Foundational Reading Skills and A Simple Guide to Your Child’s Learning Styles

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. The way we educate our children is one of them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. The way we educate our children is one of them; according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, homeschool rates are on the rise. This means many more parents are now asking questions about early literacy education. One of the most common questions parents have is “When should reading instruction begin?”

Of course, the acquisition of literacy skills varies from child to child, but there are some general milestones that most children follow as they gradually learn to read fluently. According to these milestones, children begin to produce words that rhyme and recognize some familiar words by the age of 5; in first and second grade, when children are 6-7 years old, they begin to read familiar stories and sound out unfamiliar words.

The National Reading Panel (NRP) is a national panel created to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children how to read. According to the NRP, there are 5 major components of effective reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. For information on phonemic awareness and phonics, see our earlier post. This post will focus on the remaining three components that the NRP draws attention to and how you can differentiate reading instruction.

Key Takeaways

  • Phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension are the building blocks of reading instruction.
  • Children follow general milestones as they learn to read.
  • Children’s learning styles can be targeted to enhance reading instruction.


Children are considered fluent readers when they can concentrate on the meaning of the text as a whole, not just the individual words. Fluent children are able to read a text quickly and accurately. In the NRP’s 2000 assessment of reading instruction, they review two major approaches used to teach reading fluency.

  • Guided repeated oral reading: This approach usually begins with a parent or teacher reading a text aloud. After modeling fluency, the instructor allows the child to reread the text on their own several times. After the child reads the text 4 to 6 times, the instructor can offer feedback and support. Hence why it is described as guided and repeated. The NRP concluded that guided repeated oral reading leads to improvements in word knowledge, reading speed, and oral accuracy; all factors that contribute to fluency.
  • Sustained silent reading (SSR): Theorists, researchers, and practitioners agree that reading is learned through reading. In other words, we learn by doing. This means we have to encourage children to read as much as possible; they can’t become better readers without reading. Although there is no hard research that proves SSR is helpful in developing fluency, most scholars agree it is an integral component of literacy development.

How To Effectively Guide The Reader

Guided repeated oral reading is beneficial for children as they learn how to read independently. The transition from guided repeated oral reading to sustained silent reading should be gradual. Minimal corrections need to be made and you should allow your child time to correct themselves. Only correct them if they’re stuck on a word or make an error that severely interferes with the meaning of the text.

Corrections can be suggested by asking clarifying questions, such as:

  • “What was that word?”
  • “What sound does that letter make?”
  • “Where are they going?”

Overcorrection can cause anxiety and unpleasant feelings towards reading. It’s important for your child to enjoy the reading process. Rather than strive for 100% accuracy, keep things fun and relaxed. It’s better to have your child enjoy reading and make some mistakes than for them to become frustrated and decide they don’t like reading.

As their literacy skills improve, instructors should gradually include more time for SSR, which will contribute to the child’s ability to read fluently. Allow your child to choose their own books for SSR time to ensure reading is enjoyable and maybe even exciting.


Children begin to acquire vocabulary indirectly through exposure to the language as they hear people speak and begin to speak to others. When children begin reading, they learn new words and increase their vocabulary in order to understand the text. Vocabulary is entangled with comprehension; the more words a child understands, the more ideas they will understand. According to a well-cited 2011 study, Vocabulary knowledge “influences the complexities and nuances of children’s thinking … and how well they will understand printed texts” (Sinatra, Zygouris-Coe, and Dasinger, 2011, p. 333).

The NRP suggests two methods for building children’s vocabulary: incidental and intentional instruction.

Incidental vocabulary instruction

This method is a passive approach to increasing vocabulary. Children learn new words by becoming exposed to them at home, school, and in public. Environments such as nature centers and shopping centers will also introduce your children to vocabulary they might not incidentally acquire at home. With incidental vocabulary instruction, exposure is key.

Intentional vocabulary instruction

Although we know children acquire vast amounts of vocabulary words through exposure, incidental instruction alone isn’t enough to develop a strong vocabulary. Students need to be taught specific words and word-learning strategies to use independently.

When using intentional vocabulary instruction, it’s important to keep three concepts in mind: child-friendly definitions, context clues, and word parts. The dictionary definition doesn’t always help children understand the meaning of a word, so make sure you are giving them a child-friendly definition that makes sense to them. You can also teach your children how to use context clues by looking at the surrounding words in a sentence. Additionally, children benefit from learning affixes (un-, dis-, re-, -ive, -ion, -ing), or word parts, as they decode the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Teaching Idioms

As your child’s vocabulary continues to grow, it’s important to talk about the creative aspects of the language. Part of your vocabulary instruction should include English idioms. Idioms are creative phrases found in every language. In English, linguists estimate there are over 25,000 idiomatic phrases! For those of you in the dark about what an idiom is, an idiom is a phrase that means something entirely different than the literal meaning of the words. Here’s a list of some common English idioms:

  • Touch base.
  • A piece of cake.
  • Dime a dozen.
  • Beat around the bush.
  • Cut corners.
  • Break the ice.

It’s important for your child to understand the meaning of these phrases because if they only understand the literal translation, they will be very confused when these phrases are used. Idioms can be learned incidentally and intentionally. After intentionally teaching your child about some of the English language’s idioms, ask them to start looking for idioms in their daily routines. You might be surprised by how many idioms can be found in our television shows, advertisements, everyday conversations, and other media.


Extracting meaning from text is the goal of reading. If we don’t comprehend what we’re reading, we aren’t really reading. Children begin to do this even before they know how to read on their own; as parents or teachers read aloud, students follow along and make connections between words and ideas. A few key strategies help students develop their comprehension skills.

  • Previewing : Before diving into a book, students can preview a text in order to gain clues about its meaning. Allow your child to flip through the pages of the book before reading it. Picture books are especially helpful here as they give information about the story. As they scan the pages, children create a framework of understanding to use as they read the text and they also use their prior knowledge to better understand specific words and phrases.
  • Questioning : As children read, they can pause to ask questions. They might ask about future events (“Where are they going to go next?”) or about previous information that they misunderstood (“Who are they going to visit?”). Questions help instructors check the student’s comprehension.
  • Summarizing : When children are asked to summarize a book or a portion of the story, they use their own words to describe the main ideas and events. Not only is this an indicator of comprehension, it actually builds comprehension by challenging students to think deeply about the text’s meaning.

Based on the NRP’s report, we know that fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies are critical to the development of early literacy skills. While these three concepts are undoubtedly important aspects of reading instruction, the two most important concepts are phonemic awareness and phonics instruction.

Differentiated Reading Instruction

Now that you know about the five key components of reading instruction, you have a good understanding of the skills your child needs in order to start reading. Now let’s get down to some strategies you can use to differentiate your reading instruction.

Differentiated instruction is a practice used to enhance learning by matching students’ characteristics and learning preferences to instructional strategies. Differentiated instruction is based on the modification of three elements: content, process, and

product. Modifications are guided by your understanding of your child’s needs. Specifically, your child’s readiness, interests, and learning style.

Determining Learning Styles

Understanding how your child likes to learn is a crucial aspect of differentiating reading instruction. Some children prefer to learn through movement, others through nature, and others through music.

To find out which learning style your child gravitates towards, begin by familiarizing yourself with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. The eight intelligences that link to your child’s learning style are listed below. Gardner’s ninth intelligence (existential intelligence) has been omitted from our article because this type of intelligence is not widely developed in younger children.

  1. Verbal-linguistic intelligence (well-developed verbal skills and sensitivity to the sounds, meanings, and rhythms of words)
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence (ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and capacity to discern logical and numerical patterns)
  3. Spatial-visual intelligence (capacity to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly)
  4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (ability to control one’s body movements and to handle objects skillfully)
  5. Musical intelligence (ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch, and timber)
  6. Interpersonal intelligence (capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations, and desires of others)
  7. Intrapersonal (capacity to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs, and thinking processes)
  8. Naturalist intelligence (ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals, and other objects in nature).

Traits associated with learning styles become more prominent as children grow older, so it might not be clear which learning style works best for them yet. Don’t worry about this too much; learning styles are not concrete traits, they are simply differences in each child’s learning process. Children’s preferred methods of learning may change multiple times as they grow into adolescence. Use learning styles and intelligence types as a guide rather than a hard rule.

Reading Instruction Based on Learning Style

For bodily-kinesthetic learners , we recommend reading From Head to Toe by Eric Carle. Sentences such as “I am a penguin and I turn my head” can be read, and then acted out by the reader. As you embrace the guided, repeated oral reading technique, you can act out the movements as you read each sentence; as your child listens and acts out the movements with you, they make connections to the words.

Maybe your child is a nature lover. For naturalist learners , a fun activity to develop their vocabulary is an outdoor scavenger hunt. Write a list of natural elements (tree, grass, rock, leaf) and ask your child to complete the hunt as they read the words.

Many children love to learn through song, especially musical learners. Pick up a sing-along book or watch the alphabet song on YouTube to get your child excited about reading. Sing-along books are generally made for infants and toddlers but they are helpful for all children learning how to read.

Logical-mathematical learners like to learn through patterns and structure. If this sounds like your child, create lesson plans that emphasize the patterns of language. This will be especially helpful while teaching your child about words that rhyme; logical learners appreciate the straightforward structure of rhyming.

If your child likes to draw out their ideas, they may be a visual-spatial learner. For these learners, use lots of pictures to introduce content and allow your child to demonstrate their new knowledge by drawing pictures and creating visual representations of vocabulary words.

Verbal-linguistic learners pay close attention to sound, rhythm, and rhyme. Nursery rhymes and alphabet sing-along songs are great activities to keep verbal-linguistic learners engaged.

If your child prefers to play or work on problems by themself in a quiet area, they are probably an intrapersonal learner. These learners are very in tune with their own thoughts and feelings. They require a quiet space to focus on their learning process so make sure they have a private area to read in.

Unlike intrapersonal learners, interpersonal learners love to collaborate and work around others. Communication with others is a great way for these children to learn. These learners will expect you to be an active listener and responder as they talk through their ideas.

Differentiated Content

Content refers to the ways instructors present new information to learners. Content can be introduced in a variety of ways. When you’re working on phonics instruction, you might start by drawing some letters on a piece of paper and making the sound they represent. Next, you could use a YouTube video to demonstrate the same information. Another way to introduce content is by playing audio recordings. There are lots of ways to introduce new content, it just depends on your child’s preferred learning style.

Differentiated Process

After you’ve introduced new content in a variety of ways, it’s your child’s turn to start interacting with the new ideas. Process refers to the ways children come to understand new information, think of it as their practice. After you introduce them to new content, how will they proceed to develop an understanding of the content? You can find free phonics games to help your child develop an understanding of letter-sound relationships, or you might print out some free phonics worksheets for your child.

Differentiated Product

Product refers to the ways children demonstrate what they’ve learned. Some ways of doing this are simply stating what they know verbally, visually representing their knowledge via pictures and diagrams, or they might prefer to take a multiple-choice quiz. Mix things up by asking your child to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways. Give them instructions such as “Tell me what sound this letter makes”, “Find an object in the house that starts with the letter M”, or “Cat, Bat, Ball, which words rhyme?”

These are just a few ideas to get you inspired. As you begin your exciting journey of reading instruction, you will find unique ways to differentiate your instruction to meet your child’s specific needs.

Bottom Line:

  • Children learn to read at different rates, but they all must develop skills in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  • Differentiated reading instruction meets the specific needs of your child.
  • Reading instruction can be adjusted throughout the process.

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