How To Teach


Learning to read is like growing a tree.

The Five Essential Skills of Reading

Leaves and Fruit

Engagement with Texts and Books

The purpose of reading instruction is for students to become lifelong readers who read for pleasure and to gain knowledge.


Comprehension Skills

The higher-order thinking skills needed to glean and connect information such as: sequencing, identifying key words, and making predictions.



The automatic pathways of phonemic awareness, systematic phonics, and vocabulary skills that efficient readers develop.

Deep Roots

Phonemic Awareness, Systematic Phonics, & Vocabulary Skills

As students learn these basic skills which are required to make meaning from printed texts, they develop the neuro-pathways needed to read.

It All Begins With A Seed

The seed of reading readiness

Plant the seed of reading readiness by reading to children!

Starter Skills

  • Ability to distinguish shapes
  • Oral language skills
  • Familiarity with how to hold a book
  • Understanding writing words is a way to communicate
  • A desire to learn to read
  • The desire to learn can be revived.
The desire to learn can be revived

1st Essential Skill

The root of Phonemic Awareness

An understanding that spoken words are made up of sounds.

First Skill

Phonemic awareness is the most crucial root. If the skills of segmenting and blending are underdeveloped, the student will struggle with reading.


  • Understand that different sounds are produced by shaping the mouth, tongue, and lips in different ways.
  • Blend words from an auditory prompt.
  • Segment words into their individual sounds.
  • Identify first, medial, and final sounds.

2nd Essential Skill

The root of Systematic Phonics

An accurate written code which represents sounds as visual images.

Systematic Phonics

Taking time to develop strong roots -- phonemic awareness skills combined with accurate knowledge of the written code -- empowers students to read any word!

The System

  • English has a complex phonetic code.
  • The 44 sounds of English are written using 75 phonograms. A phonogram is a picture of a sound. A phonogram may have one letter such as k, two letters such as oy, three letters such as igh, our four letters such as ough. Phonograms may also make more than one sound such as the a in map, tape, and ma.
  • 31 spelling rules further explain how these spellings are used in English words.
Problem - Many 'phonics' programs explain only 40-60% of English words! That leaves hundreds of thousands of exceptions to be memorized by sight! Solution - Teach the tools that explain 98% of English words!

3rd Essential Skill

The trunk of Fluency

The mastery of the root skills of phonemic awareness and systematic phonics to the point of automaticity.


Early fluency skills are best developed through engaging practice. After students have learned phonemic awareness and phonics skills, they develop automaticity by using them to sound out words. Once the student is able to decode, the brain self-teaches fluency as the child reads!

Did You Know

  • Strong readers appear to be reading whole words; however, brain science has shown that strong readers are actually decoding individual sounds so rapidly that it appears instantaneous.
  • Fluency is like the trunk of a growing tree. Once it is established, it efficiently communicates the information upwards, just like the nutrients flowing up through a trunk, freeing the brain to focus on meaning.

4th Essential Skill

The root of Vocabulary Skills

Learning the meaning of new words and morphemes through direct and indirect instruction.


Students with strong vocabulary skills understand that words, especially big words, often include clues to their meaning. This knowledge empowers them to discover the meaning of unknown words.

Did You Know

  • Words are made up of units of meaning, called morphemes.
  • Morphemes provide clues to the meaning of unfamiliar words.
  • 90% of multi-syllable words include a Latin root. Knowing the meaning of common Latin roots aids in comprehension.
  • Strong readers increase their vocabulary through reading They can frequently deduce the meaning of an unknown word by looking at morphemes and context.

5th Essential Skill

The branches of Comprehension Skills

Skills and strategies a reader may use to better comprehend a text.


Students must also develop higher-order comprehension skills to fully benefit from and be able to use what they read.

Did You Know

  • Comprehension develops gradually as students gain foundational skills.
  • As emerging readers grow into reading, they begin by comprehending words, then phrases, and short sentences, followed by paragraphs, and eventually whole books.
  • As students grow in their reading ability, skills such as recalling facts, identifying key details, summarizing, predicting, making inferences, and forming and expressing an opinion will further the student’s understanding of texts.

Full Bloom

Strong readers are the fruit.

Tree in full bloom

If the root skills of phonemic awareness, systematic phonics, and vocabulary are weak, it will stunt the growth of the entire tree!

Did you Know

  • Only 36% of U.S. students in 4th grade are proficient in reading.
  • Students who struggle with reading will struggle with every other subject, even math.
  • Not teaching the foundational skills to the point of mastery results in repeated failure, leaves students frustrated and discouraged, contributes to dropout rates, and limits future career choices.
  • The Five Essential Skills of Reading should be taught until students have developed strong skills that will support a lifetime of reading.

Five Strands of Reading

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