As mentioned in earlier units, reading is a way to create meaning by interacting with written material. Unlike oral language development, however, reading does not typically emerge on its own without explicit instruction.

Reading can be taught in a number of different ways, and some educators advocate one way over other possibilities. According to many experts on reading instruction, the most effective strategy for promoting literacy actually is to combine several different effective methods. Phonics instruction helps beginning readers make the connection between sounds and symbols, while whole-language methods focus on comprehension and on the linkage between reading and writing. For some children, memorizing what words look like is easier than trying to take them apart phonetically. And some words (e.g., “the,” “where,” and “said”) are both very common and difficult to sound out phonetically; these words may be easier to learn by sight.

Teachers typically do not invent their own methods of reading instruction. Rather, they may rely on commercial materials that combine (1) lessons focusing on skills and (2) lessons focusing on comprehension of fiction and non-fiction texts.

These commercial materials include a sequence of related learning activities that start with very simple prerequisite skills and lead to more and more complex outcomes. Textbook companies refer to these sequences as “scope and sequence charts.” When educators try to go beyond textbooks to identify more useful or coherent sequences, they use academic standards (such as those adopted by state education agencies) as the basis for creating “learning progressions” (also called “progress maps”).