Areas of Literacy Instruction

There are many ways to categorize and organize the “areas of literacy” that children need instruction in to become powerful readers, writers, and thinkers. Different experts and institutions use different terminology to explain the components of a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction. In 1997, the National Reading Panel drew educators’ attention to five essential components of reading: comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, phonics, and phonological awareness. In 2010, the Common Core discussed reading foundational skills, in which they included three of the five components of reading from the National Reading Panel— fluency, phonics, and phonological awareness—and also added another aspect of beginning reading instruction—print concepts.

In addition to these five components and the foundational reading skills, we also need to pay attention to how our reading instruction fosters the growth of children’s general knowledge and their motivation to read, and, to the ways in which oral language opportunities and writing instruction impact children’s overall literacy development. As research on the best approaches to literacy instruction continues to develop, we are committed to highlighting the most useful and reliable new literacy research and evidence-based practices, without losing sight of foundational earlier literacy research, such as the work of the National Reading Panel.

The content on this page starts with the National Reading Panel’s five essential components of reading and the Common Core’s definition of foundational reading skills. We aim to synthesize and summarize recent research and guidelines on best practices in the form of online content, videos, printable resources, and learning modules. Resources we have called on include:

The goal of this content is to deepen all educators’ pedagogical and content knowledge.

  • Pedagogical Knowledge: knowledge of HOW to teach—the processes and practices. This includes an understanding of how to plan, structure, and deliver effective, evidence-based instructional practices. Pedagogical knowledge is developed by internalizing the core habits for effective lesson planning.
  • Content Knowledge: knowledge of WHAT to teach—the strategies, skills, and behaviors do readers and writers need, at different stages and ages, to become successful readers and writers with good habits and motivation. This means knowing the continuum of literacy behaviors associated with the areas of literacy instruction that are critical to reading development.

The integration of pedagogical and content knowledge comes when educators understand how the areas of literacy are taught within and across instructional practices. This integration of knowledge is necessary for:

  • Planning how much attention to give each component in a literacy block, based on what the children need. For example, children in earlier grades need lots of attention to word-reading skills, and some children need an even greater intensity of instruction in this area based on their needs.
  • Long-term planning of scopes and units, to ensure a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction that builds background knowledge and results in transfer and application of components (for example, attention to many different genres of text, and the skills to comprehend those texts, over several units).
  • The lesson-planning process, when educators are exploring the literacy content of the lesson—that is, understanding and intentionally articulating what they are going to teach, why this will help readers and writers, and how they are going to teach it.


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