Five Building Blocks of Literacy

The research is very clear: there are five skills each child must have to become a proficient reader by the time they enter fourth grade. There is also a lot of research about how teachers can help students build these skills so that they can become strong, proficient readers. 

Phonemic Awareness

“Phonemic awareness” is a technical term to describe our ability to hear, recognize, and differentiate between sounds. It might seem strange that hearing is part of reading, but without the ability to hear the difference between sounds, it’s very difficult to be a strong reader.


Phonics is the relationship between sounds and letters. Basically, it’s how we know that the sound /f/ is written “F”or “f” or how “cat” begins with the letter “C”. Being taught the explicit connections between sounds and letters is a key way that students learn to read.


Vocabulary is a knowledge of words. To read words, it is critical know what they are and what they mean. This skill can also include knowing that there are different words that mean the same thing like, “happy and cheerful” and knowing that there are words that have the opposite meaning like, “up and down” “in and out.”


Fluency is the ability to read text accurately and quickly. When students start learning how letters and sounds work together to make words, it will likely take time to sound out the different parts of a word and reading even a few words can take a long time. When students increase their fluency skills, they will be able to improve their reading comprehension.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is understanding the meaning of the words you are reading; not just knowing how to read the words. As students improve their reading comprehension skills, they can think deeply and answer questions about what they have read.

What Parents Should Know

Each year, your child will take a short assessment so that their teacher can track his or her progress in developing the skills in the five building blocks of literacy. 

It’s ok if your child’s teacher tells you that he or she needs additional support on any (or all) building blocks – it is not unusual for a child to need additional support. Learning to read takes a lot of hard work and their teacher is there to help. It’s important to know about your child’s reading progress and know how your child’s teacher is working with them to improve. Be sure to ask their teacher about activities you can do at home to help your child practice the skills they are working on at school.


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