about many topics
    example: This book is about zoos – that's where lots of animals live.
  • Extensive oral and print vocabularies
    example: Look at my trucks – I have a tractor, and a fire engine, and a bulldozer.
  • Understandings about how the English language works
    example: We say she went home, not she goed home.
  • Understandings about how print works
    example: reading goes from left to right
  • Knowledge of various kinds of texts
    example: I bet they live happily ever after.
  • Various purposes for reading
    example: I want to know what ladybugs eat.
  • Strategies for constructing meaning from text, and for problem solving when meaning breaks down
    example: This isn't making sense. Let me go back and reread it.

To develop fluency, children need to:

  • Develop a high level of accuracy in word recognition
  • Maintain a rate of reading brisk enough to facilitate comprehension
  • Use phrasing and expression so that oral reading sounds like speech
  • Transform deliberate strategies for word recognition and comprehension into automatic skills

But if reading isn't pleasurable or fulfilling, children won't choose to read, and they won't get the practice they need to become fluent readers.

Therefore, reading also means developing and maintaining the motivation to read. Reading is an active process of constructing meaning. The key word here is active.

To develop and maintain the motivation to read, children need to:

  • Appreciate the pleasures of reading
  • View reading as a social act, to be shared with others
  • See reading as an opportunity to explore their interests
  • Read widely for a variety of purposes, from enjoyment to gathering information
  • Become comfortable with a variety of different written forms and genres

So…what is reading?

Reading is the motivated and fluent coordination of word recognition and comprehension.

Quite an achievement for a six year old!

Leipzig, D. H. (January, 2001). What is reading? WETA.


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Like what my prof. took ! and the poem is exactly from the example of my professor. I think my prof. used this article. ^^ thanks for the information! it's help a lot !

Thanks for the information provided
it is very useful for me.......................
i realize that now i really undertand about reading that you explained out in very brief, short and simple
thanks in advance

this is an amaizing definition of what reading is. congratulation. it is short and educative.

Love this article it makes me know more about reading and studying.

The is very interesting article and useful for reading skills.....thanks a lot all of you

yeah reading is important as it prepare us for better academic achievements

reading brings relaxation to the brain and it gives people more knowledge

reading is a sorce of information and improvement of ones vocabulary. so it is very important.

Till now have gone through several articles on reading. This is one of the best I have come across. Congratulations on developing such a content.

i have liked the simple and straight forward definition.being a teacher it will help me explain effectively to the learners.

i really like this article it helps you to understand exactly wha reading is about. they went into the fine details of how and what you need in order to have a high esteem of what is reading.

A wonderful article I enjoyed reading it Thank you for your efforts magnificent

tracy, your comment about a picture speaking a thousand words is a great comment. Pre-reading skills involve those pictures that speak so many words yet to be de-coded, and help a child to make meaning.

this article was informative, however is reading making since out of print only? then why do we say a pictures could speake a thousand words?

very informative. i have a full grasp on what reading is all about. nice! super like.


Complete and very useful information about what reading actually involves. Congrats!!

I like this article, it is giving us true meaning of reading and it is important for kids to be motivated to read. Reading is very important for every one young to adult because like reading is the key of every door in the real world.

This definition encompasses the whole of what reading entails. It is important for children to be motivated to read. Reading should not be viewed as boring or even a form of punishment. Parents, Teachers, we have alot of work to do.

I like the part where the article talked about motivation for reading and students learning to appreciate a variety of texts. I don't know about everyone, but I believe its important for a student to appreciate a variety of texts :-) so that appreciation of reading transitions into his or her adult life activities (newspaper, job reports, college research, etc.)

I liked this article, it provides an easy to read out line to help readers stay on track

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"You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me." — Strickland Gillilan