Five Essential Components of Reading

What many may not realize is that reading is an incredibly complex process. Children don't just naturally learn to read—they have to learn, practice, and eventually master several different skills and concepts in order to become readers. The following are known as the 5 Essential Components of Reading and are the basic skills that children must develop early on in life.

  1. Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and use individual sounds to create words. Children need to be taught to hear the individual sounds in words and understand that words are made up of the smallest parts of sound, called phonemes. For example, the word /cat/ is made up of the individual sounds /c/ /a/ /t/, or "kuh-ah-tuh" when sounded out.
  2. Phonics is the connection between letter symbols and spoken sounds. Children need to be taught the sounds that individual printed letters and groups of letters make. Without phonics, words are simply a bunch of squiggles on a page without meaning. Knowing these relationships between letters and sounds help kids to recognize familiar words accurately and quickly and also decode new words.
  3. Vocabulary Development is learning the meaning and pronunciation of words. Children need to actively expand their knowledge of written and spoken words in order to understand more of what they read and hear.
  4. Reading Fluency is the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and expression. This requires children to use multiple reading skills at the same time and can be measured both through oral and silent reading. Reading fluency relates directly to comprehension—if children aren't fluent readers, they will spend too much time decoding new words and are likely to forget the meaning of what they read.
  5. Reading Comprehension is the ability to understand what a text is all about. It is the most complex aspect of reading and is achieved only by first developing the other four skills mentioned above. In order to comprehend what they read, children must understand how to put words together and use prior knowledge to give meaning to a text. Reading comprehension also involves acquiring strategies to understand, remember, and communicate what is read, such as asking and answering questions or summarizing.

The first three—phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary—
are the most important for children to develop before entering kindergarten.

Parents and caregivers play a huge role in helping children to learn these skills,
and there are simple ways to practice them on a daily basis.

Please read the following information for some of these simple tips and activities:

Developing Phonemic Awareness:

  • Check with your child's teacher or principal to make sure the school's reading program teaches phonemic awareness skills.
  • When doing activities to help your child build sound skills, make sure they are short and fun, and avoid allowing your child to get frustrated.
  • Help your child think of a number of words that start with the /m/ or /ch/ sound, or other beginning sounds.
  • Make up silly sentences with words that begin with the same sound, such as "Nobody was nice to Nancy's neighbor".
  • Play simple rhyming or blending games with your child, such as taking turns coming up with words that rhyme (go – no) or blending simple words (/d/, /o/, /g/ = dog).
  • Read books with rhymes. Teach your child rhymes, short poems, and songs.
  • Practice the alphabet by pointing out letters wherever you see them and by reading alphabet books or playing with alphabet magnets or blocks.

Developing Phonics:

  • Check with your child's teacher or principal to make sure the school's reading program teaches phonological skills.
  • Encourage your children to sound out new words as the first option, rather than having them guess from context clues.
  • Help your children to recognize high-frequency words like 'they' and 'said' automatically. This can be done with cards or by learning to write them.
  • When your child reads a word incorrectly, ask him to attempt it a second time. Prompt him to sound it out or break it up into syllables if needed.
  • Always give your children a chance to work out a word for themselves before telling them what it is.
  • Point out letters that you see around the house or when you go out, and have your child tell you what they are. On a long drive, play a game where you have to point out words on signs that start with A, then B, then all the way through the alphabet.

Developing Vocabulary:

  • Talking to your child is a great way to develop his vocabulary. Talk with each other all the time—while cooking, making dinner, driving, or taking a walk. Explain new words that come up in conversation. This doesn't have to take a long time—just use a couple minutes to talk about the word, and then return to the conversation.
  • Pointing out new words while reading with your child is another terrific way to build vocabulary. Ask questions and have short conversations about interesting words you find in stories ("The book says, 'The boy tumbled down the hill,' and look at the picture! How do you think he went down the hill?").
  • Choose which words to talk about carefully—choosing every new word that comes up may make reading seem like a chore. The best words to talk about are ones that are used commonly by adult speakers but do not frequently appear in your child's books.
  • Keep the following four hints in mind when introducing new words:


  1. First, provide a simple, kid-friendly definition for the new word:
    • Enormous means that something is really, really big.
  2. Second, provide a simple, kid-friendly example that makes sense within their daily life:
    • Remember that really big watermelon we got at the grocery store? That was an enormous watermelon!
  3. Third, encourage your child to develop their own example:
    • What enormous thing can you think of? Can you think of something really big that you saw today? That's right! The bulldozer near the park was enormous! Those tires were huge.
  4. Lastly, keep your new words active within your house.
    • Over the next few days and weeks, take advantage of opportunities to use each new vocabulary word in conversation.

Sites Used:
My Child's Academic Success - U.S. Department of Education
Reading Rockets
Your Kids Ed