3 Must-Haves for a K-2 Reading Program

rsbsadmin Bethany Robinson, foundational skills, K-2, primary, Reading, Research Leave a Comment


Selecting a reading program for the primary grades can be overwhelming with so many aspects to consider.   Bethany Robinson offers 3 must-haves for your K-2 reading program, based on her 14 years of experience working in high-needs schools.

 A strong K-2 reading program should create an even balance between oral language development, listening comprehension, isolated phonics work, and fluent reading of controlled and uncontrolled text. At the same time, it should adequately prepare students for the weight of content-heavy reading in the intermediate grades, and the oncoming state assessment.

With so much to consider, it is important that a K-2 reading program incorporate three key components:

  1. A read-aloud component that utilizes high-quality text, and integrates vocabulary and responsive writing.
  2. An explicit systematic phonemic awareness and phonics program with decodable texts.
  3. A leveled book room for guided reading.


Why a read-aloud component is important at K-2

Listening comprehension outpaces reading comprehension up until about 6th grade. In the primary grades, a student’s listening comprehension is usually 2-3 years above what he can read on his own. Basal programs and guided reading programs do little to stretch students listening comprehension. They teach comprehension with picture books and leveled books; texts the students can read themselves. These texts may match students’ decoding and fluency needs but often focus on familiar topics and familiar vocabulary. While lowering the comprehension demands frees up the working memory to decode, it doesn’t allow kids to build background knowledge, topic knowledge, and vocabulary. Adding high quality read-alouds to your K-2 program will allow you to focus on deep comprehension, without the burden of decoding. When high quality read-alouds are part of the reading program in the primary grades, students gain background knowledge and comprehension skills needed for the task demands of intermediate reading.

Recommendation: The Core Knowledge Listening and Learning Units (Downloaded these units for free or purchase printed and packaged materials for a reasonable price through Amplify)


Why an explicit phonemic awareness and phonics program is important at K-2

The English language has an opaque code; in order to learn to read, students need foundational skills such as phonemic awareness and phonics. A strong program that teaches students how to read will systematically and explicitly introduce the sound and symbol correspondences in English. Multisensory teaching is used to develop pathways in the brain from both sound-to-print and print-to-sound.

Recommendation:  The Core Knowledge Skills Units (Downloaded these units for free or purchase printed and packaged materials for a reasonable price through Amplify), The Open Court Foundational Skills Kits, or The Superkids Reading Program.


Why a leveled book room is important at K-2

While controlled, decodable text is a great way to get kids to initially learn to read, once they have developed some basic reading skills, uncontrolled text should be introduced. Having a leveled book room with sets of books (2-8 books per set) will allow for partner reading and guided reading practice in uncontrolled text.  Cautionary: When shopping for this book room, I recommend avoiding the titles at Fountas and Pinnell levels A-D, which focus on repetitive patterns and can invite guessing and produce inaccurate reading. Instead, for the beginning reader, focus on decodable text. This will teach your readers to rely on the sounding out strategy, and will improve their accuracy.

Once students trust their skills with sounding out the most common spelling patterns in English, then you can move them into uncontrolled leveled readers E-L. In uncontrolled text, students will rely on their decoding skills while being exposed to new sight words and less common spelling patterns.  Cautionary: I don’t recommend purchasing anything higher than level L for your book room because once students are at these higher reading levels, they will be in chapter books. Independent silent reading will be a better approach to improving students’ comprehension than guided reading. Encourage students reading at level M and higher select books from the school library. They can also participate in the book clubs available in the Read Side By Side Reading Program.


Currently, 74% of schools use a basal program and 20% use guided reading. Neither of these approaches to reading are effective enough to close the achievement gap, because they do not do enough to build oral language, background knowledge, and vocabulary. Until K-2 reading instruction balances each of these important components, students will continue to struggle as they move into less familiar and more complex texts. Let’s turn it around by creating a balance of intentional language and phonics instruction in the primary grades.

For more information I recommend reading the following articles:  Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge of Words and the Worldby E.D. Hirsch, Jr., and Reading and the Three Cueing System, by Sebastian Wren, Ph.D.


Written by Bethany Robinson

Vice President

Read Side by Side Publications, LLC.




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