Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension

The National Institute for Reading has put out publications for teachers and parents sharing information on what produces results when it comes to teaching children to read based on research. My favorite teacher publication is Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, and my favorite parent publication is Put Reading First: Helping Your Child Learn to Read.

The five most important skill areas are: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.

Phonological Awareness-
A reader knows speech is made of individual sounds and can manipulate those sounds.
Knowledge of Phonics and Word Recognition-
A reader uses rules for letter-sound relationships, adjusts the rules when necessary, and knows many words by sight.
Fluent Reading-
A reader quickly recognizes words, reads like a person speaks, and focuses on meaning.
Reading Comprehension-
A reader has a purpose for reading, monitors for understanding while reading, and checks for understanding after reading.
Vocabulary Knowledge-
Vocabulary knowledge is built through experiences, conversations, and reading. A reader can learn new vocabulary words while reading by using word parts, attending to context clues, or using a dictionary.

If you find you have a reader struggling with any of these areas you may want to check out this resource from Reading Rockets.

Phonological Awareness Ideas

Read poetry and stories with rhyme or alliteration (same beginning sound).

Say a list of rhyming words. Have your child try some.

Clap syllables in names or words.

Read Alphabet books. Most libraries have a good selection.

Ask your child to say the beginning or ending sound of a word.

Surprise your child and say the wrong beginning or ending sound of a word when talking. Examples: “Please feed the sog.” “Let’s take the dot for a walk.”

Say some words in everyday conversations with a pause between each sound. Examples: “Can you get a (t)…(ow)…(el)?” “Did you remember your (l)…(u)…(n)…(ch)?”

Play with magnetic letters. Use letter name and letter sound. Match uppercase and lowercase letters. Make words, mix up, and put back together like a puzzle. Try starting with two and three letter words. This will teach your child to segment and blend sounds in words. (cat, dog, mom, dad, go, no, so, he, me, we, she) Sometimes let your child choose the words to make. Try to take away letters (star-tar, cart-car), add letters (star-start, park-spark), substitute beginning, middle, or ending letters (car-far, hit-hat, hit-him). Changing the beginning sounds and making a group of rhymes will teach your child to read chunks. (ten, hen, when, then) (hat, cat, rat, sat, that) (pig, big, wig) (got, hot, not)

Knowledge of Phonics and Word Recognition Ideas
Work with the alphabet until your child can recognize all letters by name. Practice making letters and learning the most common sound. Try to make letters the same way your child’s school forms them. Smearing finger paint on the slick side of freezer paper taped to a table, making the letter with pointer finger, and erasing by smearing again is a fun way to practice. Your child can follow your finger, trace your letter, or do it alone.

Help your child learn common words by sight. Start with about five words at a time. Make and mix up with magnetic letters. Use flashcards. Show words in stories you read to your child. Choose books at your child’s level with words your child is learning or knows. A list of known words can help you choose books for a beginning reader.

Make sure your child is taught common letter-sound relationships and has opportunities to practice. Your school should be teaching phonics. Learn common letter-sound relationships and teach your child while writing, reading, and working with magnetic letters. Keep track of which letter-sound relationships your child knows or almost knows. Teach the ones your child doesn’t know and encourage your child to use the ones known while reading and writing.

While reading, teach your child to look for common letter-sound relationships when trying to read a difficult word. Use your index fingers to frame the letters or a word part your child may know.* When framing with your fingers, your fingers cover up the letters around the ones you want your child to see. Then teach your child to do this. Breaking a word into smaller parts and then sounding it out helps. Even if the result is a nonsense word, at least it will be close to the correct word. Have your child read a few words past the difficult word. Then have your child read from the beginning of the sentence and give the word a try again thinking about the story and what would sound right in that sentence using some of the sounds from the nonsense word. If your child doesn’t get the word, say the word and let your child keep reading.

*It is very important a beginning reader looks at every part of a word from beginning to end while attempting to read. Encourage beginning readers not to look in the air and guess at a word. Have the reader point under the word, so the reader can combine letters with a word attempt that makes sense.

Fluent Reading Ideas

Read to your child with expression. Go back and reread if your reading didn’t sound right. Your child will learn fluent reading is important, and fluent reading makes sense.

Talk about punctuation marks. Point to quotation marks and talk about which character said the words inside the marks. What clues let us know? Do you hear how my voice changes with an exclamation mark or question mark? Show how reading sounds different if commas or periods are ignored. Compliment your child when he or she reads with expression and follows punctuation rules.

Have your child point under words when he or she reads. Make sure your child points only once on words with more than one syllable. Beginning readers match print to their voices and train their eyes to see words, spaces, and letters by pointing. Readers can stop pointing on easy text, or when their eyes take over the job of pointing.

You can try reading together. This can be done a number of ways. Read at the same time. Take turns. Pause and let your child read a word, group of words, or sentence. You and your child decide what works best. A child should be told difficult words or be given help with words if more than one word in ten is difficult.

Choose the right books to help your child read fluently on his or her own. Books should be at or below their ability with only about one in twenty difficult words. Books can be ones that have been read more than once. Get your child to read books many times. Reading familiar books will allow your child to practice fluent reading and be successful. Have your child read to you, a friend, a grandparent, a sister, or a brother.

If two or more words in a sentence are difficult encourage your child to go back and reread from the beginning of the sentence. Choppy broken up reading is hard to understand. Smooth and fluent reading lets the reader think about what is being read. When your child comes to a tricky word allow time to figure it out, but give the word if your child asks. It’s important to keep the flow of reading going.

Practice fluent reading in a quiet place without distractions.

Vocabulary Knowledge Ideas

Give your child experiences and conversations that increase vocabulary. Go places and do new things. Tell and ask about sights, information, and feelings. Be a good listener, and teach your child to be a good listener.

Read to your child. Read magazines, newspapers, nonfiction books, and stories above your child’s reading ability. Talk about the meanings of some new words before, during, and after reading. Choose words necessary for understanding or words your child will encounter often to discuss and teach. Decide together why an author might choose one word instead of another. Get your child to appreciate words and want to find out the meanings of new ones.

Help your child explore the meanings of words while reading or talking. Words can have more than one meaning. Words can be spelled the same but pronounced differently. Words can be pronounced the same but spelled the differently. Knowing a synonym (word that means the same) or an antonym (word that means the opposite) can help a person know more about the meaning of a word. Knowing the meaning of a suffix, a root word, or a prefix can help a person figure out a new word. Explain sayings that don’t mean what they really say. (It’s raining cats and dogs. Do you have a frog in your throat? Cat got your tongue? He has a big heart. He’s hard hearted. She wore her heart on her sleeve.)

Teach your child how to find meanings of words while reading. New words can be learned while reading by looking at word parts, context clues, or using a dictionary. Teach and show common prefixes and suffixes like un- , re-, -ful, and -less. Look for context clues around a new word while reading. Authors many times hint at the opposite meaning or same meaning of a difficult word. An author may explain or give an example to help a reader figure out a difficult word. If word parts or context clues don’t help, use a dictionary or try to think of another word that could fit in the sentence. All word meanings don’t have to be known to understand what is read.

Reading Comprehension Ideas

When you read to your child or listen to your child read make sure your child has a purpose for reading, monitors for understanding while reading, and understands what was read.

Talk about the book. Name the author and illustrator. Read the title. Look through pictures, but don’t show the last page if it gives away a surprise ending. Who are the characters? Where does this story take place? Discuss any difficult vocabulary. Will the story be funny? What might we learn? Make some predictions. Read to find out if your predictions are right.

While reading your child should look at pictures, ask questions, try to answer questions by rereading or reading on, make guesses, reread parts that weren’t fluent, talk about how a part is similar to a different story or experience he or she had, and have emotions or opinions about the reading. You can show your child how to monitor for understanding by doing it yourself or ask monitoring questions while reading.

There are a number of ways to check understanding after reading. Your child can answer who, what, when, where, and how questions; knows main idea and most important facts; can retell a story including, characters, setting, and important events in order; knows character traits; confirms predictions or guesses; and makes connections.

Teach your child to think about thinking in everyday life and your child will do it while reading. Ask your child questions and have your child to ask you questions outside of books. For example: What do you think we’ll see at the zoo today? Why are we going to the zoo? What if it rains today? Help your child determine cause or effect and fact or opinion. Ask your child for his or her opinion and to give reasons for his or her opinion. Ask your child the most important part or reason for something to get your child thinking about main ideas. Have your child tell you stories. Tell stories about yourself. Talk about character traits of family, friends, or pets. Make predictions and connections daily.


Finance said...

Hi Michelle I was wondering if you could also list my books on your recommended list. I wrote 20 children's books on Finance. You can check them out at
Father, Author & Professor of Finance

Michelle said...

I like the concept of your books, but I mostly list books I think will help a child become a better reader. Maybe someone will notice your link.

Domestic Goddess Mommy said...

Michelle, I LOVE your site. I have two emerging readers and I'm working on a series of phonics readers. Your information is fantastic for the professional and the parent!

Michelle said...

Thank you, Domestic Goddess Mommy! Comments like yours give me motivation to post and share more.
Which phonics reader series are you using? I'm always on the look out for good ones. I like to combine phonics with easy readers. Check out my Amazon store to see some of my recommended books for beginning readers. You may be able to find some at your local library.
There's a link to the store in my sidebar.

Jackie H. said...

Great artice, Michelle! You did a great job of explaining each topic. When I was teaching Reading Recovery I was explaining to an administrator how RR was recognized as meeting all 5 of those skills. Through out the conversation, I realized the administrator really didn't have a firm grasp on what each of those were! If only I had this article back then... I better bookmark it for quick reference in the future!!