What Are Other Foundational Literacy Skills?
In addition to the four key foundational reading skills listed above, students need numerous other foundational literacy skills to become proficient. For example, a strong ELA program will include instruction that supports language comprehension, background knowledge, vocabulary, reading comprehension, writing, and speaking.
The sophistication of these skills will evolve as the students progress through school. For example, before students can effectively write a response to reading prompts, they need to have experience with print concepts, like letter recognition, handwriting, such as letter formation, and encoding (spelling). Students will also need to practice many other skills, such as listening to stories read aloud and telling stories.
Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding
Teachers and families can support students as they travel through the many stages of literacy development. After an extensive review of rigorous research, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) produced the IES Practice Guide:
Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade. While the skills are similar to the key foundational reading skills above, there is some variation in their focus. Given the strong research base of this IES Practice Guide, we would be remiss not to highlight their instructional recommendations:
- Recommendation 1: Teach students academic language skills, including the use of inferential and narrative language and vocabulary knowledge.
- Recommendation 2: Develop awareness of the segments of sounds in speech and how they link to letters.
- Recommendation 3: Teach students to decode words, analyze word parts, and write and recognize words.
- Recommendation 4: Ensure that each student reads connected text every day to support reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.
Families are essential to supporting students’ knowledge acquisition, including ELA skills. Drawing upon the four recommendations of the IES Practice Guide, WWC created a companion document, “Tips for Supporting Reading at Home,” which offers guidance to families (and applies to classrooms as well), including:
- Have conversations before, during, and after reading together.
- Help children learn how to break sentences into words and words into syllables.
- Help children sound out words smoothly.
- Model reading fluently by practicing reading aloud with your child.
Teaching Foundational Literacy Skills
Teaching foundational literacy skills requires systematic, explicit, and diagnostic instruction. Concepts need to be taught with an evidence-based scope and sequence covering topics from the most basic to more complex, which are introduced through teacher modeling, adequate practice, and personalized feedback. Students’ understanding and skills are assessed continuously so that whole-group classwork can focus on curricular elements benefiting all students. Small-group work can provide targeted, differentiated reading instruction that accommodates the needs of students reading at various levels.
Teaching Foundational Literacy Skills with Digital Tools
The use of digital tools to support early literacy instruction has skyrocketed over the past couple of decades, particularly with the pandemic accelerating the usage of technology for all students. During whole-group instruction, many teachers can display literacy lessons on digital Smart Boards or access relevant multimedia that develop students’ vocabulary and content knowledge on a given text. Students can be broken up into literacy centers or small groups, where some students practice a given phonics or comprehension skill with personalized instruction at computer stations while others may be reading independently using audiobooks or eBooks at their reading level.