The Components of Reading Instruction
By Carolee Dean, M.S., CCC-SLP, CALT
Reading involves many diverse sub-skills. A list of the Components of Reading Instruction quickly reveals just how complex reading is to master and how challenging it can be to teach. Although most children develop oral language naturally, the same is not true for reading. The sub-skills of reading must be systematically and strategically taught and practiced. Furthermore, instruction in reading should include all these sub-skills, not just the ones we prefer or have the most experience teaching.
Sometimes we must seek out more education in the areas where we need knowledge. On the other hand, we might work with other professionals who can provide the support to students we may lack. When I was a speech-language pathologist working in the public schools, I often had to do both. Figuring out how to incorporate these diverse skills into classroom education, pull-out therapy, or tutoring can be time-consuming. For that reason, I have created several engaging activities to support teachers, SLPs, parents, tutors, etc. in their efforts along with the rationale for each activity.
(Are you limited on time? Scroll down to find the ACTIVITIES section and FREE downloads, but be sure you come back later to read how those activities are connected to COR (Components of Reading) Instruction.)
The Active View and The Simple View
I recently found the above graphic in the article by Duke and Cartwright (2021) entitled, The Science of Reading Progresses: Communicating Advances Beyond the Simple View of Reading. The graphic shows the components of The Active View of Reading and identifies the many sub-skills required. Many educators are familiar with the Simple View of Reading as outlined by Gough and Tumner (1986): Decoding x Listening Comprehension = Reading Comprehension. Over the years, the 1986 definition has broadened to include the following:
Word Recognition x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension
Duke and Cartwright’s Active View acknowledges the importance of Word Recognition and Language Comprehension, but it goes much further by expanding on the sub-skills included in those categories. In addition, the authors discuss other important factors such as Bridging Processes and Active Self Regulation. All of these components are outlined below.
Components of the Active View
Word Recognition includes phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, phonics knowledge, decoding skills, and recognition of words at sight. Although these skills are vital to becoming a skilled reader, there is a growing understanding that the factors discussed below are also extremely important. Furthermore, they have an impact on decoding as well as comprehension.
Language Comprehension includes understanding language structures such as semantics and syntax (word meaning and sentence structure). These skills provide the building blocks of comprehending a text. In addition, adequate cultural and other content knowledge is required to be able to grasp what a text is about. Reading-specific background knowledge such as recognizing genre and text features gives readers a framework for understanding the context in which information is presented (ex. poem, story, or expository text). Theory of mind is an important skill that allows a reader to take the perspective of characters or the author. Also included in the Language Comprehension category is the type of verbal reasoning needed to understand inference and metaphor.
Bridging Processes span both Word Recognition and Language Comprehension and include print concepts, reading fluency, vocabulary knowledge, morphological awareness, and graphophonological-semantic cognitive flexibility (letter-sound-meaning flexibility). Each of these areas has roots in language comprehension but also strongly impacts decoding. They will be discussed in greater detail below.
Active Self Regulation highlights the impact of motivation and engagement, executive function skills, and strategy use. The authors of the Active View give special emphasis to executive function skills in their article. Furthermore, they describe how these skills (along with motivation and strategy use) weave through every other aspect of reading.
Content Knowledge and Complex Language
It is crucial to provide opportunities for students to build content knowledge and “Reading-specific background knowledge.” Duke and Cartwright describe these factors in their article when they discuss cultural and other content knowledge. Equally important is exposing students to complex language structures (sentence structure and word knowledge). The importance of understanding complex syntax has also been discussed by Shanahan (2019) as well as Scott and Balthazar (2013).
Though teaching word recognition is crucial, it can be difficult to provide experiences with rich vocabulary and syntax when focusing on decoding practice. Most decodable books don’t include content that advances the students knowledge base very significantly. Audible texts provide valuable exposure to content, vocabulary, and complex syntax. While listening to books, student can focus on the Language Comprehension aspects of reading, but they don’t always provide opportunity to work on the Bridge Processes that connect Language Comprehension with Word Knowledge. It helps to look for decodable books that provide this framework. Another option is to build these experiences into books that don’t include them. See Shanahan’s blog post on the importance of sentence comprehension which includes a discussion of fluency and prosody.
Components of Language
Many speech-language pathologist actively work to support their students’ literacy goals. With that in mind, let’s focus on the components of language for a moment. Although most children develop oral language simply through exposure to listening and interacting with parents and caregivers, that is not true of all children. Furthermore, oral language provides many foundational skills needed for both reading and writing. For this reason, young children who struggle with producing and understanding oral language often have later difficulties with literacy. Bloom and Lahey (1978) discussed the components of language in terms of form, content, and use. The diagram below has been adapted from their work. Notice the overlap between that diagram and the Active View outlined above.
Form, Content, and Use
Form covers the structure of the building blocks of language in the areas of phonology (the sound system), morphology (the smallest meaning units), and syntax (grammar and the structure of sentences).
Content involves the meaning of language and semantics. It includes both the literal and figurative meanings of words and the relationship between words. Multiple meanings of words fall into this area as do idioms and other types of figurative language. Words used as cohesive ties also contribute to meaning. Words also affect the meaning of sentences.
Use is exactly what the name implies – how language is used. This involves communication purposes and intentions as well as understanding social language and the rules of discourse. Narrative discourse is a special type of language with a specific structure and rules. Young children who have difficulty with oral storytelling often have difficulty understanding stories that they read. When exposed to other types of text structures such as expository text, they struggle as well.
Speech-language pathologists focus on treating disorders related to these three components of language. Many of the students seen by school-based SLPs either currently have or will develop reading challenges. Knowing how language form, content, and use affect reading is essential to supporting these students. In addition, knowing how these aspects of language relate to the Active View of Reading is essential.
Activities will be discussed to support each of these areas in the next section.
Activities to Explore the Components of Reading Instruction
The HOT ROD series was created to provide decodable books that are content-rich and also provide opportunities to work on all the components of reading – not just word recognition. The stories also promote Higher Order Thinking skills through supplementary materials based on each book’s content. Go to the SIGN-UP page to find out how to get a PDF version of Book 1 – No Gift for Man, which is provided here as a Free preview of the type of books the series will contain. The first story focuses on closed syllables CVC, CCVC, CVCC, CCCVC, etc., and words that incorporate the floss rule (ff,ll,ss). Several of the supplementary activities based on that book are listed below and can be downloaded at no cost. Each activity includes a description of how it supports a specific component of the Active View. For the full 60-page Supplementary Resource, go to our STORE.
The text of the book along with the resources are being shared in the hopes that creators of decodable books and the teachers who rely on them for instruction will expand the way these resources are used. Several of the activities below link to games created at wordwall.net. A teacher, tutor, therapist, or parent can quickly type in words and definitions or other information to create a variety of interactive online games on this site and similar sites. This site is free for a limited amount of activities, but templates can be reused or deleted when you are finished with them, and the subscription fee is nominal. It is crucial to go beyond word recognition to include a wider range of the components of reading. Hopefully, the resources described below will inspire teachers to do that. Find a list of publishers of decodable books on this website in the article Choosing the Right Decodable Books for Your Student.
Phonological Awareness – The ability to recognize and manipulate rhymes, syllables, and phonemes is a foundational skill of reading. Phonological and phonemic awareness are so important to reading that they can be used in preschool and kindergarten to predict later reading ability (Paulson, 2018). Phonemes are the speech sounds (consonants and vowels) that distinguish one word from another (ie., pit vs. pat). They may be represented by one or more letters (ie., phone vs. fun). There are many commercially available products designed to work on phonological and phonemic awareness, but they don’t always connect to meaningful text. You can pull out a few words from whatever decodable books you are using to work on rhyme and alliteration as shown below.
Check out Rhyme Time to explore one way that book content can be incorporated into phonological awareness activities. In this activity, students circle words that rhyme and underline alliterations (words that start with the same sound). They then create a sentence that uses alliteration which helps them understand and use literary devices. Additionally, switching between these three tasks requires students to use cognitive flexibility at both the letter-sound and meaning levels. See a deeper conversation about Cognitive Flexibility below.
Morphology – While phonemes represent the smallest unit of sound, morphemes represent the smallest unit of meaning. English is a morphophonemic language which is a fancy way of saying that both morphemes and phonemes (meaning units and sound units) affect how multisyllable words are pronounced. A morpheme can be a whole word (house, mom, jump) or part of a word as small as a single letter as in suffix -s. Notice how adding suffix -s changes the meaning of houses, mom’s, and jumps into forms that are plural, possessive, or describe action. In addition, the pronunciation of suffix -s is affected by surrounding sounds so that it may be pronounced /ez/, /z/, or /s/ depending on the context.
Morphemes may be characterized as base elements, prefixes, or suffixes. The base element provides the core meaning of the word. It may be a free morpheme as in a baseword like jump, or it might be a bound morpheme that requires additional morphemes to be considered a whole word. An example of a bound morpheme that cannot stand alone is struct (meaning to build) as in construct, destruct, and reconstruction. To learn more about the root meanings of words and where a word originates, visit the online etymology dictionary at etymonline.com. The above description may be more information about morphology than you or your students need to know at the moment, but exposure to these foundational meaning units provides the building blocks of many words.
This Morpho Mania activity included here explores the Latin prefix PRO. It is interesting to observe how the pronunciation of the prefix changes in the various words. Students with dyslexia may need these words read aloud to them, but exposure to the concepts helps build vocabulary and at the same time connects to the decodable book, No Gift for Man. Go to the link on the PDF to play a matching game with the words.
Vocabulary – Vocabulary is a foundational building block of both listening and reading comprehension, but it can be challenging to include robust vocabulary when focusing on limited constructs such as closed syllable types. On the other hand, even these most basic word forms can provide opportunities for exploring advanced vocabulary when multi-syllable words are included. Emerging readers may not yet be able to divide syllables on their own, but if we assist them with this process, they should be able to decode the individual syllables in words like fan/tas/tic, sis/kin, kes/trel, vul/can, and even in/dig’/nant if the stress is pointed out to them. The stories in Levels 1 and 2 of the HOT ROD series have words divided into syllables for this reason.
Including more advanced vocabulary is especially important for older struggling readers who may fall behind in word knowledge if they are not exposed to rich vocabulary. Having a large vocabulary supports decoding because students are more inclined to read a word correctly if they have heard it previously and have a sense of how it is supposed to sound.
See the WOW Vocabulary activity for an example of how to use vocabulary from a decodable text to create an online crossword puzzle. Students with dyslexia may need help reading the definitions. Even short words or words with multiple meanings may be unfamiliar to them.
Sentence Structure – Many students, even those without reading challenges, have difficulty determining if a sentence is complete or incomplete. Part of the reason is that most kids are taught that a sentence must have a noun and a verb. Unfortunately, confusion arises with words that can be both nouns and verbs (i.e. Set that on the table. OR Let’s table that issue.; He has a scar on his face. OR She must face the truth.) It is much more effective to think about words in terms of how they function in a sentence. For a deeper discussion on this topic, See William Van Cleave’s chapter on “Function Trumps Form: Sentence-Level Instruction” in my book, Story Frames For Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling.
Sentence combining is an activity that improves both reading and writing skills. Since decodable books often contain short, choppy sentences, another simple but effective strategy is to have students take a few of those short sentences and combine them into longer sentences using coordinating conjunctions such as for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (FAN BOYS). In his blog post about sentence comprehension, Shanahan talks about the importance of combining short sentences to create longer ones. Conversely, he also points out that it can be very useful to have students do the opposite – shorten a long sentence to determine its meaning.
Understanding sentence structure starts by asking WHO is doing WHAT? WHO is the SUBJECT. WHAT they are doing is the PREDICATE. Simplifying language in this way can make it more accessible to struggling readers. These questions about agent and action can help students to establish the main idea which can be difficult to determine in long or complex sentences. Long sentences often contain multiple nouns and verbs.
See Sentence Construction: Identifying Complete Sentences for an example of an activity designed to help students determine when a predicate or subject is missing. It contains a link to a Whack-a-mole game to reinforce the concepts. You can create a similar activity from any book by taking parts of sentences from a text. Then ask students to determine if it is the subject or the predicate that is missing.
Fluency – Fluency includes accuracy, automaticity, and prosody. Some students with years of training in decoding still have challenges that results in stilted reading that lacks prosody. Lack of prosody or misplaced word stress can lead to misinterpreting the meaning of sentences (see Shanahan’s blogpost). Emphasizing one word over another can result in a complete change of focus of the sentence. Leaving off the raised intonation that occurs at the end of a question can turn it into a statement.
Repeated readings of a text builds automaticity, yet struggling readers often lack the motivation to read a text multiple times. The exception is poetry. Many students enjoy reading the same poem over and over. Some even commit poems to memory, and there is a growing interest in young people for performance poetry opportunities such as slam poetry and English Expo competitions. Finally, rhyming poetry that includes a meter based on a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables is a natural context for understanding and practicing both prosody and syllable stress.
See Feel the Beat for an example of how to work on prosody using a decodable text. This activity uses poetry, but sentences from any text can be used in a similar fashion. It’s not just syllables within longer words that are stressed. As we read a sentence, there are also single-syllable words that receive more or less stress.
Discourse – Storytelling is an important part of oral discourse for young children. This skill translates to the ability to read and understand narratives in the school years. Fundamental to comprehension is the ability to put information into a schema. Understanding text structure helps students to know if they should be organizing the information into the framework of a story, a poem, a non-fiction informative article, and so forth. In addition, students practice theory of mind when they are asked to determine an author’s purpose or take the point of view of a character. Many speech-language pathologists use narratives as the basis of their language interventions because every other component of language may be addressed through the content and context of a story. For example, all of the activities presented here are based upon one story – No Gift for Man. Connecting the activities to a story gives them context, purpose, and meaning.
The Plot Analysis for No Gift for Man includes two other stories from the HOT ROD series, but those stories are not necessary for completing the activity. The combination of the three stories is entitled, The Creation of Man. The Story Frames used in the story analysis are from my book Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling (Paul H. Books Publishing Co.)
Cognitive Flexibility – Cognitive flexibility is listed in the above diagram under Bridging Processes, but it is also a powerful executive function skill that involves the ability to switch between different types of information. This skill is essential for tasks like decoding a word while simultaneously considering its meaning within the context of the sentence. The Rhyme Time activity described in the Phonological Awareness section above involves an element of cognitive flexibility because the student is switching between circling rhyming words and underlining alliterations.
Another activity called the Multiple Classification Task by Kelly Cartwright in her book, Executive Skills and Reading Comprehension involves graphophonological – semantic cognitive flexibility. That is a fancy way of saying that when students are reading, they must consider letter and sound information at the same time that they think about word meaning. Cartwright is one of the authors of the Active View described above. She also consulted on the activity found below. In fact, we are in the process of designing a research study to look at its effectiveness, so stay tuned for more information.
The Multiple Classification Task below requires more active engagement of working memory than Rhyme Time because the student must hold both letter/sound information and word meaning in mind simultaneously while making decisions about categories. The task starts with sorting words into two categories at a time. Then students are taught how to consider two categories at the SAME time. They must use the same mental processes as when they attempt to understand the meaning of a word within a sentence while they are decoding each sound in that word. Go to the page for Cognitive Flexibility to find out more about this vital skill.
The Multiple Classification Task is included in a 38-page PDF filled with lists containing closed syllable words that can be cut out and sorted according to a variety of categories based on sound and meaning. It was modeled after previous activities designed by Cartwright (2015). It has modifications made with permission in order to adapt word lists to the Scope and Sequence found on this website. If you would prefer a version suitable for online learning or would like to use the pre/post-test, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reading is a skill that requires numerous sub-skills that must be strategically taught to students. Those with dyslexia and/or oral language challenges will require even more systematic practice with these skills than their peers. To understand the magnitude of what is needed, the Active View diagram provides an organized way to think of these components.
For a slightly different approach, the activities described here have also been configured in a hierarchy of how they support Higher Order Thinking. The HOT Topics page describes how each of these activities (and many others) fit into the framework of the 24 categories of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.
Stories provide a rich and meaningful context for working on all these skills. Stories that contain poems give students the opportunity to play with the sounds of language and to improve phonological awareness. Finally, stories are also vital to motivation because they remind us what all of our hard work is for.
Bloom, L., & Lahey, M. (1978). Language development and language disorders. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Cartwright, K.B. (2015). Executive skills and reading comprehension: A guide for educators. New York, NY: Guildford Press.
Dean, C. (2021). Story frames for teaching literacy: Enhancing student learning through the power of storytelling. Baltimore, MA: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Duke, N.K., & Cartwright, K.B. (2021). The Science of reading progresses: Communicating advances beyond the simple view of reading. Read Res Q, 56(S1), S25– S44. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.411
Gough, P.B., & Tunmer, W.E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7(1), 6–10. https://doi.org/10.1177/074193258600700104.
Paulson, L.H. (2018) Teaching phonemic awareness. In J.R. Birsch & S. Carreker, S. (Eds.), Multisensory teaching of basic language skills (4th ed., pp. 205-253). Baltimore: MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Scott, C.M., & Balthazar, C. (2013). The role of complex sentence knowledge in children with reading and writing difficulties. Perspectives on Language and Literacy. 39 (3), 18-26.
Shanahan, T. (2019). Why children should be taught to read with more challenging texts. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 45 (4), 17-23.
Shanahan on Literacy. (2022) Trying again: What teachers need to know about sentence comprehension. https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/trying-again-what-teachers-need-to-know-about-sentence-comprehension#sthash.PL9xJGSI.dpbs
Van Cleave, W. (2021). Function trumps form: Sentence level instruction. In C. Dean, Story frames for teaching literacy: Enhancing student learning through the power of storytelling. Baltimore, MA: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.