Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

The Importance of Teaching Reading Effectively

Literacy is the ability to communicate and engage with society in a meaningful way. One of the key tools of literacy is reading, which is the ability to infer meaning from a set of written letters or symbols. Adults who can read have greater access to employment, education, social interaction, and entertainment than their non-reading peers. The ability to read is a foundational skill for learners in upper grades as they are expected to read as part of the process of learning advanced content. Therefore, teaching reading effectively and explicitly is crucial for younger students.

Teaching students to read is not a simple or uniform task. Rather, teaching reading involves the careful use of evidence-based strategies tailored to match the needs of a diverse student population. Research about teaching reading suggests there are five characteristics of effective reading teaching:

  • Teaching both essential reading skills and specific and diverse reading strategies
  • Differentiating reading instruction based on student performance
  • Instructing students systematically in reading skills, then providing time for guided and independent practice of skills
  • Giving students meaningful and motivating text for skills practice and teaching them how to apply their isolated skills in the context of guided and independent reading
  • Monitoring student performance to ensure that skills have been learned well and can be used and generalized

When students receive quality reading instruction, they become competent and active readers who reap the benefits of understanding written communication, education, and entertainment.

How to Teach Reading

The critical importance of reading teaching has made it the subject of decades worth of research and practice, involving numerous teaching methods and even a measure of controversy. Educators and researchers refer to the reading wars as a long-standing controversy regarding the best method of teaching reading. Simplified, the debate involves the teaching of phonics versus the teaching of reading using a whole language approach, allowing students to learn words in context. Many educators today conclude that students need an instructional approach that embraces the best of both sides.

Teacher resources for reading are abundant, and the input can be overwhelming. For teachers who are planning reading lessons, there are several key planning points:

Know the Standards

Educators in the United States are expected to teach content according to learning standards. Schools in some states follow a set of standards called the Common Core Standards, while other states have their own state-specific standards. The learning standards specify the skills and content students should master in each subject area and at each grade level.

When planning a reading lesson, a teacher should first determine which grade-appropriate learning standard the lesson will address. Because the standards represent broad skill sets, a teacher will usually teach multiple lessons addressing each individual standard while pushing students to a deeper and more thorough understanding of the target content. Based on the selected standards, a teacher should clearly state a learning objective to share with the students. The learning objective tells what the student should know or do as a result of the lesson.

Determine the Evidence

After selecting a standard, the teacher should determine what evidence the students will give to prove that they have met the lesson objective. In other words, the teacher needs to define what it looks like to successfully meet the learning objective. Evidence can include a variety of student behaviors. Teachers can consider:

  • Written evidence: worksheets or exit tickets (brief written answers to a question or prompt about the lesson)
  • Oral evidence: a presentation or a one-on-one interview with the teacher
  • Visual evidence: a poster, picture, or completed graphic organizer (a visual representation of a set of information)
  • Kinesthetic evidence: a game that demonstrates the target skill

Teachers can be creative with the types of evidence they collect. Because students learn in different ways, it is beneficial for students to collect more than one type of evidence for each skill or objective.

Direct instruction is one method of teaching reading. Direct instruction involves the teacher sharing information with the students.

Teacher standing and talking to a group of children holding books.

Plan Teaching Strategies

Once the teacher has selected standards and evidence, it is time to plan teaching strategies. Three basic instruction methods are:

  • Direct instruction occurs when the teacher is the source of information and passes that information on to the students. Lectures and demonstration of skills are examples of direct instruction. An example is a teacher giving a phonics mini-lesson to introduce a set of initial blends.
  • Self-directed learning is the process where students choose the resources and methods for meeting an educational goal. For example, a student selects an independent reading book. The teacher gives the student a question to consider, such as what is the book’s main idea, and after the student has read independently, the student has a one-on-one conference with the teacher to discuss the book.
  • Cooperative learning refers to groups of students working together on a learning goal or activity. Students might work in pairs or small groups to collect rhyming words or sort words by initial sounds, or students might read to a partner to practice fluency.

Most teachers use a combination of these three methods. In addition to teaching methods, the teacher should choose activities and tools to support learning. Examples include videos, manipulatives, worksheets, or visual aids. They can address the most important concepts in multiple lessons. Over the course of instruction for a single skill, the teacher should present information in multiple formats to address the different learning styles of their class.


The most typical style of assessment is the test or quiz. However, there are many ways to assess student learning. There are two keys to valid assessment:

  1. The assessment must match the learning goal and accurately reflect the lesson or unit’s target skills or knowledge. These target skills and knowledge should come from the learning standards.
  2. The assessment must capture the data in a format that is easy to use and understand for the teacher and the student.

When an assessment is something other than a test with an answer key, a good tool is a rubric. A rubric is a list of criteria on which a project, essay, or activity will be graded. For each criterion, the teacher determines possible scores (such as one, two, or three points) and describes what work would look like for each score. The instructor can share the rubric with students before the assessment takes place, allowing students to understand their goals.

Components of Effective Reading Instruction

The National Reading Panel, which the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development commissioned in 2000, compiled reading research on the science of teaching reading from several decades and came to the conclusion that there are five essential components that anyone attempting to teach reading must address. These components are crucial, and a teaching approach that excludes any of these components is likely to leave some readers behind. The components include:

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, isolate, and manipulate the different sounds (phonemes) within words. A lesson on phonemic awareness might involve activities that match initial sounds, create rhyming words, or blend sounds to form words. Phonemic awareness is an important skill for early readers and precedes the skills that connect phonemes (sounds) with graphemes (letters).

One element of effective reading teaching is phonemic awareness, the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds of words. Rhyming is one example of phonemic awareness.

Child reading an open book. Book pages show the words Poor old Fox has lost his socks.


Phonics are the rules that govern the connection between spoken sounds and written language. A reading lesson focusing on phonics might consist of reading or writing a story using many words with the same initial blend, such as /sh/. Many types of activities can be designed to emphasize and explore the relationship between a letter and its sound. The goal of these activities is to thoroughly familiarize young readers with the correspondence between letters and sounds.


In reading, fluency is the ability to quickly recognize written words and phrases so that text read aloud sounds like natural speech. Fluency activities can involve reading and rereading the same text to improve word recognition and intonation. Performance activities that require students to practice and prepare a text to share with an audience are a fun way to promote reading fluency.


Vocabulary refers to the words used in communication. Vocabulary falls into four categories: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Explicit instruction in vocabulary allows students to build their repertoire of words they understand and recognize, increasing their ability to read and comprehend unfamiliar text. Vocabulary lessons can include recording words and meanings in a vocabulary notebook, creating illustrated vocabulary cards, finding vocabulary words in texts, and looking up definitions of novel words.


Comprehension is the final vital component of reading instruction. It is not enough to decode text, rather students need to also understand what they read. Questioning, retelling, discussion, story maps, and creating illustrations are simple ways to check and increase student comprehension. Encouraging students to ask questions as they read increases their involvement with a text. Teaching students to make connections also increases comprehension. Students can make connections between two parts of a text, between the text and their personal experience, or between the text and a different text. Comprehension strategies will vary greatly based on the age and experience of the students.

Lesson Summary

Reading is a fundamental skill that improves a person’s access to socialization, employment, education, and entertainment. Effective reading teachers teach both skills and strategies; differentiate reading instruction; provided guided and independent practice; teach students to apply skills to motivating texts; and monitor the acquisition and generalization of skills. Steps to planning reading instruction include:

  • Knowing the learning standards (the skills that should be learned at each grade level)
  • Determining the evidence used as proof that students have learned the material, such as written evidence, oral evidence, visual evidence (like a graphic organizer), or kinesthetic evidence
  • Plan teaching strategies, such as direct instruction, self-directed learning, and cooperative learning (students working in groups)
  • Design assessments, such as a rubric that shows what skills will be assessed and how they will be scored

Experts agree that the science of teaching reading includes five key components: phonemic awareness, the ability to recognize and manipulate language sounds; phonics, the correlation between sounds and letters; fluency, the ability to recognize words and phrases quickly; vocabulary, a knowledge of diverse words and their meanings; and comprehension, or understanding of a text.

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