The University of Iowa

Building Blocks of Reading


Posted on: October 16, 2015

Have you ever heard the term “phonics” and wondered exactly what it means? How about the term “phonemic awareness?” These are just two of the five foundational skills that are critical in a child’s reading development. I know sometimes it can be intimidating to hear my child’s teacher mention a term in a parent/teacher conference and I might not feel comfortable asking what it means. The IRRC offers two resources to help families get a better understanding of those five foundational reading skills (and more).

First, there is a collection of important reading terms, called “Key Reading Terms”, on the IRRC Website. These terms are written in family friendly terms and were written with the intent of helping families better understand vocabulary about reading instruction, in order to best support their children. The list of reading terms has the five foundational skills, but also has a number of other reading instruction vocabulary terms. This list would be helpful for families to better communicate with teachers by helping them understand when a teacher uses a particular term.

Secondly, the IRRC Family Resources Collection has a great video, called “Building Blocks of Reading,” that describes the five foundational reading skills. The video also shares activities that could help families work on each of the five skills. It is a great resource for families, because they can actually hear a reading specialist describe examples of the five foundational skills and how to complete the suggested activities. I was thrilled to know that my children and I have already done some of their suggested activities (and I have previously blogged about some as well).

Phonemic Awareness

Why Watch?

“Building Blocks of Reading” shares with families the importance of children mastering phonemic awareness. It also describes what a child with phonemic awareness should be able to do.


This video shows families how to create “games and activities out of everyday life.” To help children develop phonemic awareness, they suggest playing a letter sound “I Spy” game—similar to one we did this past summer.


Why Watch? 

The video shares how children use phonics skills at different grade levels.

Letters on a paper

One way to practice phonics skills is to have your child write letters by telling them the letter sounds. The video shows a child, Pam, writing her name based on her mom calling out the sounds. As you may have read in previous blogs, we have been practicing this. When Ryan spells words, I try to call out the sounds when I can to see if she can write them. Today she wanted to write a note to our neighbor, Brianna, so I helped her (somewhat).  I helped her spell, “Can you help me do some tricks?” on the note.  I called out letter sounds for words she wanted help with spelling (you can see she forgot a few words). I corrected her when I called out the hard /c/ sound and she almost wrote “k,” but at least she knew the /k/ sound. Also, you can see she wrote “x” for the ending of the word “tricks.” I was happy that she heard the /x/ sound!


Why Watch?

The video shares how children can hear fluent reading, such as listening to you read aloud a story.

Kids reading in bed

Last week, I shared how even though reading aloud every night can sometimes be a challenge, it is critical to building my child’s reading foundational skills (like fluency).


Why Watch?

Watching this video shows families that they don’t need to only use “easy” words to help their child build his/her vocabulary. Using more challenging words can help teach their child new words and broaden his/her vocabulary.


Who knew shopping could be such a great opportunity for learning? (link) As I have written before, shopping can be a great way to build on reading skills. This video suggests using a shopping list to help build your child’s vocabulary. I like how they turned it around and had the child try to identify words on the list that the parent called out.


Why Watch?

The video shares how asking your child questions about what you have read is a great way to see if they understood the story.


Like the video suggests, I try to ask my children questions as we read, such as “How do you think Jack feels?” and “What do you think will happen next?” The second question encourages my kids to predict what will happen next in the story and they like to see if their predictions are “right” or “wrong.” We talk about how “wrong predictions” don’t mean that you do not understand the story. What is important is that once you read to find out what actually does happen, you should understand if your prediction was right or wrong.

“Building Blocks of Reading” is a great video and resource in the IRRC Family Resources Collection. Access it by searching “Building Blocks” in the search field of the Collection. It is a great way for parents to brush up on the meanings of the five foundational reading skills as well as other important terminology.