Reading Teacher

What Are Early Literacy Skills

What Are Early Literacy Skills

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What counts as an early reader?


If you’re pals with a preschooler, you probably know one! Early readers, also called early emergent readers, are in the earliest stage of their reading journeys. They’re learning about reading and writing before they’ve actually learned to read and write. Parents and educators can expect lots of scribbling, pointing at familiar sight words, and a growing interest in characters and objects in books.


Youngsters will develop their early literacy skills until around age four or five, when many start to receive formal literacy instruction at school. Until then, it’s important to understand the basics of early reading and ignite your child’s interest in the vast world of books, stories, and characters.


Let’s get to it! We’ll outline the basic early literacy skills and help you feel prepared for this foundational stage of literacy development.


What Are the Basic Early Literacy Skills


By the time your child is showing an active interest in books and an ability to draw and “write” (well, scribble) on their own, they’re in the classic stage of early literacy.


Whenever we’re talking about stages of literacy development, it’s important to remember that children learn to read at different rates! Your child might start to read confidently in kindergarten, first grade, third grade, or later. As long as they have a supportive adult and educator by their side, there is no “correct” or expected time to transition from an early reader to a fluent reader.


With this in mind, here are six basic early literacy skills most commonly identified by reading experts.


1.    Print Motivation

This is a fancy way to describe a child’s early interest in books. The earlier you can encourage a child to engage with books, the better. Once they discover that listening to an adult read their favorite book is FUN, they’ll be more motivated to listen to and eventually read books on their own.

kids learning

2.    Print Awareness

Children have to be aware of words before they read them! This skill requires children to learn the basic “anatomy” of a book: its front and back covers, the first page, and how to read from left to right - and right side up!


Like any skill, print awareness grows with exposure to books. As you’re reading with your child, hold the book together and allow them to turn the pages. This familiarizes them with the look and feel of a traditional book.


3.    Narrative Skills

If your child is fond of describing or retelling stories from books, they’re practicing their narrative skills, meaning that they’ve comprehended what they read. These skills often develop alongside print motivation: after all, the better we comprehend a story, the more likely we’ll finish it and pick up a new book.


To help build narrative skills, don’t limit the magic of storytelling to books alone: you can also encourage kids to talk about a silly story from their day, and take time throughout the week to talk about repeated events or objects.


By helping children understand the connections between people, places, and feelings, they’ll discover that stories exist everywhere: both in and outside of books.

reading programs for kids

4.    Vocabulary

If you’ve ever caught your four year-old copying your adult-level vocabulary, you’re familiar with this early reading skill!


Sure, they’ll learn new vocab by simply spending time with their favorite grown-ups. But how can adults actively support early childhood vocab development?


In addition to reading books together, experts recommend that parents and educators speak to children in a conversational, positive tone. Giving commands and simple “yes”/”no” answers do not support the development of more nuanced, complex vocabulary.


5.    Letter Knowledge

Any fluent reader knows that a word is made up of individual letters. But in our early reading days, this was a major breakthrough.


To develop this simple skill, we can’t just sing the Alphabet Song. Children should also be encouraged to look and talk about different letters in ABC books and “I Spy” games. It’s equally important for children to learn about shapes during the early reading stage, since letters are made up of circles, squares, and other basic forms.

tools to improve literacy skills

6.    Phonological Awareness

One of our favorite early reading skills at Reading Teacher is phonological awareness: the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in spoken language. Children will start to develop this skill simply by hearing YOU, a supportive adult, read books to them.


Over time, early readers will learn to recognize when words rhyme and share the same starting or ending sounds. When reading a book aloud to an early reader, you can focus on this skill by “zooming in” on a new word, repeating it, and asking them to break the syllables apart by clapping: for example, “Oc/to/ber” or “Su/per/man” each require three claps.


It will take time, motivation, and patience to move from these early literacy skills to fluent reading. Yet as any adult reader can attest, this early investment is well worth a lifetime supply of books - and the joy they bring. Happy early reading!




  • Early reading skills, often used interchangeably with emergent reading skills, are developed from birth until a child gains the tools to actually read and write. These skills include:
    • Print motivation
    • Print awareness
    • Narrative skills
    • Vocabulary
    • Letter knowledge
    • Phonological awareness
  • These six skills are developed at home and/or in the classroom, through both regular exposure to books and in conversation with supportive adults.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

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Fluency Practice Games

Fluency Practice Games

Imagine a robot reading a classic children’s book: perhaps Where the Wild Things Are or The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog. The robot’s voice sounds choppy, slow, and expressionless; and oddly enough, it reminds you of the way your first grader reads!


Many early readers are stuck in the “robot stage.” They can recognize and read many words, but their pace is slow and the expression isn’t quite right. In short: they haven’t developed reading fluency.


Today, we’re rescuing you from the robots. We’ll explain reading fluency, outline why it’s important, and offer five reading games that help youngsters practice this essential reading skill.

Picture 1

What does reading fluency mean?


Reading fluency means the ability to read smoothly and accurately with speed, expression, and confidence. If you compare a kindergartner to a literate adult, you’ll probably notice that the kindergartner reads choppily and slowly.


Why is reading fluency important?


Reading fluency is important because it’s essential for comprehension. If children are slowed down by decoding each word, they have less brain power to focus on the meaning of the words and story.


As they build their vocabulary of sight words, learn to decode, and explore more book genres, young book lovers will blossom into fluent readers.


But how do we get there? The answer is lots of practice, lots of reading, and plenty of games.


Yes, you heard that right. Fun reading games are not only helpful, but 100% necessary when working toward the goal of reading fluency. Here are five reading fluency activities to introduce at-home, in the classroom, or even during the drive to soccer practice.


1.   Speed Read


When it comes to any educational activity, it’s important to remember that accuracy is always more important than speed. To achieve fluency, however, students need to gradually increasing their reading pace. Even as adults, some people read slower than others: the goal is to become a smoother, more confident reader.


For this reading game, you’ll just need a set of flashcards with decodable words. Lay one or a few cards out and have the student(s) read as many words as they can in a minute. This can be done in groups and doesn’t need to be competitive! Simply document the student’s word count each day so they can see their progress over time.

Picture 2

2.   Echo Reading


Echo… echo! Many youngsters find it challenging to read with the correct expression or emotion. In this reading game, an adult reads a passage aloud with lots of expression; then, the student echoes their reading and tries to match the expression used.


3.   Poetry Party


Poems are a sneaky way to incorporate creativity and reading fluency practice into a standard lesson. Rhyming poems are perfect for building fluency: they help students see and hear the relationships between words in a sentence.


Similar to echo reading, have students read poems aloud after a teacher recites them; and in older classrooms, they can write and read their own!


4.   Look Ahead


It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a WORD! Teach students to “look ahead” or preview the next word in the sentence with this simple reading game. To gamify this concept, you can create a silly worksheet or have kids draw arrows to the words they’ll need to preview. See below for an example!

Picture 3

Image source

5.   Read Like You Speak


This is a simple strategy to avoid robot reading. Encourage kids to read like they are talking to a friend or loved one. To create the right “atmosphere” for reading, they can practice in a familiar space at home in front of a parent, sibling, or even stuffed animals. As an audience member, encourage the student to speak in phrases and stop for breaths - just like they would in an everyday conversation.


With these five reading games at your disposal, you can help your students increase their reading fluency - and bid goodbye to robot reading.

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  • Reading fluency is the ability to read with expression, speed, and accuracy. Fluency is essential for reading comprehension, and both are building blocks for lifelong literacy.
  • There are a variety of reading games to help kids stretch their reading muscles and improve reading fluency, including:
    • Speed Reading
    • Echo Reading (to practice emotion)
    • Poetry Party (to practice rhyming!)
    • Looking Ahead (at the next word)
    • Read Like You Speak

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

Heart Word Mapping: A Magic Method to Teach Sight Words

Heart Word Mapping: A Magic Method to Teach Sight Words

In every reading lesson, there’s always room for fun, creativity, and maybe even magic.


If you’re planning to teach high-frequency or sight words, it’s time to add some heart word magic to your lesson plan.


Let’s uncover the difference between sight and high-frequency words, dive into the details of the heart word method, and help early readers learn those tricky heart words with a sprinkle of magic.

Picture 1

Sight Words vs. High-Frequency Words


Simply put, high-frequency words are the ones most commonly seen and used in a child’s native language. In the English language, there are hundreds of recurring words: some examples include “said,” “it,” “was,” “for,” and “with.”


Sight words are more specifically defined as simple words that a reader can “see” and pronounce without sounding out or guessing. Examples include “the,” “a,”, “I,” “to,” and other words that can’t be sounded out easily out but appear regularly in decodable books.


There is some debate among reading experts regarding the difference between sight words vs. high-frequency words: we’re talking about the science of reading, after all! Some researchers argue that some sight words are phonetically regular  - and, therefore, decodable.


For the sake of simplicity, just remember that heart word mapping can be used to help readers learn both sight words and high-frequency words. The goal is to turn high-frequency words into sight words so that students can read them effortlessly.

Picture 2

What are heart words?


Heart words are high-frequency irregular words that don’t follow the standard rules of spelling. These words are often compared to flash words: high-frequency and regularly-spelled words that many students learn “in a flash.”


Some common heart words include:

  • said
  • were
  • where
  • do
  • one
  • very


…and plenty more! The “magic key” to learning heart words is focusing on what can be sounded out. Even in these sneaky irregular words, students can put their decoding skills to action using the heart word method.

Picture 3

How To Teach Heart Words


Once you’ve defined and created a list of heart words, it’s time to witness the magic of heart word mapping. Here are the main steps for teaching heart words to early readers:


1) Introduce the words and have students practice saying it aloud.


2) Together, tap out each sound you hear in the word. Students can use their fingers to tap and count the sounds. Tally the taps to determine how many sounds they hear in the word!


3) Identify the sounds in the word that can be sounded out phonetically. Once students have identified the regular sounds, they can place a colored box under each corresponding letter. Here’s a quick example.


a) In the word was, the /w/ sound is phonetically regular. However, the /as/ sound is irregular in this context - which can be tricky for little ears to hear!

b) Readers will place a colored box under “w”: the only letter that can be sounded out regularly.


4) Here come the irregular sounds! Students will place a heart under the letters that correspond to the irregular sound.

a) Again using the word was as an example, students would draw a heart below the /as/.


5) Educators should explicitly teach the irregular sound formed by the heart letters. The goal is to learn this sound “by heart” so that students can effortlessly read the entire heart word.


Heart Word Activities


The learning doesn’t stop here! After students create their heart word maps, they’re ready to jump into some heart-filled activities. Here are some ideas to get hearts beatin’ and youngsters reading with confidence.

Picture 4

1.    Heart Word Hot Seat


Put heart words in the hot seat! Ask students a variety of interview-style questions about a given heart word:


a) What is its first/ last letter?

b) What are the heart letters?

c) Can you use the word in a sentence?

d) Can you think of a word that rhymes with the heart word?


Encourage students to think aloud and brainstorm with each other to answer these questions and get to know their heart words better!


2.     Heart Word Flashcards


Move over, store-bought flashcards! Students can create their own colorful flashcards and put a heart around or under the heart letters in each word. Students will learn more about each word by creating their own flashcards - and they’ll end up with a homemade resource to continue practicing their heart words.


3.     Air Writing


If students are struggling to look away from their flashcards, encourage them to snap a mental photograph of a heart word, then cover it up and write it in the air with their finger. This simple activity helps students exercise their writing muscles and encourages long-term memorization of heart words.

Picture 5

Heart word mapping helps students visualize and memorize those pesky irregular words. Create a list of heart words, get out your pens and paper, and prepare yourself for some heart word magic.




  • Heart words are phonetically irregular words that occur frequently in text and spoken language.
  • Heart word mapping can help students read sight words and high-frequency words more fluently.
  • After students learn how to create heart word maps, educators can lead them through a variety of related activities, including:
    • Heart Word Hot Seat
    • Heart Word Flashcards

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

When Do Emergent Literacy Skills Begin to Develop?

When Do Emergent Literacy Skills Begin to Develop?

Ah, literacy lingo: it’s loved by researchers and tolerated (begrudgingly!) by parents and teachers.


If you’re a teacher or parent of an emergent reader, you’ve likely encountered your fair share of reading-related lingo. While language evolves with our understanding of how young people learn to read, it can be taxing to keep up!


Today, we’re unpacking the lingo of emergent literacy. We’ll discuss what emergent literacy means and when these skills develop; as always, we’ll follow with research-backed strategies to encourage emergent readers when words get tough.

Emergent Literacy Skills Begin to Develop

What is an Emergent Reader?


First, a quick recap: an emergent reader is literally “emerging” into a new phase of reading potential. You’ll notice that an emergent reader displays some - or all - of the following behaviors:

  • Points out high-frequency words in books and in everyday contexts (for example, on signs or menus)
  • Writes in scribbles or incoherent strings of letters
  • Expresses excitement about reading and listening to others read


There’s no “correct” timing or sequence for the development of emergent literacy skills. That said, many researchers argue that literacy skills begin to develop from birth. As soon as children begin to see and interact with print at home, in public settings like the store or daycare, and eventually at school, they’ll begin to recognize and point out familiar words and symbols.


Why Emergent Literacy is Important


Compared to other stages of literacy development, researchers emphasize emergent literacy as the foundation of lifelong learning. From birth to the preschool years, children absorb a remarkable amount of information. As a supportive adult, it’s less important to follow and perfect the lingo of literacy, as it’s always changing! Instead, we encourage parents and educators to concentrate on and encourage children’s natural interests in words, stories, and images.


The importance of emergent literacy can also be explained using the relationship between written and spoken language. As fluent readers, we don’t just read in silence: frequently, we also read aloud and speak to others about what we’ve just read! When surrounded by fluent adult readers, emergent readers will gradually develop their sound awareness - the ability to hear phonemes - and their confidence.


In this way, you can think of emergent literacy as a 24/7 Book Club. Emergent readers are seeing and sounding out new words on a daily basis; ideally, they’re given ample opportunities to talk about the new words and stories they hear or see hear.

Emergent Literacy Skills

Emergent Literacy Activities


Even before children begin school, they’re considered emergent readers. Using the following activities, you can engage your reader in the joy of reading, writing, and sharing books with others.


Before Preschool:


1.     Talk, talk, talk!

Talk to your child. Name objects, people, and events in your everyday world.


2.     Sound repetition

Young children will often string together series of sounds. Those sound strings might be incomprehensible now, but they’re worth repeating! Hearing am adult speak the same sounds back to them will enhance a child’s sound awareness - and, over time, their ability to hear and speak new words.


3.     Point!

When it comes to reading, pointing isn’t considered poor manners! For emergent readers, pointing out signs and logos will improve their recognition of print in everyday contexts.


During Preschool:


1.     Singing and rhyming

Sing it out! Many songs incorporate rhymes and short words that are easy for little ears to hear and sound out on their own. A rhyming song structure also demonstrates how different words can sound and feel similar when spoken aloud.


2.     Drawing

Take a break from the daily reading lesson: it’s time to unlock your child’s creative side. Drawing can help emergent readers communicate more complicated stories and ideas, even before they have the writing skills to do so.

emergent literacy

After Preschool:


1.     Popcorn reading:

As your child becomes more comfortable with reading, you can play “popcorn” and take turns reading parts of a book. Your child gets to hear proper pronunciation, practice their own, and enjoy some quality time with one of their favorite adults!


2.     Games

Emergent literacy is a time of exploration and play - so games are a natural addition to the learning process! Some of our favorite games for this age group emphasize pretend play. Any emergent reader can design a fantasy world inspired by their favorite book or story.

Adults can even create a “mystery box” filled with creative and educational materials, such as a notepad for writing secret messages or an object related to a story the child just read.

emergent reader



  • Emergent literacy spans from birth to the preschool years, although the timeframe varies depending on the child and other situational factors.
  • The emergent phase of reading development sets the foundation for a child’s reading journey.
    • As emergent readers, children develop their sound awareness and begin to recognize the relationship between words and spoken language.
  • To support emergent readers through preschool and beyond, adults can use a variety of low-cost activities that focus on sound awareness, pronunciation, and play!

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

What Age Should a Child Be Able to Read?

What Age Should a Child Be Able to Read?

Certainly, it’s rare to see a baby reading. But by the time your Baby Einstein reaches first or second grade, should they be able to read?


Whether you’re a parent, educator, or just a curious reader, this question is both incredibly common and highly contested. Like any other developmental skill, reading is a process: one that can vary dramatically based on a student’s environment, personal interests, and their reading curriculum.


After months of virtual reading instruction, the expected timeframe to reach reading fluency has changed significantly. Whether your 1st grader is struggling to read or your high schooler chooses TikTok over books, just remember: you’re not alone in the struggle!


Today, we’re addressing one of the biggest FAQs in the science of reading - and dispelling some common myths stirred up by this debate.

Age of a Child Be Able to Read

When Do Kids Learn to Read?

According to U.S. News, reading experts say that most children learn to read by age 6 or 7, when they’re typically in first or second grade.


While this is an average, there is no “normal” age for learning how to read. As with any developmental milestone, rates of reading progress will vary: some parents report that their children are reading competently at age 3, while other readers don’t achieve full fluency (and confidence!) until age 12 or 13.


The main takeaway? Regardless of when students learn how to read, the’re most likely to succeed when they have access to high-quality literacy instruction with an emphasis on phonemic awareness and decoding. In particular, past studies have illuminated phonemic awareness as the key differentiator between good readers and “late bloomers.”

Teach your child learn to read

Without early reading intervention, researchers found that average and below-average readers developed significant skill deficits that perpetuated reading gaps, even through high school.


Reading Milestones by Grade

If you’re trying to determine where your student falls along the path to reading fluency, experts suggest the following reading milestones:


Most toddlers are emergent readers. They may not know how to read, but many look forward to Story Time. If you’re the parent of a toddler (or any emergent reader), you’ve probably committed their favorite book to memory. Many toddlers also write in scribbles: if anything, they understand that reading and writing are powerful tools of communication.


Similar to toddlers, most preschoolers are still in the emergent stage of reading! Preschoolers may also learn the alphabet song and even recognize the first letter of their name. You might see them pretending to read and/or pointing out high-frequency words in everyday life, like “STOP” on a stop sign.


When kids hit kindergarten, it’s usually time to zoom in on the foundations of reading. Not every child has regular opportunities to read at home, so it’s important for educators to teach the basic structure of a book: the front, back, title, author, and the sentences that make up a story! Many kindergartners also learn about rhyming, one-syllable words, and sight words.

First and Second Graders:

Many first and second graders are still developing readers. They’re solidifying the basics of reading: the alphabet, decoding, phonics, and sight words, all of which are essential for long-term reading fluency.

Third Grade and Beyond:

Realistically, many older elementary students are still developing their reading skills! By third grade, they’re often transitioning to longer books. Even as the texts become more complicated, they’ll persevere with their decoding skills. Eventually, picture books will be in the rear-view mirror, and they’ll advance to both reading and writing in paragraphs.

How To Support a Struggling First Grader


Parents may begin to notice early literacy issues in first grade, when learning to read is often a main focus in the classroom.

While most kids won’t achieve full reading competency until they’re in elementary school, starting their reading journey early is often beneficial. Here are some simple-yet-powerful tips to support a first grader who’s struggling to read:

Read aloud - and together.

The power of simply reading words aloud should not be overlooked. Reading aloud is helpful for first graders who are just grasping their phonemes, as well as older readers who may want to practice new vocabulary words in the presence of a supportive adult.


Get playful! Hands-on, creative reading lessons are the best for struggling readers and kinesthetic learners. Incorporate word maps, phoneme poppers, and any other lesson format that gets your reader thinking and moving.


An important disclaimer: these tips aren’t exclusively for first graders! There’s no cut-off for learning how to read. As schools continue to recover from learning loss, a combination of phonics, playfulness, and patience is needed to help students to reach - and then surpass - their next reading milestone.

learn to read


  • While there’s no “normal” age for a student to learn how to read, many U.S. classrooms teach the foundations of reading in first and second grade, when students are typically 6 or 7 years old.
  • Most literacy experts agree on general reading milestones based on grade; but these vary depending on the reading curriculum and students’ unique skills, needs, and experiences.
  • As classrooms recover from the pandemic, supportive adults are encouraged to adopt a playful, patient approach with any young reader - regardless of the student’s age!

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

What Is a Word Map?

What Is a Word Map?

Who doesn’t love a treasure map?


Even as adults, many of us can remember drafting up a map on looseleaf paper and excavating a neighbor’s yard, a local park, or maybe just a bedroom.


With word mapping, parents and educators can utilize the magic of a treasure map. By framing new words as treasures waiting to be found, reading becomes 10x more exciting - and infinitely more rewarding. Read on to learn more about the magic of word maps, followed by ways to incorporate this strategy into daily reading lessons.

magic of Word Map

What is a word map?


A word map is a process used to break a new word into its phonemes for clear understanding.


A quick refresher: a phoneme is simply an individual unit of sound in a word. Graphemes are the individual letters or letter units that correspond to phonemes.


To complete a traditional word map, a reader needs to:


  • Speak the word aloud to hear and “feel” the phonemes, as well as to clarify the word’s meaning
  • Break the word down into its phonemes (orally)
  • Write down the graphemes that correspond to each sound in the word
  • Write the entire word down!


Follow these four steps, and voilà: you’ve just mapped a word.


How to use word maps


If you’re knee-deep in the research on word maps, you probably already know this: there are lots of ways to approach word mapping!


While many teachers rely on the four-step process outlined above, others define word maps more broadly. In general, a word map is any visual aid that helps students make connections between new vocabulary words, synonyms, and real-world applications of the new words.


For example: some reading teachers use a four-corner word map with one of the following details in each corner:


  1. The student’s definition of the word
  2. Synonyms of the word
  3. A meaningful use of the word in a sentence
  4. The student’s drawing of the word!


This word mapping strategy doesn’t require that students break down words into their phonemes, which may be more appropriate depending on the needs and goals of your students.

Word Map

An example word map. Image Source


Word mapping activities


Like so many reading activities, we recognize that mapping can be trickier in practice!

While the science of reading supports the effectiveness of this strategy, many educators find it challenging to use word maps in ways that feels fun, rewarding, and effective.


If you’re struggling to create the right vocabulary lesson for your students, don’t sweat it. Here are some simple and accessible word mapping activities that can be used both at-home and throughout the school day.


1.     Tap it out!

If students are breaking a word down into its phonemes, have them use their fingers to tap the sounds as they speak and/or hear them in a word. Once they’ve segmented the sounds, they can write - or “map” - each grapheme in its corresponding box.


Teachers can create simple worksheets to do this; or, if you’re at home, you can easily practice word mapping with your child using a blank notebook and colorful pencils.


2.     Use a phoneme popper.

Whether you have old bubble wrap or one of these trendy fidget popper toys, both can be used for word mapping! As students sound out a word, they first push down on a popper and then write the corresponding grapheme. It’s a playful, hands-on way to introduce students to the concept of word maps.

Learn words with word map
3.     Make word art.

When students are mapping new words, don’t be afraid to summon their creative genius! Drawing each word helps students visualize - and remember - their new vocabulary.


4.     Turn new vocabulary into a treasure hunt.

After a long day of school and extracurricular activities, kids may not want to sit down and complete another word map - and that’s okay! On days when sitting still is tough, consider these word treasure hunt activities to get everyone moving:


  • Write a new word in chalk on the sidewalk, then have kids find things around the house, apartment, or yard that relate to that word
  • Stick a new word on the refrigerator each day, and then make drawings (or take pictures) of things that relate to that word.


With a little bit of creativity, word mapping can be an exciting, versatile way to sprinkle new words - and a hint of magic - into each day.

magic of word map



  • Word maps are any visual organizers that help readers make connections between new words, synonyms, and how these words show up in sentences (and in real life!).
  • Depending on the needs and skills of their students, teachers and parents can use a range of word mapping strategies to introduce new vocabulary.
  • Some of our favorite word mapping activities include:
    • Tapping it out
    • Using phoneme poppers
    • Drawing new words
    • Creating word treasure hunts

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

How to Develop Phonics Skills

How to Develop Phonics Skills

At Reading Teacher, we love phonics: it’s the foundation of reading success. Of course, a student who’s just learning how to read may feel slightly less optimistic about phonics education.


Looking for ways to make phonics lessons more exciting, enriching, and fun? With these research-backed reading strategies, it’s easy to help kids develop their phonics skills and their love for reading.


What are basic phonics skills?


The most basic phonics skills are phonemic awareness, decoding, and the ability to recognize, segment, and blend different letter groups - otherwise known as word manipulation.


Students typically develop these skills during kindergarten and first grade, although different readers learn and progress at varying rates.

Develop Phonics Skills

How can I improve my child’s phonics skills?


To improve a child’s phonics skills, educators should keep these key teaching strategies in mind:


Systematic and explicit instruction

Unlike learning how to walk or hold a spoon, learning phonics is not a “natural” phase of human development. Word sounds and spelling must be taught directly and systematically: we can’t expect students to “pick up” phonics skills from reading whole words or making inferences from pictures. To learn phonics, students need exposure to:


  • All major letter-sound relationships - sing that alphabet song!
  • Letter shapes and names
  • Books, of course - but read them out loud so students can hear the letter sounds!


Phonics games

During classtime, explicit phonics instruction is crucial. After class, however, there are tons of activities to reinforce students’ phonics skills. Here are some of our favorites:

Developing Phonics Skills
1.    “I Spy”

Identify a secret object in the room and use phonics clues to help the child guess the object. Does it start with /ph/? Does it rhyme with “cat”? Get creative - and try to use some of the phonics letter patterns that your child is learning at school.


2.    Blend & Digraph Bingo

If you’re an adult struggling to understand the difference between a blend and a digraph, you’re not alone! This is a tough phonics skill for students to learn - and for adults to remember.


Fortunately, this free (and printable!) bingo game makes it easy for everyone involved. Using any of the 27 boards, students match the sounds of beginning blends and digraphs with the right picture. Feel free to use these as inspiration for your own phonics bingo games, based on the needs and skills of your student(s).


3.    Slap the Sound

Searching for a hands-on activity to build phonics skills? Find a flyswatter. Using letter tiles and a fly swatter, kinesthetic learners can sound out letters one at a time and swat the letters as they go.

How to Develop Phonics Skills
Phonics flashcards


Flashcards are a simple yet versatile way to sharpen the phonics skills. As a supplement to classroom lessons and phonics games, they’re an easy way to review learning objectives at the beginning or end of the day.


While flipping through flashcards can be a bore, it definitely doesn’t have to be! Here are some easy ways to gamify flashcards for phonics AND fun:


1.    Phonics Treasure Hunt

Play hide-and-seek with your flashcards. Hide cards around the house or classroom and send readers on a quest to find them. When a card is found, the player reads the card and writes it down on a treasure map.


2.    Silly Stories

Randomly hand out flashcards to a group of readers. Have one start with a silly sentence using the word on their flashcard. The next student has to build on that sentence with their own silly phrase, and so on. At the end, you’ll have one big, silly story with a sentence from every reader!


3.    Find an Object

Lay a phonics card face-up and ask a child to find an object in the room that begins with that sound.


Developing phonics skills takes time, patience, and a desire to have fun! With the right phonics games and flashcard activities, students will enhance their skills AND their confidence - without even realizing how hard they’re working.

How to Develop Phonics Skills


  • Basic phonics skills include phonemic awareness, decoding, and word manipulation.
    • Young readers also need a strong understanding of letter shapes and names before moving onto more complex phonics patterns.
  • To improve a child’s phonics skills, parents and educators can use a variety of strategies:
    • Hands-on and classroom-based phonics games
    • Phonics flashcards, which can be used in a variety of contexts

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How to Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

How to Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

Phonics is the pathway to reading success - and for struggling readers, it can also be the biggest obstacle.


If you’re the parent or educator of a struggling reader, you’ve likely done your research. You know that phonics instruction is crucial for early readers, but finding the “right” decodable books and phonics readers can be daunting. To streamline your process, we’ve identified some of the best phonics intervention activities to support and re-energize a struggling reader.

How to Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

Phonics Intervention Activities


Imagine: your struggling reader just came home from school with a list of phonics intervention activities. Sounds a bit intense, right? While this language may seem intimidating, phonics interventions are actually designed to empower young readers with the skills and confidence they need to read more complicated texts.


So, what exactly is a phonics intervention?


A phonics intervention is any activity that seeks to improve a student’s knowledge and application of phonics: the reading method of connecting letters and their sounds. According to the National Reading Panel, phonics intervention activities should be explicit, systematic, taught in small groups, and focused on specific skills: for example, focusing on one or two types of phoneme manipulations rather than multiple types.

Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

Some of the best phonics intervention activities include:

  • Phoneme Manipulation Activities. Phoneme manipulation is crucially important when teaching phonics to struggling readers - and for many students, it’s also one of the most difficult skills they’ll practice!
  • Phonics Books & Phonics Readers, and Decodable Books.
  • Hands-on Reading Strategies.


To make these activities easier for readers and their teachers, let’s cover some key questions & their answers.


What is phoneme manipulation?


Phoneme manipulation describes the ability to change individual phonemes (the smallest sound units) in a word. Change /p/ in “top” to /b/, and - like magic - you’ve manipulated a phoneme!


What are the types of phoneme manipulation?


There are three main types of phoneme manipulation:

  • Phoneme Addition: for example, begin with the word “ray” and add /g/ to the front of the word, resulting in “gray”
  • Phoneme Deletion: for example, begin with the word “plant” and take away /l/, resulting in “pant” (this is a bit trickier, as you’re deleting the second phoneme from the consonant blend /pl/!)
  • Phoneme Substitution: for example, changing the /w/ in “wall” to /b/, resulting in “ball”


Teachers and parents can give these challenges orally, which adds variety and excitement to daily reading practice: a huge bonus for struggling readers.

Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

Phonics Books for Struggling Readers


Whether you’re searching for decodable books or phonics readers, it’s overwhelming to sift through the hundreds of books designed for struggling readers. But just like other phonics interventions, the best phonics books should focus on the following reading skills:

  • Before moving onto more complicated phonics books, students’ earliest books should focus on both short and long vowels. Because every single syllable of every single word includes a vowel sound, this is not a skill to skimp on!
  • CVC and sight words. Sight words are high-frequency words that can’t be sounded out, while CVC words start and end with a consonant and contain a vowel in the middle. When reading phonics books, focus on these word categories before moving onto more difficult phonics patterns.
  • Search for phonics patterns. Get your red pen out: it’s time to mark up your decodable book! Identify a common phonics pattern, then have a struggling reader mark the pattern in their phonics book. They’ll be mentally prepared to read these phonics patterns in-context, which can be difficult when they don’t have a chance to see & mark them beforehand.
    • Because decodable readers focus on a single phonics pattern or word family, they’re an excellent choice for many struggling readers.
Teaching Phonics to Struggling Readers

Hands-On Reading Activities for Struggling Readers


For struggling readers, tuning into all the senses is key. After reading a decodable book, readers can practice new words with some of the following hands-on phonics activities:

  • Bubble Wrap Flash Cards: Place flashcards on bubble wrap on the floor. Reader reads the card - then stomps on it! Educational and satisfying.
  • Word Slide: As readers sound out a word, have them tap their arm going down while segmenting the sounds. When they’ve successfully sounded out the word, they’ll “slide” their hand down their arm again to blend the sounds together. See an example of this strategy here.
  • Letter Tiles: use magnetic or plastic letter tiles to practice phonemic manipulation. Whether they’re on the fridge or the kitchen table, letter tiles are a fun, budget-friendly, and low-pressure reading activity.



  • While finding the best phonics interventions can feel overwhelming, supportive adults are encouraged to use a variety of strategies to support struggling readers.
  • To support struggling readers, we recommend a mix of phoneme manipulation activities, phonics readers and decodable books, and hands-on reading activities.

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7 Early Signs Your Child May Have a Reading Issue

7 Early Signs Your Child May Have a Reading Issue

What counts as a “reading issue?”


In a shift toward more inclusive language, some educators and researchers refer to reading issues - rather than reading disabilities or disorders - to describe the challenges faced by readers of all ages.


Of course, a 7 year-old struggling with reading differs from an 11 year-old facing a reading challenge. When readers reach adulthood, they may find that unaddressed learning struggles and the stressors of adult life create new reading issues. What connects readers across age groups is the experience of struggling, learning, and, ultimately, continuing to read.


Many people will face a reading challenge at some point in their literacy journey. If you’re working closely with a young reader, here are seven signs that may indicate more serious reading issues. With early diagnosis and personalized support, even significant reading challenges can be overcome.

Reading Issue of children

Early Signs of Reading Difficulty


1. Resistance to reading aloud. When children struggle with phonological awareness and the pronunciation of words, they may resist reading aloud - even with a trusted adult. Fears around reading aloud can be normal, especially in a group setting. But if you notice especially hesitant and labored reading, it’s worth taking a closer look.


2. Difficulty with rhyming. If your child struggles to keep pace with nursery rhymes, it may be a sign of dyslexia, which hampers the ability to process the sounds of language. Another common reading issue is apraxia, a motor speech disorder that slows the development of phonological awareness and letter knowledge.


3. Limited expression & poor comprehension. In a child’s elementary school years, a noticeable struggle to comprehend words - and to read them with emotional expression - may point toward dyslexia or other reading struggles.

Signs of reading issue in a child

4. Decoding difficulties. Let’s face it: for most children, learning to decode takes a great deal of time and energy. But if your child is skipping words, misreading them altogether, and/or reading very slowly, they’re likely missing the overall meaning of the text.


5. Inability to memorize sight words. Even after hours of repetition, a poor memory of common sight words can indicate issues with auditory processing or visual perception.


6. Attention issues. Especially for a young reader, finding the energy to concentrate on a story can be tricky. However, if a reader is getting lost on a page and struggling to attend to the words - let alone, the plot of the story! - a deeper reading issue may be at play.


7. Spelling woes. Just like decoding and memorizing sight words, learning to spell takes time and repetition. We’re not all cut out for the spelling bee - but if you notice different spellings of the same word throughout the same piece of writing, it could be a sign of dysgraphia, a neurological disorder that affects spelling and/or the ability to convert thoughts into written words.

7 Year-Old Struggling With Reading


At age 7, U.S. schoolchildren are typically entering second grade. Second-graders are typically expected to read more efficiently and fluently, assuming they’ve developed the reading strategies to tackle more complicated sentences and genres.


While there’s no official make-or-break year for reading success, experts at understood.org - a leading website for dyslexia information - agree that if children still confuse look-alike letters (for example, b, d, p, and q) or sound-alike letters (b and p, or d and t) after age 7, they may have a greater reading issue.

7 Early Signs Your Child May Have a Reading Issue

11 Year-Old Struggling With Reading


If your 11 year-old is still struggling with reading, it’s important to recognize the toll of the past few years. With a pandemic, virtual learning, and the loss of both learning and social opportunities, many older elementary students are still learning to read independently. Heading into fifth grade and middle school, parents and educators can take some of the following actions to encourage a struggling reader:


  • Get their eyes checked! Vision problems can affect early reading and academic confidence. New glasses can be a simple but profound shift for a fifth-grader struggling with reading.
  • Consult with a doctor about dyslexia testing. As we’ve mentioned, many early literacy struggles emerge from diagnosable - and 100% manageable - reading issues.
  • Celebrate their progress. Even if progress is slow, encourage your child throughout the process. Also consider audiobooks and podcasts - which, like good books, can cultivate a sense of wonder and interest in the world.


With the backbone of a phonics-driven curriculum, parents and educators can meet struggling readers at eye-level and support them in their journey - regardless of where they began.

Early Signs of having reading issue


  • While no reading issue manifests the same in all children, adults can look out for early signs of reading difficulty, including:
    • Issues with rhyming
    • Resistance to reading aloud
    • Poor comprehension and expression of words
    • Spelling & writing issues, especially when written skills lag behind a child’s oral communication skills
  • Parents are encouraged to remember the impact of the pandemic on their students’ reading progress.
    • It’s crucial to provide patience, explore alternative reading activities, and diagnose underlying vision and reading issues.

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How to Make Reading Fun for 1st Graders

How to Make Reading Fun for 1st Graders

If you’ve ever announced “reading time!” and received an audible groan in response, you know that 1st graders can be a tough crowd. Even as they gain reading skills and discover new books, students may feel overwhelmed by reading expectations in 1st grade, which many experts agree is a foundational year for reading success.


To reduce the pressure and maximize the fun, we’re focusing on reading activities for 1st graders that will make reading more enjoyable, exciting, and just as educational - both in the classroom and at home.

Make Reading Fun for 1st Graders

How To Make Reading More Fun


Before offering specific reading activities for 1st graders, it’s important to ask: why would a 1st grader not enjoy reading? As a parent or educator, you’ll learn that children develop distinct likes and dislikes from an early age - and inevitably, some 1st graders may like reading more than others. That said, if you have a first grade struggling reader who dislikes or even refuses to read, it’s worth considering the following possibilities:


  • They aren’t interested in the format or topic of assigned books. If this rings true, try graphic novels, partnering with a librarian to identify your student’s interests, and reducing screen time. The fast-paced format of online games and social media can easily distract 1st graders from the slow - but rewarding - process of reading physical books.
  • They haven’t developed foundational reading skills. 1st graders may start to experience reading difficulties that can slow the development of early reading skills. If you have concerns about reading disorders or even poor eyesight, communicating early with teachers and healthcare providers is essential to support your 1st grader’s skills and confidence.
  • They haven’t found the right reading activities for 1st graders! In a traditional classroom, educators may not always adhere to a phonics-driven curriculum. Classrooms that still use elements of balanced literacy may inadvertently slow the acquisition of phonics skills, which can make reading much more difficult - and far less enjoyable - for a 1st grade student.


If you’re looking for reading activities for 1st graders that are science-based and fun, we’ve got you covered.

Make Reading Fun for 1st Graders

Reading Activities for 1st Graders


To make reading more fun for 1st graders, consider trying one (or all!) of these literacy activities that merge 1st-grade fun with the latest reading science.


  1. Allow students to choose their own books. Keeping the difficulty level in mind, it’s important to allow students to choose books that reflect their interests and expose them to new ideas and stories. Whether they choose nonfiction, fiction, graphic novels, or Shel Silverstein’s poetry, any reading counts.
  2. Start a book club. What 1st grader doesn’t love a club? This is one of our favorite reading activities for 1st graders, for a number of reasons:
    1. Everyone can participate! All you need is a book and a supportive adult.
    2. Students can read the same book at once OR read different books and come to “club meetings” with new suggestions for their peers.
    3. Clubs encourage fun discussions, storytelling, and group bonding.
  3. Read aloud. By using expressive voices and silly faces, adult readers can help characters and stories come alive for their 1st graders.
  4. Connect with bookstores and the local library! Many public libraries and local bookstores offer free storytimes and author visits. Libraries may also sponsor summer reading programs with prizes and summer reading activities for 1st graders.
  5. Foster opinions. If you start a 1st grade book club, you may discover that your readers have a lot of opinions. Encourage students to share their thoughts about a book after reading it: you can use a star-rating system or simply ask how they’d change the story if they were the author.
make reading fun for children

In conjunction with a phonics-based curriculum, these reading activities for 1st graders are intended to make reading fun, exciting, and rewarding. By supporting students’ reading interests and foundational skills, educators and parents can become more active participants in the 1st-grade reading journey.



  • Many 1st graders struggle to find book formats and topics that interest them, and may face other reading challenges that detract from the joy of reading.
  • To make reading more fun and student-centered, consider the following 1st grade reading activities:
    • Empowering students to choose their own books
    • Starting a 1st grade book club
    • Reading aloud with expressive voices
    • Attending events sponsored by local bookstores and libraries
    • Encouraging students to freely express their opinions about books

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.