The Big Five: Skills children must acquire to become independent readers

ALLMemphis works to dramatically increase literacy and education equity for ALL students within our Memphis community. To do so, we partner with schools to provide them with a multi-year mentorship and training program. Our approach is proven to make an impact – specifically because it’s rooted in scientifically backed and research-based methods. 

The National Institute of Health’s National Reading Panel has detailed five key components of learning to read. With a combination of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, children are provided with the tools they need to succeed when it comes to becoming an independent reader. Below, we break down each one!

Phonemic awareness

Phonemes, the smallest units making up spoken language, combine to form syllables and words. Phonemic awareness refers to the student’s ability to focus on and manipulate these phonemes in spoken syllables and words.


Phonics is the knowledge that letters of the alphabet represent phonemes and that these sounds are blended together to form written words. More simply stated, phonics is the ability to sound out words while looking at them on a page.


Fluent readers are able to read orally with appropriate speed, accuracy and expression. Fluency is the ability to read as well as we speak and to make sense of the text without having to stop and decode each word. Fluent readers are able to see reading as an automatic, instinctual process.


Teaching students new vocabulary words is a key component to establishing effective reading skills. The more vocabulary words a student is introduced to and learns, the higher their reading comprehension will be.


The final, and perhaps most important, component of learning to read is comprehension. This skill ties the other four together. Comprehension is the ability for a student to not only read material but understand it, as well.

The Orton-Gillingham (O-G) approach combines these five components to effectively teach readers how to spot patterns and how to decode and encode syllables to understand their sounds. And, it has a universal design – meaning it supports ALL students. We believe that this approach can be applicable to anyone learning to read, no matter their age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.Is your school interested in learning more about how you can work with our team to bring this approach to your classrooms? Contact us today.