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The basics of beginning reading

Find out if your kindergartner or first grader is on track.

By GreatSchools Staff

What is decoding?

To understand decoding, it helps to think about written language as essentially a code or series of symbols for oral language. To read, a child needs to be able to decode written language, which means being able to recognize and sound out each letter of the alphabet. A child also needs to recognize and be able to pronounce letter blends – letters commonly found grouped together. Frequently found letter blends include "th", "ch", "st", and "qu"; more complicated blends include "ough" and "ought." Your child might be having difficulty with decoding if she regularly struggles with recognizing letter sounds and blend sounds. The result is that she wouldn't be able to easily sound out many words in a text at her grade level. A child with strong decoding skills can recognize familiar words quickly, and easily figure out new words.

Top two decoding skills: recognizing letter sounds and blend sounds

An early reader with good decoding skills can:

  • Recognize letter sounds
  • Identify and use rhyming words
  • Recognize and use "words families" (words that share certain letters and may also rhyme, for example: bat, hat, rat, sat)
  • Recognize and mix and match words with a consonant, a vowel, and another consonant (for example: cow, sow, now)
  • Identify the sounds of each letter in simple, one-syllable words
  • Recognize grade-level sight words
  • By first grade, read words with long vowel sounds (for example: see, say, so)

What is fluency?

Fluency describes the flow and ease of a child's reading style. Reading fluency has been called the bridge between decoding and comprehension, since decoding skills are necessary to master reading fluency and in turn fluency is essential for reading comprehension. A child with weak decoding skills will read haltingly, and her poor fluency will inhibit reading comprehension. A child with strong fluency skills reads smoothly and naturally, in a voice similar to her speaking voice, with appropriate speed and expression.

An early reader reader with good fluency skills can:

  • Easily name and recognize all the letters in the alphabet.
  • Recognize commonly used sight words with ease and speed
  • Read simple text with ease and understanding
  • With practice, read in a natural, conversational voice, using phrasing and expression
  • Self-correct reading mistakes using clues in the text and illustrations
  • By first grade, read grade-level text with purpose and understanding

What is comprehension?

Reading comprehension is the ability to understand a text. It is also the goal of reading itself: if you comprehend what you read, then you have mastered the basics of reading. Along with understanding the basic plot line and facts in a text he reads, a child with strong comprehension can also identify key themes, read between the lines, and extrapolate from the text to make connections with his own life experience.

An early reader with good comprehension skills can (with support and prompting):

  • Understand the connection between words and illustrations on the page
  • Use illustrations to make predictions about the text
  • Be able to re-tell a story, including all the key details
  • By first grade, identify characters, setting, and main events in a story, and compare and contrast familiar stories
  • By first grade, identify characters, setting, and main events in a story, and compare and contrast familiar stories

What is knowledge?

Reading knowledge describes a reader's knowledge base. Unlike comprehension, which is about understanding what is read, knowledge is the developing wealth of information a reader accumulates. Knowledge both informs and is informed by what we read: as we read, we build knowledge, and what we already know enhances and enriches our reading experience. Reading knowledge is often associated with nonfiction texts that increase our understanding of the world around us, but fiction texts can also teach us something new or help us see the world through another's eyes. A child with strong knowledge skills is an active, engaged reader who reads to learn, and can make connections between what she reads and the world around her.

An early reader with good knowledge skills can:

  • Understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction texts
  • Identify basic parts of a book, including the front page, back page, and title page
  • By first grade, identify and begin to use table of context and index
  • Ask and answer questions about the text (such as, "What did you learn?")
  • With prompting, make connections between information in a book and previous knowledge and experiences
     
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