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Foundational Skills

During the Emerging Reader phase, students develop foundational skills that will help them learn to read in the future. Many of these key skills develop first in isolation, then later, students begin to bring them together as they move toward unlocking their reading potential.

For example, students must know how to recognize letters and their sounds before combining them to make words. Here we will review some examples of foundational skills in the ER curriculum, with videos that demonstrate each skill.

Concepts About Print

This video shows how tutors can encourage students to demonstrate their knowledge of concepts about print.

This early literacy skill involves learning how written language works. These skills seem very simple—many children pick them up intuitively from adult modeling—but some students need explicit teaching. Some of the skills that demonstrate concepts of print are:

● Directionality: knowing that words go left to right and top to bottom.
● Concept of word: knowing that words are separated by spaces and read one by one.
● Concept of letter:  knowing that words are made up of letters.

Phonological Awareness

This video shows a student demonstrating phonological awareness of syllables.

Phonological awareness (PA) is the understanding that spoken language can be broken down into increasingly smaller parts: Speech into sentences, sentences into words, words into parts of words (e.g., two parts of a compound word, syllables), and finally, the smallest unit, individual sounds. PA is important because students need an understanding of spoken language in order to tackle reading written language.

Phonemic Awareness

This video shows a student demonstrating knowledge of individual sounds (phonemes) in words.

*Note that we don’t typically teach students to clap for each sound, but this student had just been filming the clip about syllables and got excited.

Phonemic awareness is the most advanced type of phonological awareness—the ability to hear and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes). For example, hear the sounds /m/ /a/ /p/ in map, change the beginning sounds to /l/ to make lap, etc.


This video shows a student demonstrating knowledge of individual letter sounds and how those sounds can be blended to spell a word.

*Note that this student is still developing these skills, so he required some adult support.

Phonics is the connection between written letters and sounds, and one of the primary building blocks of reading. The development of phonics skills usually happens in this order:

● First, students learn the sounds of each letter.
● Then, students apply that knowledge to begin to read and spell words using each letter sound.
● Eventually, they become more efficient by learning sounds that groups of letters make (cl=/cl/, sh=/sh/, tion=/shun/).

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