Beginning Reading (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Apr 21, 2014

Teaching Tips: Phonological Awareness and Alphabetic Understanding

  1. Make phonological awareness instruction explicit. Use conspicuous strategies and make phonemes prominent to students by modeling specific sounds and asking students to reproduce the sounds. 
  2. Ease into the complexities of phonological awareness. Begin with easy words and progress to more difficult ones. 
  3. Provide support and assistance. The following research-based instructional sequence summarizes the kind of scaffolding beginning readers need: (a) model the sound or the strategy for making the sound; (b) have students use the strategy to produce the sound; (c) repeat steps (a) and (b) using several sounds for each type and level of difficulty; (d) prompt students to use the strategy during guided practice; (e) use steps (a) through (d) to introduce more difficult examples. 
  4. Develop a sequence and schedule, tailored to each child's needs, for opportunities to apply and develop facility with sounds. Give this schedule top priority among all classroom activities. 

Reading Words

According to Juel (1991), children who are ready to begin reading words have developed the following prerequisite skills. They understand that (a) words can be spoken or written, (b) print corresponds to speech, and (c) words are composed of phonemes (sounds). (This is phonological awareness.) Beginning readers with these skills are also more likely to gain the understanding that words are composed of individual letters and that these letters correspond to sounds. This "mapping of print to speech" that establishes a clear link between a letter and a sound is referred to as alphabetic understanding. 

The research on word recognition is clear and widely accepted, and the general finding is straightforward: Reading comprehension and other higher-order reading activities depend on strong word recognition skills. These skills include phonological decoding. This means that, to read words, a reader must first see a word and then access its meaning in memory (Chard, Simmons & Kameenui, 1995). 

But to do this, the reader must do the following: 

  1. Translate a word into its phonological counterpart, (e.g., the word sat is translated into the individual phonemes (/s/, /a/, and /t/). 
  2. Remember the correct sequence of sounds. 
  3. Blend the sounds together. 
  4. Search his or her memory for a real word that matches the string of sounds (/s/, /a/, and /t/). 

Skillful readers do this so automatically and rapidly that it looks like the natural reading of whole words and not the sequential translation of letters into sounds and sounds into words. Mastering the prerequisites for word recognition may be enough for many children to make the link between the written word and its meaning with little guidance. For some children, however, more explicit teaching of word recognition is necessary. 

Beginning reading is the solid foundation on which almost all subsequent learning takes place. All children need this foundation, and research has shown the way to building it for students with diverse needs and abilities. 

Teaching Tips: Reading Words

  1. Develop explicit awareness of the connection between sounds and letters and sounds and words: Teach letter-sound correspondence by presenting the letter and modeling the sound. Model the sounds of the word, then blend the sounds together and say the word. 
  2. Attend to (a) the sequence in which letter-sound correspondences are taught; (b) the speed with which the student moves from sounding out to blending words to reading connected text; and (c) the size and familiarity of the words. 
  3. Support learning by modeling new sounds and words, correcting errors promptly and explicitly, and sequencing reading tasks from easy to more difficult. 
  4. Schedule opportunities to practice and review each task, according to the child's needs, and give them top priority. 


Chard, D. J., Simmons, D. C., & Kameenui, E. J. (February, 1995). Word Recognition: Curricular and Instructional Implications for Diverse Learners. (Technical Report No. 16). Eugene: National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators, University of Oregon. 

Juel, C. (1991). Beginning Reading. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research. (V 2, pp. 759-788). New York: Longman. 

Smith, S. B., Simmons, D. C. & Kameenui, E. J. (February, 1995). Synthesis of Research on Phonological Awareness: Principles and Implications for Reading Acquisition. (Technical Report No. 21). Eugene: National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators, University of Oregon. 

Stanovich, K. E. (1994). Romance and Reality. The Reading Teacher, 47, 280-290. 

Based on "Shakespeare and Beginning Reading: The Readiness Is All'" by Edward J. Kameenui in "From the ERIC Clearinghouse," TEACHING Exceptional Children, Winter 1996, pages 77-81.

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