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Where am I in the Reading Universe Taxonomy?

Word Recognition
Phonological Awareness
Language Comprehension
Reading Comprehension
Word Recognition

What Is Word Recognition?

As you're reading this paragraph, your brain is recognizing each word instantly — as, you're, reading — because it's likely you've read most of these words many, many times. When you were a child, you might have needed to sound out p-ar-a-graph or in-stant-ly — and try to connect those sounds to a word you knew in your oral vocabulary. But now it's, for the most part, effortless. You've got solid word recognition skills. 

When we teach children to read, we spend a lot of time in the early years teaching them word recognition skills, including phonological awareness and phonics. We need to teach them how to break the code of our alphabetdecoding — and then to become fluent with that code, like we are. This will allow your students to focus on the meaning of what they read, which is the main thing! Word recognition is a tool or a means to the end goal of reading comprehension. 

What Does Word Recognition Look Like?

Here's a child in the early stages of decoding. She's working hard and having success sounding out individual words — and quickly recognizing some that she's read a few times before.

Thumbnail for the video 'First grade reader 2'

Produced by Reading Universe, a partnership of WETA, Barksdale Reading Institute, and First Book

This next child is a little bit further along with her decoding skills.

Thumbnail for the video 'First grade reader 1'

Produced by Reading Universe, a partnership of WETA, Barksdale Reading Institute, and First Book

The second child's brain can focus on the story. We can tell because she's able to use expression. She only has to slow down when she comes across a new word. 

How Does Word Recognition Connect to Reading for Meaning?

Of course, it helps immensely that the young girl in the second video knows the meanings of the words she's decoding. And that's understated. Word recognition without language comprehension won't work. In order to be able to read for meaning … to comprehend what they read … children need to be able to recognize words and apply meaning to those words. The faster and easier they can do both, the more they'll be able to gain from reading in their life.

The simple view of reading is explained as word recognition times language comprehension equals reading comprehension by Gough and Tunmar, 1990

The Integration of Word Recognition and Language Comprehension

When we read, these two sets of skills — word recognition and language comprehension — intertwine and overlap, and your children will need your help to integrate them. As they read a new story word by word, they'll need to be able to sound out each word (or recognize it instantly), call up its meaning, connect it with their knowledge about the meaning, and apply it to the context of what they're reading — as quickly as possible.

In your classroom, whether you're a pre-K teacher or a second grade teacher, you'll spend time every day on both word recognition skills and language comprehension skills, often at the same time!

Picture singing a rhyming song and talking about the characters in the rhyme … that's an integrated lesson!

The word recognition section of the Reading Universe Taxonomy and is where we break each word recognition skill out, because, in the beginning, we need to spend significant time teaching skills in isolation, so that students can master them.

If you'd like a meatier introduction to the two sets of skills children need to read, we've got a one-hour presentation by reading specialist Margaret Goldberg for you to watch. Orthographic mapping, anyone?

How Children Learn to Read, with Margaret Goldberg

Thumbnail for the video

Produced by Reading Universe, a partnership of WETA, Barksdale Reading Institute, and First Book

How Can Reading Universe Help You Teach Word Recognition?

Under the word recognition section of our taxonomy, you'll find "skill explainers" for all of the skills your children will need to learn in order to recognize words easily — from syllables and suffixes to r-controlled vowels and the schwa. Each skill explainer has a detailed description of how to teach each skill, along with lesson plans, decodable texts, practice activities, and assessments. This continuum displays the many phonological awareness and phonics skills that all students need to master in order to become confident and fluent readers. We can help you teach all of them. Get started now.

The word recognition continuum offers a framework for teaching the foundation skills that make up phonological awareness and phonics.

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