What are the stages of reading development?

The development of reading can be divided into two main stages: learning to read and reading to learn. Learning to read involves mastering the sound structure of spoken language, understanding the alphabetic principle, decoding words, and acquiring fluency. Once they begin to become fluent, the cognitive demands of reading shift from attempting to decipher the relationships between sounds and symbols and decoding readers’ words to comprehension, understanding one other or multiple points of view on a topic, and acquiring knowledge. .

The developmental stages of reading progress continuously throughout the life of reading. Positive early exposure to print and word play lays the foundation for early reading success. This often translates into more frequent readings and readers able to integrate new learning with their own knowledge.

Learn to read

1. Previous reading

In reality, reading development begins before children are aware of printed letters and words. Before learning about the alphabet, children must be successful with their oral language skills. These oral language skills begin with exposure to nursery rhymes that help children develop and hear the sounds of words. Once children can hear the sounds of words, they begin to focus on the components that make them similar or different. This is called rhyme and alliteration. Rhyme and alliteration provide the foundation for the development of phonological awareness.

At this point, the pre-readers’ understanding of how they sound and word patterns allows them to focus on smaller units of speech sounds. These units are called phonemes. Phonemes are speech sounds that are roughly equal to a letter or a combination of letters, but not as large as a syllable. When children master phonemic awareness, they are able to combine letter sounds, segment phonemes into words, and manipulate phonemes to form new or nonsense words. Being comfortable with sounds produced in isolation, being able to break words down into their small, nonsensical components that are phonemes, and being able to manipulate the sound structure of words are all necessary skills before reading.

Pre-readers must also be proficient in letter naming. Children who are able to identify letters quickly and accurately find it easier to learn letter sounds and the spelling of words than children who are not as familiar or precise. This is because knowing the names of the letters allows children to learn their sounds faster. That is, it accelerates the pre-reader’s ability to understand the alphabetic principle, which is simply the understanding that letters and words are made up of corresponding sounds. This understanding provides pre-readers with the key to “unlock the code” and begin reading.

During this stage of reading development, pre-readers gain mastery over the sound structure of spoken language, pretend to read, retell stories from picture books, enjoy having stories read to them, and recite the alphabet. The pre-reading stage usually lasts until the end of preschool through the middle of kindergarten.

2. Emerging readers

Emerging readers can begin to learn to connect sounds with printed letters and words. They soon realize that letters represent sounds and notice that letter combinations make different sounds. Parents and teachers often notice the beginnings of this stage when children use invented spelling. This occurs when emerging readers write words the way they sound, which is a typical part of this developmental stage, as these beginning readers overgeneralize their new skills because they only have a rudimentary understanding of reading rules. Emerging readers often memorize visual components, ie spelling, words, or whole words, and develop a “visual” vocabulary. Thus, this stage is characterized by greater correspondence between sound and symbol, greater visual memorization of high-frequency “visual” words, and invented spellings.

Children in the emerging reader stage read high-frequency words as well as regular words, continue to enjoy having stories read to them, enjoy stories that are predictable and relevant to them, need to be exposed to new vocabulary to increase their comprehension, and therefore They are generally capable of pronouncing one-syllable and sometimes two-syllable words. The emergent reader stage typically lasts until the end of kindergarten or the middle of first grade.

3. Early readers

Early readers are in the early stages of becoming fluent. They tend to be more efficient at pronouncing words and are becoming more and more automatic at recognizing parts of words and decoding them. During this stage, readers learn to break down common parts of words (eg, re, un-, -ed, or -ing) that they can transfer between words increasing efficiency. As their fluency increases, early readers have more cognitive processes available to direct their understanding of what they are reading. Therefore, they increasingly direct their energy towards understanding what they read. Early readers soon realize that there is more to understand than what is explicitly said in the text, and they may recognize that they have to reread a sentence or passage to understand what is being inferred. This is an important step in the development of reading as readers begin to become strategic, recognizing that they are reading with a purpose. The early reading stage generally lasts until the end of second grade.

4. Transitional readers

Readers in transition refine and expand their decoding skills, increase the automaticity of word recognition, increase their reading speed, increase their knowledge of vocabulary, and increase their level of comprehension. This stage can be viewed as an extension of the early reading stage or as a prequel to the fluency stage. The transitional reading stage can last until the end of third grade.

Read to learn

5. Fluent readers

Fluent readers are understanding readers. In this stage, they go from learning to read to reading to learn. Reading at this stage becomes more useful. Students can access their prior knowledge to gain information and connect with the written text. At this stage, readers began to more fully develop their understanding of meanings that are not explicitly stated. They can read more subtle nuances in the text. Fluent readers are exposed to strategies they can use to increase their understanding of what they read and continue to learn new words that help with comprehension. Fluent readers can generally only take or see one point of view in the text they read. This stage can last until the end of the ninth grade.

6. Multiple point of view readers

Readers at the multi-point of view stage can critically analyze the text they read from different perspectives. They tend to read a wide range of styles and topics. Readers of multiple viewpoints understand the metaphors and allegories they use to extract meaning from the text. They continue to develop their vocabulary and use multiple strategies to increase understanding. Students at this stage learn to write creatively and persuasively. The multi-point of view stage usually lasts until the end of high school.

7. Construction and Reconstruction Readers

Building and rebuilding readers often read for their own purposes (either to gain knowledge or for pleasure). These readers are generally very fluent and efficient in their approach to reading. They have multiple strategies that they can use to get meaning from what they read. Construction and Reconstruction readers can read multiple points of view, critically analyze the points of view and the information in each of them, and then synthesize and expand on that information with their own thoughts. Readers at this stage of development are experts. The degree of development of a reader at this point depends on their motivation, needs and interests. The more practice one has, the better it becomes.


This article describes the 7 stages of reading development and classifies them into two categories: 1. Learn to read and 2. Read to learn. The primary goal of reading is to obtain information from the text, therefore, readers must be able to quickly identify individual words to have sufficient cognitive resources available to understand words, sentences, and paragraphs.

The early stages of reading development focus on developing relationships between sounds and symbols, decoding skills, identifying sight words, and fluency. Once these skills become automatic, readers have more cognitive resources available for the comprehension stages of reading development. As readers progress through the Reading to Learn stages, they become increasingly sophisticated in their comprehension skills. Finally, as readers enter the build and rebuild stage, they use their critical analytical skills to become producers of new knowledge and not just consumers.

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