With the hundreds, or even 1000's, of literacy objectives we are expected to "cover", we can easily get lost among the weeds.

"What do these students I'm working with need NOW? What's the most important reading skill to continue to advance their reading development tomorrow?"  Tough questions, right?

So, you may be thrilled to discover a roadmap for tracking the instructional stages of word reading development to help move ALL your readers from the beginning "A" to the ending "Z" of word reading fluency. 

Research-Based Models of Reading Development

Research has given us powerful, useful models of reading development, such as the Simple View of Reading, Scarborough's reading rope, Seidenberg and McClelland's triangle model, and Ehri's phases of reading development. These do indeed guide my thinking about diagnosing students' needs and planning for instruction. 

However, these well-known models of reading development do not give the classroom teacher, or tutor, or grand/parent a step-by-step list of priorities of how each minor reading sub-skill stacks one upon the other. 

In this article, I will present an instructional model of micro stages in reading development to provide a simple, sequential series of steps for guiding each beginning or struggling reader on the road to word reading fluency.

If you read the National Reading Panel report, you may know that you need to include instruction in: 

  • Phonemic awareness (the perception of the individual sounds in words),
  • Phonics knowledge (the correspondence between letters and sounds, or phonemes),
  • Vocabulary knowledge,
  • Fluency, and
  • Comprehension.
Scarborough's reading rope from AIM Institute

Or, if you've studied Scarborourgh's reading rope like the one pictured above from the AIM Institute, you may realize that you need to include instruction in:

  • Language Comprehension
    • Background knowledge,
    • Vocabulary,
    • Language structures, (such as syntax),
    • Verbal reasoning (such as inference and metaphor),
    • Literary knowledge (such as print concepts, text genres)
  • Word Recognition
    • Phonological awareness (the more global level of phoneme awareness mentioned above, including perception of syllables in words),
    • Decoding (translating the written code into sounds in words),
    • Sight recognition (instant recognition of well-learned words).

Yes, awareness of these domains of reading development are essential. We should be covering all of these areas in our instruction as literacy teachers.

  • And, yet, what do we teach Johnny tomorrow if we realize he's 1 year behind in reading as a 1st grader?
  • What is important for Marta next if we notice that she can't advance past Level D texts?

In other words, which reading sub-skill is Most Pressing to a particular student at any point in time? And which activity would optimally fit that instruction?

Reading Simplified's Streamlined Pathway of Reading Development Stages

Based on a large body of reading research as well as clinical practice working with beginning and struggling readers, I've developed a Streamlined Pathway, or instructional plan, of how to move beginning or struggling readers rapidly through the process of decoding, becoming automatic with word identification, and then becoming fluent. 

streamlined pathway reading goals

See the 4 major objectives circled in yellow above that lead, step-wise, towards fluency?

  1. Blending & Manipulating 3-Sound Words
  2. Learning Advanced Phonics Knowledge
  3. Blending & Manipulating 4-Sound Words
  4. Blending by Chunk (Multisyllable)

This 4-step pathway serves as our beacon when we teach anyone how to read. They help keep the urgent front and center for us. They reduce The Overwhelm.

Most importantly, these 4 major guideposts allow us to move our students towards success rapidly.

On average, what other programs might expect to happen in 2-3 years in terms of reading achievement, we usually witness in 4-6 months. This is the type accelerated achievement that we want for your students, too.

[The above image of the Streamlined Pathway relates to beginning level readers, but we have 2 other quite similar Pathways for other reading levels that members learn about in the Reading Simplified Academy. All together these 3 Streamlined Pathways help us plan for every student's needs if s/he is still working on becoming fluent.]

The Streamlined Pathway was born out of my frustration in working with huge, and separate, scope and sequences for phonics, phonemic awareness, and high frequency word learning. Rather than juggling multiple scope and sequences, we simply follow this 1-page Pathway that integrates phonics, phonemic awareness, and high frequency word development.

Reading Simplified's Handful of Word Work Activities

When a group of students need to learn the short "a" sound, they also encounter high frequency words with that spelling, such as "that," "an," "has," etc. And as they are learning this phonics and word identification, they are continually practicing and extending their phonemic awareness development with just a handful of Word Work activities: Build It, Read It, Sort It, Switch It, and Write It....

  • They segment words, as they also learn about the alphabetic principle and early letter-sound knowledge with Build It:

Build It Example

Build It letter s in sat
  • They learn to blend and reinforce segmenting, as well as Basic Code letter-sound knowledge with Read It

Read It Example

Read It up close
  • They reinforce blending and  segmenting, as well as Advanced Phonics knowledge with Sort It

Sort It Example

Sort It advanced phonics example page
  • They develop phonemic manipulation--a type of advanced phonemic awareness, or phonemic proficiency--while reinforcing segmenting and Basic Code knowledge with Switch It

Switch It Example

Switch It Online sample
  • They extend phonemic segmentation and phonics knowledge with Write It:

Write It Example

Write It example

The teacher using the Streamlined Pathway as his/her guide for planning instruction usually moves 1 step at a time up the Pathway, guided mostly by vowel sounds--first short vowel sounds (steps 1 through 4 above) and later by Advanced Phonics (steps 5 through 12 above).

Imagine a teacher is advancing his students from step 1 to step 2. This small group of students has gained skill at short vowels "a" and "i" and many high frequency consonants, such as "m," "t," "s," and "p," as well as some consonant digraphs, such as "th." 

In looking forward to tomorrow's lesson, he asks himself 2 diagnostic questions that guide his planning:

  1. Which high frequency letter-sounds do my students need to learn next? and
  2. What is the highest level of phonemic difficulty my students can handle with my support? (That is can the students blend, segment, and/or manipulate CVC words, such as "hat"? Or can they manage the higher phonemic level of CCVC words, such as "stop"?)

Question 1:

Perhaps he realizes that mostly short "a" and "i" words are being read in Guided Reading and Word Work, with his support. He wants to fold in short "o" next as part of Step 2 of the Pathway. So he plans on selecting words with short "o" from the Switch It and Read It lists.

Question 2:

He also notices that the students are thriving with manipulating and segmenting 3-sound CVC words, so he decides to advance in Switch It to CVCC words, such as "cost" or "bond." Their blending is still shaky, however, so he plans more Read It at the 3-sound level--choosing words such as "job" and "not."

Similarly, he will select a short "o" sound text with mostly CVC words for his students to practice such as this one from the Reading Simplified Academy:


The cat gets brave short o text


Thus our intrepid teacher plans a lesson based on the Streamlined Pathway that challenges the students' developing phonemic awareness, phonics knowledge, and high frequency word knowledge in an integrated fashion.

Tracking the Road to Fluency

We have tools to track an entire class or an individual student inside our Reading Simplified Academy. But in this article for the public, I'm sharing another way to track an entire class's progress on a 1 page chart...

(Be sure to find a box in this article or in the sidebar to share your name and email so you can receive a copy of this Stages of Word Reading Development chart.)

Tracking the Road to Fluency chart
We ask ourselves, "What percentage of my class has achieved each of these reading sub-skill milestones? 
Then we shade in each relevant sub-skill based on our current responses. Perhaps 100% of our class has learned the concept of the alphabetic principle, but only 75% of our class has show skill with 3-sound phonemic segmentation. Then that's what we shade in on our own Tracking sheet! 
The goal would be to move towards 100% for as many reading sub-skills as possible (although that's harder for K, but likely for 1st grade and up).

The stages of word reading development are listed in general order of development--in the Reading Simplified instructional environment. The order of these steps--from

  • Concept of the alphabetic principle, to
  • 3-sound phonemic segmentation, to
  • Basic letter-sounds, and all the way to
  • Additional high frequency words--

matches the design of the Streamlined Pathway. Students who are being instructionally guided by this Pathway will generally accomplish each of these reading skill milestones in this order. Students in an another instructional program, however, may be less likely to fit these steps.

In other words, this is an instructionally-driven stages of word reading development guide, not a universally true sequence. If you adopt the Reading Simplified system, however, this Tracking chart may be very helpful to you. 

Example of Tracking the Road to Fluency chart

Example of Stages of Word Reading Development

A Kindergarten teacher in October, after 2+ months of schooling, may be able to fill out her Tracking chart like above. She's accomplished a lot in a short period of time, and she also can track what is still needed in terms of word reading development:

The 25% of her class lacking in Basic letter-sounds and 3-sound phonemic blending would likely benefit from more Switch It, Read It, and Guided Reading of New Texts.

A teacher of 2nd grade students might be able to shade in many more spaces on the Tracking chart, yet she would still be able to identify which Most Pressing Needs were still outstanding. Perhaps her students would need more practice with:

  • Flex It (applying set for variability),
  • Multisyllable-blending and Flex It, and
  • Another 4+ Advanced Phonics sounds.

If so, she would likely choose more Sort It, Flex It activities (and coaching during Guided Reading) Read It at the Multisyllable level, and Guided Reading passages targeting key advanced phonics sounds.

We hope that many teachers, grandparents, tutors, and parents who are adopting the Reading Simplified system will be served by this tracking chart. 

How is your class doing? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Post your shaded in chart here in the comments below. Then, at the end of the school year, post a new image of the Tracking chart how your class finished out the year!