As children learn to read, they learn how spoken and written language relate to each other. For this to happen, the components of the reading program, including the instructional materials selected for classroom use, must relate to one another and be orchestrated into sequences of instruction that engage all children and meet their needs. The following are twelve of the essential components of research-based programs.
1. Children have opportunities to expand their use and appreciation of oral language
Children’s comprehension of written language depends in large part upon their effective use and understanding of oral language. Language experiences are a central component of good reading instruction. Children learn a great deal about the world, about themselves, and about each other from spoken language. Kindergarten and first-grade language instruction that focuses on listening, speaking, and understanding includes the following:
- Discussions that focus on a variety of topics, including problem solving
- Activities that help children understand the world, in and out of the classroom
- Songs, chants, and poems that are fun to sing and say
- Concept development and vocabulary-building lessons
- Games and other activities that involve talking, listening and, in particular, following directions
2. Children have opportunities to expand their use and appreciation of printed language
Children’s appreciation and understanding of the purposes and functions of written language are essential to their motivation for learning to read. Children must become aware that printed language is all around them on signs, billboards, and labels, and in books, magazines, and newspapers and that print serves many different purposes. Reading and writing instruction that focuses on the use and appreciation of written language includes the following:
- Activities that help children to understand that print represents spoken language
- Activities that highlight the meanings, uses, and production of print found in classroom signs, labels, notes, posters, calendars, and directions
- Activities that teach print conventions, such as directionality
- Activities in which children practice how to handle a book-how to turn pages, how to find the tops and bottoms of pages, and how to tell the front and back covers
- Lessons in word awareness that help children become conscious of individual words, for example, their boundaries, their appearance and their length
- Activities in which children practice with predictable and patterned language stories
3. Children have opportunities to hear good stories and informational books read aloud daily
Listening to and talking about books on a regular basis provides children with demonstrations of the benefits and pleasures of reading. Story reading introduces children to new words, new sentences, new places, and new ideas. They also hear the kinds of vocabulary, sentences, and text structures they will find in their school books and be expected to read and understand. Reading aloud to children every day, and talking about books and stories, supports and extends oral language development and helps students connect oral to written language.
4. Children have opportunities to understand and manipulate the building blocks of spoken language
Children’s ability to think about individual words as a sequence of sounds (phonemes) is important to their learning how to read an alphabetic language. Toward that understanding, children learn that sentences are made up of groups of separate words, and that words are made up of separate sounds. Indeed, research has shown conclusively that children’s phonemic awareness, their understanding that spoken words can be divided into separate sounds, is one of the best predictors of their success in learning to read. Instruction that promotes children’s understanding and use of the building blocks of spoken language includes the following:
- Language games that teach children to identify rhyming words and to create rhymes on their own
- Activities that help children understand that spoken sentences are made up of groups of separate words, that words are made up of syllables, and that words can be broken down into separate sounds
- Auditory activities in which children manipulate the sounds of words, separate or segment the sounds of words, blend sounds, delete sounds, or substitute new sounds for those deleted
5. Children have opportunities to learn about and manipulate the building blocks of written language
Children must also become expert users of the building blocks of written language. Knowledge of letters (graphonemes) leads to success with learning to read. This includes the use, purpose, and function of letters. Instruction that helps children learn about the essential building blocks of written language includes the following:
- Alphabetic knowledge activities in which children learn the names of letters and learn to identify them rapidly and accurately
- A variety of writing activities in which children learn to print the letters that they are learning to identify
- Writing activities in which children have the opportunity to experiment with and manipulate letters to make words and messages
6. Children have opportunities to learn the relationship between the sounds of spoken language and the letters of written language
Increasing children’s awareness of the sounds of spoken language and their familiarity with the letters of written language prepares them to understand the alphabetic principle-that written words are composed of patterns of letters that represent the sounds of spoken words.
Effective instruction provides children with explicit and systematic teaching of sound-letter relationships in a sequence that permits the children to assimilate and apply what they are learning. Instruction that helps children understand the alphabetic principle and learn the most common relationships between sounds and letters includes the following:
- Alphabetic awareness activities in which children learn that printed words are made up of patterns of letters
- Lessons in sound-letter relationships that are organized systematically and that provide as much practice and review as is needed
- Activities in which children combine and manipulate letters to change words and spelling patterns
7. Children have opportunities to learn decoding strategies
Efficient decoding strategies permit readers to quickly and automatically translate the letters or spelling patterns of written words into speech sounds so that they can identify words and gain rapid access to their meanings. Children must learn to identify words quickly and effortlessly, so that they can focus on the meaning of what they are reading.
Research indicates that good readers rely primarily on print rather than on pictures or context to help them identify familiar words, and also to figure out words they have not seen before. For this reason, it is important that children learn effective sounding-out strategies that will allow them to decode words they have never seen in print.
Some strategies of decoding instruction focus primarily on the relationships between sounds and letters; others combine letter-sound practice with word families, with word parts (for example, onsets and rimes), and with blending activities. More advanced decoding strategies focus on structural analysis, the identification of root words, and prefixes and suffixes.
Instruction should introduce “irregular” words in a reasonable sequence and use these words in the program’s reading materials. It is important to realize, however, that essentially all words must become “sight words” - words children identify quickly, accurately, and effortlessly.
Effective decoding instruction is explicit and systematic and can include the following:
- Practice in decoding and identifying words that contain the letter-sound relationships children are learning to read and need for reading and writing
- Practice activities that involve word families and rhyming patterns
- Practice activities that involve blending together the components of sounded-out words
- “Word play” activities in which children change beginning, middle, or ending letters of related words, thus changing the words they decode and spell
- Introduction of phonetically “irregular” words in practice activities and stories
8. Children have opportunities to write and relate their writing to spelling and reading
As children learn to read and write words, they become aware of how these words are spelled. Increasing children’s awareness of spelling patterns hastens their progress in both reading and writing. In the early grades, spelling instruction must be coordinated with the program of reading instruction. As children progress, well organized, systematic lessons in spelling will be beneficial. Activities for effective spelling instruction should include the following:
- Activities that are related to the words that children are reading and writing
- Proofreading activities
- An emphasis on pride in correct spelling
- Lessons that help children attend to spelling conventions in a systematic way
- Activities that surround children in words and make reading and writing purpose-filled
9. Children have opportunities to practice accurate and fluent reading in decodable stories
The words in decodable stories do emphasize the sound-letter relation ships the children are learning. While many predictable and patterned books provide children with engaging language and print experiences, these books may not be based on the sound-letter relationships the children are learning.
Decodable stories provide children with the opportunity to practice what they are learning about letters and sounds. As children learn to read words, sentences, and stories fluently, accurately, and automatically, they no longer have to struggle to identify words and are free to pay closer attention to the meaning.
Research asserts that most children benefit from direct instruction in decoding, complemented by practice with simply written decodable stories. Further, for some children this sort of systematic approach is critical. Stories should “fit” the child’s reading level. Beginning readers should be able to read easily 90 percent or more of the words in a story, and after practice should be able to do so quickly, accurately, and effortlessly.
10. Children have opportunities to read and comprehend a wide assortment of books and other texts
As children develop effective decoding strategies and become fluent readers, they must read books and other texts that are less controlled in their vocabulary and sentence structure. They learn to use word order (syntax) and context to interpret words and understand their meanings. Soon, they become enthusiastic, independent readers of all kinds of written material including books, magazines, newspapers, computer screens, and more!
Providing children with a great many books, both narrative and informational, is of primary importance. Classroom and campus libraries must offer children a variety of reading materials, some that are easy to read and others that are more challenging and of increasing difficulty and complexity. Children need access to many books that travel home for reading with family members. Classrooms that ensure wide reading provide the following:
- Daily time for self-selected reading
- Access to books children want to read in their classrooms and school libraries
- Access to books that can be taken home to be read independently or to family members
11. Children have opportunities to develop and comprehend new vocabulary through wide reading and direct vocabulary instruction
Written language places greater demands on children’s vocabulary knowledge than does their everyday spoken language.
In fact, many of the new words children learn in a year are learned from concrete and meaningful experiences from being read to and as they read on their own.
It is obvious that the number of new words children learn from reading depends upon how much they read and that the amount children read varies enormously. Therefore, it is important that teachers read aloud to children and encourage them to do a great deal of voluntary and independent reading. In addition, during reading instruction, children should be encouraged to attend to the meanings of new words. Activities that promote the acquisition of vocabulary include the following:
- Wide reading of a variety of genres, both narrative and informational
- Instruction that provides explicit information both about the meanings of words and about how they are used in the stories the children are reading
- Activities that involve children in analyzing context to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words in a reading passage
- Discussions of new words that occur during the course of the day, for example in books that have been read aloud by the teacher, in content area studies and in textbooks
- Activities that encourage children both to use words they are learning in their own writing, and to keep records of interesting and related words
12. Children have opportunities to learn and apply comprehension strategies as they reflect upon and think critically about what they read
Written language is not just speech written down. Instead, written language offers new vocabulary, new language patterns, new thoughts, and new ways of thinking. Comprehension depends on the ability to identify familiar works quickly and automatically, which includes fluent reading, as well as the ability to figure out new words. But this is not enough.
Comprehension also depends upon the understanding of word meanings, on the development of meaningful ideas from groups of words (phrases, clauses, and sentences) and the drawing of inferences. It also depends upon the demands of the text (its concepts, its density), and the knowledge the reader brings to the text. The discussion of good books with their friends and classmates is one avenue for making these connections.
Such discussions will help children to appreciate and reflect on new aspects of written language and on the wide, wonderful world of print. For children to receive the greatest benefit and enjoyment from their reading, they must receive comprehension strategy instruction that builds on their knowledge of the world and of language. Comprehension strategy instruction can include the following:
- Activities that help children learn to preview selections, anticipate content, and make connections between what they will read and what they already know
- Instruction that provides options when understanding breaks down (for example, rereading, asking for expert help, and looking up words)
- Guidance in helping children compare characters, events, and themes of different stories
- Activities that encourage discussion about what is being read and how ideas can be linked (for example, to draw conclusions and make predictions)
- Activities that help children extend their reading experiences though the reading of more difficult texts with the teacher
As these components are translated into classroom experiences, children will have opportunities to talk, read, and write in the many ways they use language both inside and out of the classroom. Because the language arts (reading, writing, listening and speaking) are so interrelated, children must be given the opportunity to practice the strands of language arts in connected and purposeful ways.
Classroom experiences that offer children opportunities to write for real life reasons include having children write letters of invitation to parents and other community members to visit their classrooms, or writing letters of thanks to individuals and organizations that have contributed to their school. Children write to record newly acquired information, to reflect on what they are learning and to organize their ideas. They also work in groups to write reports on special topics.
Classroom experiences that offer children opportunities to read, listen and speak for real life purposes include the reading of “everyday” notes, news, messages, lists, labels, and the reading of compositions and reports written in the classroom. In such classrooms, reading, writing, listening, and speaking become important and meaningful to every child.