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5 Components of Reading

The Simple View of Reading states that reading is:

Decoding x Comprehension

Decoding:  converting written words into speech
Comprehension: understanding that speech

If decoding is zero, reading is zero.  If comprehension is zero, reading is zero.  Both are needed and affect each other.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to focus on, hear and manipulate sounds in spoken words. This begins with skills like rhyming (cat, bat, rat) and alliteration (cat, can, cab).  It continues with skills like hearing the difference between similar sounds (like /f/ and /th/), blending the sounds /c/, /ă/, /t/  into the word cat, segmenting the sounds in fan into the individual sounds /f/, /ă/, /n/ and identifying that ‘smile’ without the /s/ is ‘mile.’. Phonemic awareness is an auditory (listening) skill.


Phonics matches the written letter or group of letters to the sound it makes. This skill includes spelling patterns and knowing how to apply these to reading and writing. Examples are: f sounds like /f/, c sounds like /k/ or /s/ and igh sounds like long /ī/.


Fluency is the ability to read text with proper speed, accuracy, and expression. Fluency means the reader is stopping at periods, reading sentences as ideas, and using expression that enhances the understanding of the story. Poor fluency includes: robotic reading, unnatural pauses, lots of repeating or correcting, and reading through periods.


Vocabulary involves continuously enriching and broadening of the reading vocabulary, daily adding new words to spoken and reading language, increasing understanding of what words mean in different situations, increasing clarity of word meanings and the ability to ‘play with’ words, as in poetry and puns. Sometimes, children who read well until third or fourth grade, then struggle, are struggling with vocabulary. Vocabulary  comes largely from books, rather than talking or TV. (We tend to speak with an extremely limited vocabulary).


Comprehension, (understanding what we read), is the essence and purpose of reading. Comprehension is critical to both academic and life-long learning. Comprehension is the mental interaction between the text and the reader with the result being that the reader is able to understand what the text is saying. When comprehension is good, a reader will understand the message the author is conveying in a deep enough way to be able to visualize it (see it in his or her head), draw conclusions, summarize, evaluate, question, compare, relate, share, and apply the ideas in the text.


The first two, phonemics and phonics, are a little bit sequential.  A child needs some phonemic awareness (hearing and manipulating sounds) before he or she will be able to learn phonics (adding written letters to those sounds).  Once the process is started, however, phonics and phonemics are mastered simultaneously and support each other.  The last three, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, begin when a child first hears words and listens to stories and continues simultaneously throughout her or his lifetime.

See Scarborough’s Reading Rope for another, more detailed visual of what goes into reading.