A Basic Guide to Understanding the 5 Pillars of Reading

There are 5 pillars of reading which are central concepts to literacy development. These pillars help children learn how to sound out words and appreciate reading as a tool for education and growth.

What Are the 5 Pillars of Reading?

The 5 pillars of reading are as follows: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and fluency.

With these 5 pillars at your core, you are assured to learn to read with a strong foundation. So before you begin your reading adventure, you need to have a solid understanding of these 5 pillars of reading.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, recognize, manipulate, and exchange phonemes in reading. This is how we read the words we encounter in the world around us. Children with extreme phonemic awareness have phonemes in mind.

Those with weak or nonexistent phonemic awareness have no idea what a phoneme is and rely on phonics alone. The challenge is not in making phonemic awareness an issue when it wasn’t before. Rather it is about developing it enough to meet certain expectations.


Phonics are characteristics of the English language such as the differences between words and sounds. Phonemic is a word that can have only one pronunciation that does not change. It teaches students this concept, which is a key technique for learning to read.

Students who learn phonics have to think about what each letter sound is in a word before they learn how to read. They see and hear how the sound of each letter in the alphabet changes a word when they are learning to read.


Vocabulary is the collection of words students use in print (reading vocabulary) and conversation (oral vocabulary). Students must understand the meaning of the words they intend to read.

What’s important is that students can recognize the meaning of words that are not in their reading vocabulary. They must learn to quickly figure out which words they don’t know the meaning of that they need to search.

Students must also be comfortable with reading words that are not in their reading vocabulary. It is a mistake to just read a list of vocabulary words you are used to. Students must be able to use the new words they hear as they read to understand what the text is about.

In previous generations, most students learned to read before they learned to write. Nowadays, students have learned to read and write faster to share their information with others.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is the act of understanding and processing the text you are reading. When reading a text, you should be able to imagine yourself in the setting and place of the characters in the story.

Students with developed reading comprehension can read and comprehend complex texts in all disciplines. They can locate specific information within a text. There are different kinds of comprehension skills that you should know about to help your students succeed.

With developed reading comprehension skills, they should be able to make connections to new concepts. Students should be able to apply the information in the text to their lives. They need to be able to identify the author’s purpose, the genre, and the theme in the passage. Students need to be able to analyze the text to draw their own conclusions.


Fluency is the ability to read with accuracy and consistency. It is also the keystone of comprehension. Fluency also allows for a smooth flow among reading skills. This can be between layers of a text or among different texts.

Fluency is one of the essential components of a reading program or curriculum. You can develop fluency by encouraging students to read aloud, identifying places where students are having trouble, and building confidence in those that struggle.

Fluency is important because it is the best indicator of a student’s ability and readiness to read. Without fluency, readers are unable to understand and comprehend language. Therefore, they cannot benefit from reading instruction due to a lack of motivation and frustration.

A large book shelf to enjoy and practice reading for literacy development.
Book shelf photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

Why Are These Pillars Important?

These pillars are important because they are fundamental to reading success. They introduce new words and spelling without which there would be no reading.

Without phonemic awareness, one cannot sound out phonics and read the words. Without learning to read and spell, comprehension is impossible. To read fluently, one must know the most common vocabulary words.

How They Help You:

  • They help you become a more effective reader, learning to interact with text more deeply and intimately.
  • The pillars will help you become a better reader.
  • They will provide you with insight into different strategies you can use to get better at reading.
  • The pillars will also make you a more enjoyable reader.

Wrap Up: Implementing the 5 Pillars in the Reading Process

Implementing the 5 pillars in the reading process is not easy, but they are important to reach the end goal of literacy. Reading and comprehending text is the best way to improve your literacy and understanding in general.

Implementing the 5 pillars of reading will entail improving your phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and fluency. Your teacher can help you identify your weaknesses and give you the tools to fix them. I hope these tips and tricks will help you in the reading process.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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