Some of you are already back to school. The clean, unmarked student name tags and fresh room decorations are welcoming another year of learning together. As you prepare for this upcoming year may I suggest that you take advantage of your renewed energy and spend a little time studying your reading program.

I created a checklist for you that will help you look for evidence of best practice in your reading lessons. And when you are not sure if the practice is there, the checklist includes ideas for how to make your lessons stronger, more efficient, and productive for all of your students.

Reading is an amalgamation of skills, playing out effortlessly when fluent reading happens. To achieve fluent reading, students pass through phases of word recognition development and our instruction needs to provide attention to building the crucial skills at the crucial time during that development to enable reading skills to play out seamlessly.

Knowledge of how reading skills link to each other in support of the development of each other is important information for all teachers to know. When we understand these relationships, we can be more efficient with our lessons, applying attention to multiple skills, and understand when to devote more time to teaching certain skills to our students.

So, let’s check out your reading programs for the presence of skill instruction that will truly make a difference in your students’ learning. Use this checklist to evaluate reading program lessons and your instruction for each of the reading components.

Reading Tool Checklist

I embedded a few links to downloads that will provide more information for you to help you improve your reading instruction for all of your students! As you read through the checklist, watch for them.

Phoneme Awareness – Grades K-1 and 2. These tasks are auditory tasks, done without letters.

___ Teach awareness of phonemes through articulation features. Draw attention to what the mouth is doing when phonemes are spoken.

___ Provide opportunities to isolate phonemes in spoken words: first sound, last sound, middle sounds.

___ Engage students in segmenting the phonemes in spoken words.

___ Engage students in blending phonemes together to say words. Teacher says the phonemes in a word, and students blend them together to say the “secret” word.

___ Engage students in higher levels manipulation tasks: Deletion, substitution, addition tasks. This is especially important for older struggling readers. They can benefit from these higher-level phoneme awareness tasks.

Decoding – Grades K-2 and 3

___ Do you have a phonics skills sequence? A list of grapheme-phoneme relationships that lays out an order by which phonics/decoding skills are taught, one by one in a cumulative way?

___ Do your lessons include systematic procedures for teaching the phonic elements? For example is there a daily/weekly process to follow such as the one in this example:

  1. Students listen for and say the target phoneme in words.
  2. Show students the grapheme and tell them the sound it makes. Students say the sound.
  3. Demonstrate decoding words with the new phonic element.
  4. Students decode words with you.
  5. Students decode words independently with your correction and feedback as needed. They write the target words from dictation.
  6. Students read texts that provide a lot of practice reading the target words in meaningful sentences.

___ Do you have decodable text to provide support for your phonics lessons?

___ Do you include some attention to word meaning as you and your students decode words?

___ Do you use a process such as spelling boxes where students segment phonemes and then spell each phoneme? This process helps students realize that a phoneme is sometimes spelled with more than one letter. For example: /sh/ is spelled SH, /ae/ is spelled EIGH in neighbor and eight and sleigh. The graphemes are written for each phoneme.

Decoding – Grades 3-5 and 6

___ Do you teach students about syllables? How to use syllable division to read new words?

___ Do you have a list of prefixes and suffixes that you teach with multiple word items for each?

___ Do you have a list of common Latin and Greek roots from which students can build words and discuss meaning?

___ Does your vocabulary lesson include the pronunciations and spellings of words? The etymology of words? Additional word forms?

___ Do students write, and use in conversation, the words they are decoding?


___ Are students given multiple opportunities to read words, phonics and vocabulary, multiple times as they study words’ meanings?

___ Are students given multiple opportunities to read every day: independent (with independent leveled text), monitored reading with you, and repeated readings with a comprehension focus.

___ Do you use timed drills and timed repeated readings with students whose assessment profiles indicate the need for this extra practice? (see this decision tree to guide your assessment decisions)


___ Before reading, do you pre-teach, introduce, concepts and vocabulary terms critical to meaning that students may not be familiar with?

___ Do you ask students to SAY the vocabulary terms aloud?

___ Do you ask students to group and sort words according to meaning? And explain their thinking?

___ Do you provide examples of how vocabulary terms can be used in a variety of contexts? For example: policy can refer to classroom rules, government regulation, family policies, etc.

___ Do you provide examples of synonyms and antonyms for terms used to describe action and emotion in fiction?

___ Do students USE the words to discuss and write about what they are learning and in contexts other than the content they are reading?


___ Do you pre-read text to identify complicated sentence structure that may be difficult for students to understand? And then provide support to help them comprehend it?

___ Do you ask questions that lead students to infer when it’s important to make inferences?

___ Do you teach the expository text structure types when reading non-fiction?

___ Do you ask questions that go beyond comprehension strategies and lead students to put into words the big picture of what they are reading?

___ Do you direct students to write about what they are reading by responding to open ended prompts? A couple of examples of these prompts are: What additional information did the author share with us about _______? How is this information similar to what we read yesterday? How is it the same?


The checklist addresses many of the teaching ideas and tools that are highlighted in The Reading Teacher’s Top Ten Tools: Instruction That Makes a Difference. I hope that you will consider subscribing to the course!

Wishing you a wonderful school year with student successes every day!

Dr. Deb