There are five skills that we see in all good readers. These skills are necessary for readers to recognise words easily and quickly, focus on the meaning of the words they are reading and make sense of what they have read.
Good readers have Phonological awareness
Phonological awareness refers to the ability to be sound sensitive. Someone who is phonologically aware can hear the different sounds in words and would be able to identify and recognise two words that begin with a similar sound. They can also pick words that rhyme.
Good readers know the alphabetical principle
The second characteristic of a good reader is that they have a knowledge of the alphabetic principle. That is knowing that while the alphabet has 26 letters, those letters translate into about forty-four different sounds. A good example is the letter A which can make up to five different sounds depending on its position and sound in the word. Another example is the letter C. C can have a hard sound like in the word cake, but it can also have a soft sound such as the word rice.
Good readers have fluency
The third critical skill for good reading is the ability to read smoothly. A fluent reader is someone who reads as if they are speaking. This requires strong and efficient decoding skills.
Encouraging fluency is one of the reasons young children and beginning readers should re-read books several times. As these children become more familiar with the words they are re-reading, the process of decoding those letters, sounds and words will become more automatic and allow for greater fluency and better comprehension.
Good readers have vocabulary knowledge
There is lots of work being done on vocabulary - which is the fourth essential characteristic of a good reader. Research shows us that if children have heard words before they encounter them in print, they're much more likely to learn these words and to learn them quickly.
Exposure to new words comes through children's books and spoken language. Some sound advice for parents and caregivers is to expose children to as much language and as many words as possible. The more words children hear, the more likely they are to use these words. This will help them recognise the words in print faster and make the child a better reader.
Good readers have comprehension
The fifth and final essential reading skill is comprehension - the ability to make meaning. Reading is about making meaning. What is the purpose of just being able to say the words?
Comprehension is very closely linked to vocabulary. If we know the words we are reading, we are more likely to make sense of the text. But it is also reliant on what existing knowledge the reader brings to the table.
Comprehension is improved when children have well-developed and good general knowledge. We are much more likely to comprehend a piece of text if we know a bit about the topic. For teachers, parents and caregivers, providing some background knowledge before you open the book can help young readers gain interest and maintain confidence in reading.
If a child doesn't have an awareness of the topic you are asking them to read about, tell them! Spend a couple of minutes providing the necessary background knowledge. For example, if you're reading about African animals, talking about the different sorts of animals that may appear in the book. Where they live, what they eat, and what they look like.
You should use the language of the book when you talk. This means as well as imparting some background knowledge of the topic - you're also helping to build their vocabulary and improve their comprehension and fluency.
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