9. What are the Four Key Elements of Reading Instruction?

While comprehension is the goal of reading instruction, all of the reading components contribute to the development of comprehension. As mentioned before, the four key reading components are:

Why are these four reading components important? To understand some of the difficulties a poor reader encounters, please read the following abstract from the "Amplitude death: The emergence of stationarity in coupled nonlinear systems Review Article", Pages 205-228. Garima Saxena, Awadhesh Prasad, Ram Ramaswamy. It is available for purchase from Physics Reports at this link.

Please Read this Abstract:

When nonlinear dynamical systems are coupled, depending on the intrinsic dynamics and the manner in which the coupling is organized, a host of novel phenomena can arise. In this context, an important emergent phenomenon is the complete suppression of oscillations, formally termed amplitude death (AD). Oscillations of the entire system cease as a consequence of the interaction, leading to stationary behavior. The fixed points which the coupling stabilizes can be the otherwise unstable fixed points of the uncoupled system or can correspond to novel stationary points. Such behavior is of relevance in areas ranging from laser physics to the dynamics of biological systems. In this review we discuss the characteristics of the different coupling strategies and scenarios that lead to AD in a variety of different situations, and draw attention to several open issues and challenging problems for further study.

Would this text have tempted you to purchase the article? Why or why not? What would have helped you to comprehend the text better or read this passage more fluently?

Let's consider the four components of reading in terms of your experience with this text.

  • Alphabetics: P. 33 (Optional: Click on link to learn more the topic)
Chances were that you were able to "read" unknown words in the text by sounding them out and using your knowledge of the sounds of vowels and consonants and their blends. Poor readers will need to be taught how to do this through systematic teaching of phonemes, phonics, word sorts, and word families. Adult learners often have a hard time hearing word sounds, or phonemes, and need systematic practice in learning this skill. 
This siteFat Phonics, is an online tutorial that allows tutors to work with students as they learn the alphabet and the sounds of the vowels, consonants, consonant blends, and more. For tutors who are uneasy teaching alphabetics, this site can be a valuable aid in teaching the concepts.

Word Families:

Another way to familiarize students with ending sounds, beginning sounds, and sound blends is to teach them word families. This short video shows an easy and fun way to teach your student word identification skills.

Fun with word families: You can make a variety of these "eggs" to teach an assortment of word families. Index cards work just as well.

  • Fluency: P. 49 (Optional: Click on link to learn more the topic)
Why is fluency important? Think about the abstract you just read. Try reading it out loud. Did you hesitate at times? Did you recall the first few sentences when you completed the abstract? Fluency affects comprehension.

Poor readers often struggle through new text that is beyond their "comfort" level. Some hesitate, unable to sound out words or figure out punctuation. Others will read without expression or affect, rushing through the words without thinking about their meaning. Often, poor readers struggle so hard with each word that when they reach the end of a paragraph or sentence, they will have forgotten the beginning text. Many poor readers mistakenly think that by merely "reading" the text, they have successfully completed the assignment, not taking into account whether they have comprehended the text or not.

In practicing fluency, remember to set your student up for success.
  1. Read out loud to your student first.
  2. Then ask them to read the passage silently. 
  3. Discuss words your student doesn't understand, going over the definition or concept. 
  4. Read the passage together with your student. (Echo reading)
  5. After your student has mastered the text, ask her to read the passage out loud. 
Rhymes and poems are a fun way to practice fluency and master word families.

Punctuation marks: 

Ask your student to look at a sentence and identify its punctuation. Find a way to describe each mark, so that your student has a guide for reading aloud. For example:
  1. Comma - a pause. Slightly hesitate. This is a comma   ,
  2. Period - a stop, like at a stop light. Take a deep breath before continuing to read. At the end of this sentence you will find a period.  .
  3. Question mark - your voice rises when you ask a question. Do the same when you see this mark. ?
  4. Exclamation mark - this mark is used to emphasize an important point or to catch attention. Sound excited or boldly emphasize the words. !
Then read the passage, using inflection. Ask your student to read the sentence exactly as you read it.

Remember to tell him what you are doing and why punctuation is important in guiding him through the text.

An example of an independent reading assignment for your student:

The First Well is a story that can be as interesting for adults as children. Your student can practice reading a story on his own by watching this YouTube video - reading the words, listening to the reader, and looking at the images for comprehension clues. He can even practice reading out loud with the video reader.


  • Vocabulary: P. 59 (Optional: Click on link to learn more the topic)
The abstract pointed out the importance of teaching vocabulary and new concepts. If we had taken the time to teach you some important vocabulary words and concepts, ie. nonlinear dynamical systems, suppressions of oscillations, and stationary behavior, you might have understood the abstract better.Poor readers often struggle because they are unfamiliar with the vocabulary. While some can figure out the meaning of words from their context, direct instruction of words meanings, discussions about words and word parts, and

In order to set your student up for success, you will need to teach new vocabulary and topics by

  • using the KWL chart and finding out what your student already knows and needs to know about a topic. 
  • asking your student to underline words he doesn't know
  • asking your students to guess a word's meaning using context
  • asking question and using the dictionary to find word meanings
  • using graphic organizers
  • teaching prefixes, suffixes, and word roots
  • going online or using images to visually demonstrate new concepts
  • appealing to all the senses, and using podcasts or videos 
For example, one student's personal goal was to read Tom Sawyer. He had never traveled outside of the city he was born, and had difficulties understanding the length and breadth of the Mississippi River. When Tom and Becky were trapped in a cave, he could not understand their dilemma, for he had never been in a cave or seen a cave before. The vocabulary was also difficult. In order for that student to fully appreciate his reading experience of Tom Sawyer, all these new concepts needed to be introduced prior to each chapter.

Teaching Vocabulary Words: While the content in this video is meant for English Language Learners, the principle for teaching vocabulary words is the same for adult literacy learners.

Teaching Sight Words: This teacher makes it clear that teaching sight words is as important for adults, as for children and students in High School.

Click here for a list of the 220 most common sight words. Many of these words cannot be sounded out because they do not follow decoding rules, so they must be learned as sight words.: http://english-zone.com/reading/dolch.html

Optional Reading:
Why Teach Vocabulary?: http://eps.schoolspecialty.com/downloads/articles/why_teach_vocabulary.pdf

We've already introduced The Marlup in helping you to understand why your adult students were able to fake it through school without comprehending the text. Think about the times when you had difficulty comprehending an important legal document or a medical condition you were researching. Then think about the activities you undertook to understand those new concepts. As a tutor, you will be helping your adult student learn similar independent reading and critical thinking skills.

Asking Questions:

We've already introduced the concept of BDA (Before, During, and After reading strategies). Asking and answering questions is crucial to reading comprehension, activating your student's prior knowledge, and setting the stage for active reading.

Click here to find an online resource for more Questioning Skills: http://www.hallco.org/literacy/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14&Itemid=2

This important skill let's teachers know if the student understood the text.

Click here to find graphic organizers that will help your student restate the text. Graphic Organizers for Summarization: http://wvde.state.wv.us/strategybank/GraphicOrganizersforSummarization.html

Thinking Aloud:

Thinking aloud as you work with your student is one way to transfer the reading strategies that you use to your student. The following advice, designed for English language learners, works equally well with adult literacy learners:

Giving Instructions:

Also, as you work with your student, be sure to provide clear instructions, providing written and verbal instructions.

Next: At this point, you may be wondering: How will I incorporate all the reading strategies I learned in this unit in a tutoring session?  The next module will show you how. Using a Language Experience Story, a story dictated by your student to describe her own experiences, you can strengthen your student's reading skills. The beauty of the Language Experience Approach as a method of instruction is that it
  • encourages your student to express her thoughts and ideas,
  • provides immediate and meaningful context, and
  • allows the tutor to use the story to strengthen word identification skills and work on fluency.


Queen Of My Castle said...

I am trying to determine how to possibly coordinate all four items in 2 two hour sessions per week and to truly make a difference each week in that persons reading skills!


lillian said...

Personal experiences are more relevant and hold student's interest.

Pat said...

to get all of this done will be a challenge

Resource Center Staff said...

It would be hard to include all four elements in every lesson! Working with your literacy coordinator at your literacy organization, you will learn to develop customized lessons for your student.

jack said...

Being able to include all four elements of reading instruction will be a challenge. There will have to be a high level of motivation to get this accomplished.

Ms. Ovette said...

Of course, the possibility exists that our reader will not want to talk about his or her personal history. It would be good to offer a range of exercises.

marcy said...

We always have to start where the learner is and not impose our ideas on him/her. They know what they need to learn and if material that is not relevant to them is pushed on them they will reject it and possibly drop out. Marcy

Marian said...

I am new to this, but my prediction is that spending all the necessary time initially to determine the learner's needs will be the guide to where the teaching needs to be concentrated; i.e. it may come more naturally than we feel in the face of so much information, and so many learning strategies and teaching techniques.

rsvmi52 said...

I am becoming overwhelmed.

rsvmi52 said...

I am becoming overwhelmed.

Lynn said...

Sounds like a lovely process!

neg said...

I am becoming overwhelmed too but I tend to agree with Marion's comment.

SNelson said...

I believe they all inter-twine and to be consistent will be the key

Megan N said...

This reminds me of how in elementary school we had to write a book on our favorite experience, and our teacher took all the pages and bound them up to make a real book! It made me want to keep writing down my stories.

Kenneth Zen Bodhi said...

I really enjoyed this section and the fundementals it addressed.

LG said...

I totally agree that Lang Experience stories will be a fruitful way to work on each of the 4 elements of reading instruction at the same time.

Michael Spinali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Spinali said...

One of the most important aspects of becoming a reader, especially adults that perhaps haven't read all their life, is daily reading. Read fiction, read nonfiction, read anything you can get your hands on. For fiction writing straight to your inbox, go to www.5amwriter.com. Enjoy!

lisakay said...

The comparison of an ELL and an adult learning is interesting. I can use my own experience of learning a foreign language -- my frustration, feelings of stupidity, feelings of finally getting it -- to empathize with my student. A lot to think about for all the parts of reading besides just sounding out words. I'm looking forward to seeing how to implement these strategies.

Allison Smith said...

Extremely helpful! I really enjoyed the ELL teacher's videos. She has a lot of good ideas.

Wallace West said...

I've to use these and other techniques while in the as a Manager and Military. It helped being partnered with people (diverse backgrounds) I had to find ways to overcome our differences and be patient so this is a great refresher.

CLC Program Manager said...

...while also keeping in mind Andrew Johnson's (video in previous Unit #8) insistence that semantic, syntactical, and phonological skills need to be supported. It is overwhelming to read about all at once, but won't be when preparing and tutoring.

Regina Cook said...

This section is very helpful and well developed. It provides the glue to the component mash up of sorts, as presented by McShane and her comprehension strategy.

Pamela Lee said...

Each lesson for a student should just cover enough to take two hours. Provide the goals of the lesson, introduce new words, have the student read a story of a length according to their ability while using the strategies in this lesson. If the student is capable of doing "homework" assign something related to the lesson.

It really works out if you plan your lesson well.

MSTATEN said...

This section is very helpful.. especially hearing it from a teacher.

Mme Brown said...

A good lesson plan is the key.

Penny Speidel said...

The Challenger series (available at the Read Center) includes reading selections that can be adapted to the different components suggested in this unit.