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About Reading

What Are the Skills for Reading?

Reading ability is determined by many factors, and requires the development of certain skills through early reading instruction to attain initial success and build on it.

Adequate initial reading instruction requires that children:

  • use reading to obtain meaning from print
  • have frequent and intensive opportunities to read
  • be exposed to frequent, regular spelling-sound relationships
  • learn about the nature of the alphabetic writing system
  • understand the structure of spoken words

Adequate progress in learning to read English (or any alphabetic language) beyond the initial level depends on:

  • having a working understanding of how sounds are represented alphabetically
  • sufficient practice in reading to achieve fluency with different kinds of texts
  • sufficient background knowledge and vocabulary to render written texts meaningful and interesting
  • control over procedures for monitoring comprehension and repairing misunderstandings
  • continued interest and motivation to read for a variety of purposes

Reading skill is acquired in a relatively predictable way by children who have normal or above-average language skills; have had experiences in early childhood that fostered motivation and provided exposure to literacy in use; get information about the nature of print through opportunities to learn letters and to recognize the internal structure of spoken words, as well as explanations about the contrasting nature of spoken and written language; and attend schools that provide effective reading instruction and opportunities to practice reading.

Disruption of any of these developments increases the possibility that reading will be delayed or impeded. The association of poor reading outcomes with poverty and minority status no doubt reflects the accumulated effects of several of these risk factors, including lack of access to literacy-stimulating preschool experiences and to excellent, coherent reading instruction.

In addition, a number of children without any obvious risk factors also develop reading difficulties. These children may require intensive efforts at intervention and extra help in reading and accommodations for their disability throughout their lives.


Excerpted from: Snow, C. E., Burns, S. M., & Griffin, P. Editors. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, Executive Summary. National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. Courtesy of National Academy Press. Reprinted with permission.

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