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:


Background Knowledge

Background knowledge is the foundation for additional learning and essential for reading comprehension and understanding vocabulary.

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A cluster is a group of three or four words that you can read at a glance. Reading in clusters can increase reading speed and improve comprehension.

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Comprehensive Intervention Model (CIM)

Comprehensive Intervention Model (CIM) is an intervention providing literacy instruction in small groups, designed by Dr. Linda Dorn.

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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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A digraph is a combination of two letters representing one sound, as in ph and ey. Words with digraphs can be tricky for early readers. Digraphs require the child to listen very closely to each individual sound in the words.

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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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Fluency is the ability to read text accurately, at a conversational rate, and with appropriate expression. Fluent readers sound natural when reading.

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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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Graphic Organizers

A graphic organizer is a visual display that demonstrates relationships between facts, concepts, or ideas. When used in education, they help students organize thoughts and ideas, function as a pre-writing tool, and provide a visual display of information.

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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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Independent Reading

Independent reading strengthens reading skills and increases exposure to vocabulary. Students become more proficient and find reading more enjoyable.

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Inflectional Ending

An inflectional ending is a letter, or group of letters, added to the end of a base word to create a new word with a different meaning. Understanding inflectional endings is a major step in developing reading and writing skills.

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Informational texts

Because reading and understanding informational texts is important for developing readers, the Common Core language arts and literacy standards is placing more emphasis on reading nonfiction beginning in elementary school.

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Intonation makes it possible to understand the expressions and thoughts that go with the words. It is how we say things, rather than what we say.

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Letter-sound information

Understanding that words are composed of letters that represent sounds is one of the most basic skills for young readers to develop. Using the recognition of this relationship between letters and their corresponding known sounds, early readers are able to solve the pronunciation of an unknown word.

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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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Because reading and understanding nonfiction is important for developing readers, the Common Core language arts and literacy standards is placing more emphasis on reading informational texts beginning in elementary school.

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An onset is the initial phonological unit of any word. The latter C is the onset in the word cat. Using word families like onsets and rimes enables children to decode words more quickly.

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Onsets and Rimes

A syllable can normally be divided into two parts: the onset, which consists of the initial consonant or consonant blend, and the rime, consisting of the vowel and any final consonants. For example: in the word strap, str is the onset and ap is the rime. 

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Phrasing is the ability to group words together as in normal speech, pausing appropriately between phrases, clauses, and sentences. Helping students learn to read in phrases improves fluency and comprehension.

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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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Response to Intervention (RTI)

Response to Intervention (RTI) is an assessment and intervention process that identifies students at risk and monitors their academic progress.

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Running Records

A running record is a tool used by Reading Recovery educators to assess a child's reading level.

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Self-correcting follows self-monitoring. The reader has used cues from the text to decode an unknown word. Immediately after reading on in the text, the reader notices a conflict among the cues.

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Self-monitoring is an important metacognitive tool for improving reading comprehension.

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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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Sequencing is the ability to identify the components of a story (beginning, middle, and end) and is an important comprehension strategy.

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Syntax in literature is the way in which words and sentences are placed together in the writing. In the English language, the syntax usually follows a pattern of subject-verb-object agreement. Texts with sentences that follow this pattern are easier for beginning readers.

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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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Upper Emergent Readers

Upper Emergent Readers are reading books at guided reading levels F-H. They are readers who are beginning to build knowledge of the characteristics of different genres of texts.

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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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