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Breaking the Code: Primary Grade Reading Skills

Encourage these signs of progress in your emerging reader.
 

Learning Benefits

Hover over each Learning Benefit below for a detailed explanation.
Spelling
Writing
Phonics
Reading Comprehension

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Cover image for Click, Clack, Moo
Click, Clack, Moo
by Doreen Cronin Illustrated by Betsy Lewin
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To read a book, your child needs to sound out words, recognize common ones like “the,” understand what the text means, and read fast enough to make sense of the story. The National Research Council, the National Institute for Literacy, and the National Reading Panel, a group commissioned by Congress to determine consensus in reading research, identified these key skills to learn how to read:

  • Phonics. Knowing the relationship between the sounds of spoken language and the letters of written language is essential for reading.

    Reading milestones:
    • Understanding that the order of letters in a written word represents the order of sounds in a spoken word
    • Knowing the sounds letters make
    • Blending letter sounds together to make a word /b/ /i/ /g/ makes "big"
    • Sounding out words she doesn't know, both real and nonsense: "sit" and "zot"
    • Developing an understanding of often-used prefixes and suffixes, such as un- and -ing, -ed, -s, and -est.
       
  • Word recognition: Many common words in English, such as "the" and "one," don't fit the phonics rules, so your child needs to memorize them.

    Reading milestones:
    • Automatically reading high-frequency irregular words such as "are," "was," "were," "you," and "said"
    • Instantly reading familiar words such as "cat," "dog," "mother," and "daddy" without having to sound them out
       
  • Fluency: To read fluently, your child must not only be able to recognize words instantly, but also be able to divide the text into meaningful chunks.

    Reading milestones:
    • Reading aloud with expression
    • Pausing at appropriate spots in the text
       
  • Spelling and writing: Your child increases his knowledge of how print works when he spells and writes on his own. When he makes each letter, he learns to associate a sound with it. At first he may write "book" as bk — because he hears the /b/ and /k/ sounds. With instruction, he learns correct spelling.

    Milestones:
    • Correctly spelling previously studied words
    • Spelling a word the way it sounds if he doesn't know how to spell it
    • Knowing the mechanics of writing — sentences, capitalization, punctuation
       
  • Comprehension: To read, your child must understand the meaning of the words. She builds comprehension when she discusses what she thinks a book will be about and summarizes what happened in a story. Her understanding increases as her vocabulary expands.

    Reading milestones:
    • Predicting what might happen next in a story
    • Noticing that a word she's just read doesn't make sense in a sentence
    • Recalling facts and details from texts

The Reading Toolkit