Posted in Reading

The ‘Big 5’ of Reading

The ‘Big 5’ of reading is a fun way of describing the five core areas of reading instruction. These areas include:

1. Phonemic Awareness

• Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds, or phonemes, in spoken words.
• Phonemic awareness is important because it improves children’s word reading and reading comprehension. It also helps them learn to spell.
• Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when children are taught to manipulate phonemes using letters of the alphabet, and when instruction only focuses on one or two (rather than several types) types of phoneme manipulation.
• The phoneme manipulation tasks which are commonly used to assess or teach children phonemic awareness include:
Phoneme isolation: The ability to recognize individual sounds in words (i.e., “Tell me the first sound in boat. That’s right, it’s /b/.”).

Phoneme identification: The ability to recognize the common sound in different words (i.e., “Tell me the sound that is the same in hike, hut, and hill. That’s right, it’s /h/.”).

Phoneme categorization: The ability to recognize the word with the “odd” sound in a set of three or four words (i.e., Which word doesn’t belong: bus, bun, rug. That’s right, rug doesn’t belong because it doesn’t start with/b/.”).

Phoneme blending: The ability to listen to a sequence of separately spoken sounds and combine them to form a recognizable word (i.e. For example, “What word is /s/ /k/ /u/ /1/?” (school)

Phoneme segmentation: The ability to break a word down into its sounds by tapping out/counting the sounds or by pronouncing and positioning a marker for each sound (i.e., “How many phonemes are there in ship? That’s right, there are three, sh-i-p.”).

Phoneme deletion: The ability to recognize what word remains when a specified phoneme is removed (i.e., “Say smile. Now say it again but don’t say /s/. That’s right, you get mile.”).

Phoneme substitution: The ability to replace one phoneme with another to make a new word (i.e., “Say book. Now say it again but change /u/ to /a/. That’s right, you get back.”).

Phoneme addition: The ability to add a phoneme to an existing word to make a new word (i.e., “What word do you have if you add /s/ to the beginning of park? That’s right, you get spark.”).

2. Phonics
• Phonics is the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (individual sounds of spoken language) and graphemes (letters of written language).
• Phonics instruction involves teaching students how to use these letter-sound correspondences to read and write words.
• Phonemic awareness is needed before children can benefit from phonics instruction (since phonemes should be understand at the spoken word level before transitioning to relating phonemes to graphemes in written words)
• In order to be effective, phonics instruction programs should be systematic (include a carefully selected set of well-organized, letter-sound relationships) and explicit (teachers given precise directions on how to teach the relationships).
• Phonics instruction helps improve children’s word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension, and is most effective when started in kindergarten or grade one.

3. Fluency
• Fluency refers to the ability to read a text accurately and quickly.
• Fluent readers are able to focus their attention on comprehension (i.e., making connections between the ideas in a text and their background knowledge), while less fluent readers are focused on decoding individual words and have little attention left for comprehending the text.
• Reading fluency can be developed by modeling fluent reading and having students engage in repeated oral reading.
• Some activities for repeated oral reading practice include:
Student-adult reading: Reading one-on-one with an adult who provides a model of fluent reading, helps with word recognition, and provides feedback.

Choral reading: Reading aloud simultaneously in a group.

Tape-assisted reading: Reading aloud simultaneously or as an echo with an audio-taped model.

Partner reading: Reading aloud with a more fluent partner (or with a partner of equal ability) who provides a model of fluent reading, helps with word recognition, and provides feedback.

Readers’ theatre: Rehearsing and performing a dialogue-rich script derived from a book to an audience.

4. Vocabulary
• Vocabulary refers to the words we must know to communicate effectively.
• Oral vocabulary describes words we use in speaking or recognize in listening, while reading vocabulary refers to words we recognize or use in print.
• Vocabulary is important because it forms a foundation which allows comprehension to occur.
• Vocabulary instruction should focus on teaching the following types of words:
Important words: Words that must be known to understand main concepts or the text.

Useful words: Words which students are likely to see and use again.

Difficult words: Words with multiple meanings and idiomatic expressions tend to be particularly difficult for students.

5. Text Comprehension
• Text comprehension is the goal of reading, and thus children must be able to move beyond reading individual words in order to comprehend texts.
• Text comprehension can be improved by instruction that helps readers use specific comprehension strategies. These strategies include:
Monitoring comprehension: Students should be aware of what they do understand, identify what they do not understand, and use the necessary “fix-up” strategies (i.e., look back through text, restate difficult sentence in own words, etc.) to resolve comprehension problems.

Using graphic and semantic organizers: Graphic organizers can help students write well-organized summaries, focus on text structure as they read, and visually represent relationships.

Answering questions: Having students answer questions can help teachers guide and monitor children’s learning, focus students’ attention on important information, encourage comprehension monitoring, and help students think actively as they read.

Generating questions: Having students generate their own questions demonstrates if they understand what they have read and can improve their active processing.

Recognizing story structure: Story structure describes the way the content and events of a story are organized into a plot. Recognizing story structure improves students’ comprehension and memory of stories.

Summarizing: Summarizing requires students to identify the most important ideas in a text and describe these ideas in their own words.

Now that the basics are covered, I’ll be providing information about reading programs which address the ‘Big 5’ in a future post!

For more information, check out these additional resources:

National Institute for Literacy: Put Reading First (Kindergarten to Grade 3)
• This resource provides detailed information about the ‘Big 5’ of reading and strategies to teach each of the five core areas.


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