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What is an Emergent Reader? Plus: 4 Strategies to Support Emergent Readers

What is an Emergent Reader? Plus: 4 Strategies to Support Emergent Readers

Whether you’re a parent or educator, you’ve likely stumbled upon the term “emergent reader” at some point in your student’s reading journey. This phrase is frequently used - but not always clearly defined. Today, we’ll unpack what it really means to be a student in the “emergent stage” of reading, and describe how literacy resources can best support emergent readers.

Emergent Reader

What is an Emergent Reader?


Emergent readers - sometimes referred to as “beginning readers” - are defined as students who cannot yet read independently but are gradually acquiring the skills of literacy.


For an emergent reader, every step counts. No two readers are alike, but the majority of emergent readers share some key similarities:


  • Most emergent readers are in kindergarten or first grade, although this standard has shifted since the pandemic & subsequent introduction of remote learning. Research is beginning to show that distance learning had a negative impact on elementary reading skills.
  • They may not write comprehensible sentences, but when asked to write down their address or name, for instance, emergent readers may write a string of scribbles.
    • This shows a baseline understanding of writing as a way to share information.
  • Emerging readers may point out commonly used words and letters in their everyday worlds, such as words on signs (“Walk!” “Stop!”) or the first letters of their names.
  • Emerging readers may be ready to practice high-frequency words or sight words. They’ve learned the alphabet and may pretend to read familiar books.


Reading is not a one-size-fits-all process, and every emergent reader will vary slightly in their abilities and rate of progress. While most emergent readers read below a 4th-grade reading level, they’re making tangible steps toward reading fluently.

helping an Emergent Reader

Emergent Reader vs. Beginning Reader


Beginning readers and emergent readers are often used interchangeably. That said, the definition of an emergent reader emphasizes the ultimate “emergence” of fluent readers, ideally with the support of a phonics-based reading program. To break it down further, some educators recognize the category of early emergent readers, who range from 6 months to 6 years old and are just beginning their reading journeys. Compared to early emergent readers, you’ll know your student is becoming a fluent reader when they show some of the following signs:


  • A strong understanding of phonics
  • The ability to read aloud, sometimes with help from an adult
  • Decoding skills, which allow readers to unpack more complex sentences
  • Progression from picture-heavy books and decodable readers to books with increasingly large chunks of text
  • An interest in nonfiction and fiction books that cater to their unique interests - and an eagerness to try reading them on their own!
Strategies to Support Emergent Readers

Resources for Emergent Readers


Regardless of where your student stands in their reading journey, most young readers will benefit from the types of resources designed specifically for readers in the emergent stage. These resources often focus on word recognition, decoding ability, and phonics skills: all of which children need to make the transition to reading fluently. When looking for the best resources for emergent readers, look for curricula and programs that use the following strategies:


1. Direct and explicit instruction, especially for phonics. This may include detailed explanations, modeling independent reading, and guided reading practice.


2. Handwriting instruction: evidence suggests that regular handwriting practice is crucial to support emergent readers and students with reading disabilities.


3. Word blending and segmenting. Emergent readers should be learning how to blend words, which means that they’re able to put individual sounds together to form a word aloud.

a. In addition to word blending, emerging readers will gradually learn how to parse out the individual sounds or phonemes in a word: a process known as word segmentation.


4. For an emerging reader who is struggling to grasp basic literacy skills, spending instructional time on the relationship between sounds and letters - often referred to as “phoneme-grapheme mapping” - is crucial. A solid foundation in phonics is necessary before readers can progress confidently from the emergent stage.

a. Based on recent research on the science of reading, it’s best to introduce students to new letters as quickly as possible: to maximize their exposure, experts recommend teaching at least two new letters per week.


Reading Teacher offers a variety of tools to support emergent readers. With a focus on decodable words and phonics, we’re especially attuned to the foundational needs and varied skills of emergent readers. Above all, emergent readers will benefit most from fun, engaging, and interactive reading activities that foster their desire to read and learn, even before they achieve fluency.



  • Emergent readers are defined as students who cannot yet read independently, but show an interest in reading, writing, and a basic grasp of the alphabet.
  • Emergent readers are commonly referred to as beginning readers.
  • The best reading resources for emergent readers will use direct and explicit instruction to teach handwriting, word blending & segmentation, and phoneme-grapheme relationships.

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Know a Struggling Reader in 1st Grade? 4 Strategies That Just Might Work

Know a Struggling Reader in 1st Grade? 4 Strategies That Just Might Work

1st grade is a time of exploration, play, social development, and, crucially, learning how to read. In anticipation of summertime - and, hopefully, more reading time - we’re outlining common reading goals and strategies to support struggling reader in 1st grade.

strategies for struggling reader

1st Grade Reading Goals

If your 1st grade reader is struggling, it might be time to adjust their reading goals and introduce new strategies to guide them toward success. Throughout the year and into the summer, there are several common reading goals for first graders to work toward:


  1. Learning common sight words.

Sight words are often defined as words that kids can’t sound out with phonics, such as the, who, one, and you. Other high-frequency words are easier to sound out: think “it,” “run,” “like,” “can,” and others. While memorization of these words should not replace phonemic awareness, increasing first graders’ familiarity with high-frequency, one-syllable words can boost their reading confidence.


  1. Answering questions about books they’ve read.

After each reading session, adults can facilitate a “mini book club” by asking the child questions about the book, helping them summarize the story, and generally discussing the book, all of which show the child’s understanding of the content.


  1. Developing a love for reading.

For a first grade struggling reader, nurturing their love for literature may seem like a lofty goal. Yet for parents and teachers, there’s no need to stress: developing a passion for books is a long-term goal! To get a headstart, offer regular and frequent exposure to books and decodable readers that align with the child’s skills and individual interests. Dinosaurs, fairies, big cats, you name it: there’s a book for your first grader.

Strategies that Just might work for 1st grader

How to Help My Struggling 1st Grader in Reading

After setting these reading goals, there are numerous strategies to help struggling readers in first grade transform into second grade superstars.


  1. Set individualized reading goals.

Make a reading goal chart, tracker, or even a paper chain link with one reading goal written on each link. For struggling readers in first grade, being able to visualize and check off their reading goals makes success more tangible and exciting.


  1. Establish reading time - and make it fun.

Imagine: just 10-15 minutes every day can. Make reading a daily habit by making it fun: read as a family in a quiet and cozy corner of the house, and discuss your books after the timer goes off.


  1. Visit the library this summer.

School is out, which means the library is IN. Many local libraries sponsor summer reading challenges and events to support students of all abilities, including struggling readers in first grade and other age groups.


  1. Find creative ways to read.

With the help of an adult, first graders can draw and write their own books - then read them out loud to others as newly “published” authors. Families can watch movies together with subtitles to encourage subconscious reading. And don’t shy away from graphic novels and other nontraditional reads: for a first grader, any reading is good reading.


Even for struggling readers in 1st grade, meeting their reading goals is possible when educators and parents meet them at eye-level. From an adult perspective, this means regularly checking in with your first grader, identifying their reading strengths and weaknesses, and modifying reading activities to reflect their goals and personal interests. No first grader is the same - and that’s what makes their reading journey both challenging and rewarding.

Strategies for struggling readers


  • If you’re wondering how to help a struggling reader in 1st grade, it’s important to understand & establish common reading goals for first graders: among them, recognizing high-frequency sight words and showing signs of reading comprehension.
  • For 1st graders who are struggling to keep up with their peers, adults can adopt several strategies, including:
    • Using visual tools to track reading progress
    • Establishing reading time as a family or classroom
    • Taking advantage of the local library
    • Combining art and reading, using subtitles during movies, and finding other creative ways to sneak reading into your child’s everyday routine

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.