The Stages of Reading Development explain how students progress as readers. The stages are not based on age or grade, but rather on an individual student’s level of proficiency. The titles offered by MaryRuth Books support the following developmental stages: Early Emergent Readers, Emergent Readers, Upper Emergent Readers, and Early Fluent Readers.

Below are some important terms centered around the stages of reading development:



Decoding is another term for “sounding out.” It is the process of matching a letter, or a combination of letters, to their sounds (phonemes) and recognizing syllable patterns to correctly pronounce written words. Decoding is a common word attack strategy for beginning readers.

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Developmental Reading Assessment® (DRA)

The Developmental Reading Assessment® (DRA) is a series of leveled books designed to help teachers evaluate a student’s reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension levels. The DRA is typically administered to students in grades 1-3 at the beginning and end of each grading period to determine a student’s progress.

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Early Emergent Readers

Early Emergent Readers are aspiring readers who are developing letter knowledge, learning about one-to-one matching of spoken words to printed words, and becoming aware of punctuation.

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Early Fluent Readers

Early Fluent Readers are in between learning how to read and being able to learn from reading. They rely very little on pictures for the meaning of the text. Early Fluent Readers take on new texts with more independence, and can read longer texts, for the most part, with good comprehension and phrasing.

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Emergent Readers

Emergent Readers know the letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds. They easily recognize a number of high-frequency words. Emergent Readers are developing comprehension strategies and word-attack skills and are less dependent on repetitive pattern and pictures.

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Fluent Readers

Fluent Readers read for meaning. They are able to extend their general knowledge by reading a wide range of longer, more complex texts, across a variety of genre.

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Guided Reading

Guided Reading is the framework in which a teacher supports each reader’s individual development of effective strategies for processing new texts at increasingly challenging levels of difficulty.

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Guided Reading Levels

Guided reading levels range alphabetically from A to Z, with level A representing the lowest level and level Z the highest. Leveling is based on the complexity of ten common book characteristics: genre, text structure, content, themes, language, sentence complexity, new vocabulary, difficulty of words, illustrations, and physical print features.

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High-Frequency Words

High-frequency words are common words, encountered regularly in reading, that make up the majority of any English text. e.g., like he, she, you, I, ask, is, but, the and have.

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Early readers need support as they develop reading strategies. Pictures that illustrate the text help provide that support. Pictures also add to a young reader's enjoyment and can help stimulate a child's interest in reading. 

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Leveled Readers

Leveled Readers are books that have been evaluated against a series of established criteria by early literacy specialists. The books are organized into 29 developmentally appropriate levels from easy books for aspiring readers to longer, complex books that a fluent reader would choose.

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Reading Recovery®

Reading Recovery® is a short-term intervention for first graders having difficulty with early reading and writing. Specially trained teachers work individually with students in daily 30-minute lessons lasting 12 to 20 weeks.

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Sentence Complexity

Texts with simple, more natural sentences are easier to process for young readers. Sentences with embedded or conjoined clauses make a text more difficult to read and understand.

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Text Structure

Text structure is the way in which words are organized on the page and presented to the reader. Most fiction is narrative and arranged primarily in chronological order. Informational texts use different structures to convey their information, most commonly; description, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and problem and solution.

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Vocabulary is the words used and their meanings. A book that has vocabulary words a reader already knows and understands is easier for that reader to read.  Vocabulary is one of the ten text factors used by the F&P Text Level Gradient when evaluating and leveling books for young readers.

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Voice-Print Match

When a child is just beginning to read, they point to each individual word with their finger as they read it. This voice-print matching helps early readers understand the one-to-one correspondence.

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Word Attack Strategies

Word attack strategies help students pronounce and understand unknown words. Decoding is the most common strategy that students use, but many words in the English language are difficult to decode. Students who are learning to read need to have multiple strategies to help them read unknown words, e.g., using picture clues; asking what makes sense; sounding out the word starting with the first letter; looking for chunks of the word they already know; reading past the unknown word and looking for more clues.

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