Page 2 - Test I Reading and Language Arts Study Guide for the GACE

Literacy Development

Literacy development is the progression of language acquisition and understanding the principles of language. It is a key component to effective communication, both orally and written. Being able to read, write, and communicate through spoken and written words is all part of a child’s literacy development. This development takes place from birth (some might say in utero, even) as children hear language and then learn how to use it themselves to communicate with others around them. Literacy development is an ongoing process and students in your class will likely be at various stages.

Foundations of Literacy

Foundations of literacy are key to paving the way for literacy development. Babies hear sounds and develop the skills to recognize and use words as they enter the toddler stage. As they continue to hone their skills, they begin to string words together to create longer and more complex sentences, and then they learn about written language and how to decode words and read. Although some may dismiss babies’ “babble” as meaningless gibberish, it is actually their first experience with language and helps to lay the foundation of their literacy for life. Literacy development relies on an understanding of phonics, phonemic awareness, building vocabulary, and reading fluency, including accuracy, rate, and prosody. With a strong literacy foundation, children are able to apply these assets to build their comprehension and fluency skills and further their literacy development.

Oral Language Development

Although the students you work with are likely well past the beginning stages of their oral language development, it is important to know about the entire process to understand where they have come from and anticipate how to help them grow in future steps. Thus, here’s a quick review of a child’s oral language development.

Crying to Babbling

We all start out the same. Unable to clearly communicate our needs or wants, we cry and wail and leave our parents and caregivers guessing about the reason for our cries. Though this stage can be difficult for concerned parents, it actually serves an important role in language acquisition. It is from our cries and coos, and the coos and language we receive from others, that we begin to acquire oral language. When a baby’s noises are validated by others cooing and talking to them in return, they learn about language. Once aware that different noises elicit different responses, babies begin to babble as they experiment with language and “speech.” This stage of babbling usually lasts from about six months to one year.

Holophrastic Stage

After the babbling stage, babies start to utter their first words. These words are usually nouns and indicate those things they come into contact with or hear others say most often: “mama,” “dada,” “dog,” “no,” etc. This holophrastic, or single-word, stage usually starts around age one and lays the foundation for language development. Finally able to communicate basic ideas, children begin to explore and experiment with language further.

Two-Word Stage

Shortly after children start using words to express themselves, they move to two-word statements, often incorporating verbs and adjectives into the mix. “No go” often indicates the child wants to stay and continue participating in whatever activity they are engaged in. “My toy!” suggests they may not be eager to share what they conceive to be their property. These two-word utterances indicate a shift to the next level of language development, usually lasting through early toddlerhood, roughly age two to two and a half.

Telegraphic Phase

After their two-word stage, children move to the telegraphic phase, indicated by a more advanced speech pattern and the use of multiple words strung together to create meaning. Although some words may be missing and sentences may be grammatically incomplete, understanding their meaning becomes easier. Children generally communicate using this pattern until they become more fluent and practiced. This usually happens around age three or four.

Standard Language

As children become more practiced in their home language (and are corrected by fluent speakers around them), they shift into standard language use. At this point, they are learning about how to structure complete sentences and their vocabulary development has grown such that they are able to use more precise or appropriate words for their purposes. This is likely the stage children are in when you work with them in your class.

Writing Development

Oral language development helps set the stage for writing development which, in a similar fashion, is developed over time. As children see text around them (“reading” books, seeing signs, watching older siblings do homework), they become curious and want to learn how to write and communicate through words on a page. The process of writing development, however, actually starts earlier than this.


Cute kid pictures posted up on the refrigerator of homes across the country and around the world are evidence of a child’s first form of written communication. Drawing pictures, even the early “scribbles” on a piece of paper, are an indication that children are working to express themselves in writing. As their fine motor skills improve, and with guidance from parents, family members, and teachers, children begin to hone their skills and “write” more legibly.


If you have ever tried to read a four year old’s “writing,” you know it can be a challenge to discern any sort of recognizable letters. But that wavy scribbling and shaky handwriting is actually a valuable writing stage wherein children are experimenting in forming their letters. And eventually they do start to morph into identifiable letters of the Latin alphabet.


As children learn the alphabet and what letters look like, they begin to master their shapes and sounds. At first, letters are usually spaced quite a distance apart—or placed anywhere on the page—but as they become more comfortable with the mechanics of writing, individual letters get strung together to create words (or forms that are close to actual words). Children may try to sound out a word and write down the letters they hear; sometimes in the right order and with all the required letters, but more often, the writing is not very clear.

Transitional Writing

In the transitional writing stage, children transition into more structured writing. Letters may be copied by children from a sample written for them. The first word most children learn to write is their name, learning which letters to put in what order to write their name. Although there may still be some random letter placement, in transitional writing children are transitioning into understanding that individual letters have specific sounds and together create recognizable words, though they may not always write them perfectly.

Invented and Phonetic Spelling

Writing at this stage is not perfect. Emerging writers may invert their letters or rely on phonetic spelling that results in missing or misused letters. Letters that are copied from a sample may not always be copied correctly.

Conventional Spelling

As their reading and writing skills continue to grow, children begin to learn conventional spelling rules. Starting with the spelling of individual words, children then learn how to put words together to write cohesive phrases and then full sentences. Spelling may not be perfect, and letters may still not be graphically represented correctly, but as they practice and receive support in learning phonics, their spelling generally improves. Exposure to a variety of texts and seeing words in context also helps build spelling skills.

Note: Children may come to you at most any of the above stages of writing development, depending on the grade you teach. The key to further development is to praise what they can do and help them move toward the next level.

This covers everything about how print is used in our world, that print has meaning, parts of a book, parts of language (letter, word, sentence), left-to-right concepts in reading, and more. As children begin to unlock the magic of language and learn about sounds and letters, the next step is to understand that language meaning for reading comes from reading the words on the page and that the pictures are there to support the words. Early print awareness may present itself in young children who “pretend-read” their books, spinning stories about what they see based on the pictures on the page, perhaps holding the book upside down or flipping through the pages “backward.” The awareness, however, that reading takes place with books, that we read from left to right, top of the page to the bottom, front of the book to the back, is the foundation of reading and print awareness. Exposure to a variety of printed materials and the opportunity to interact with those materials will help to engage students in what will eventually develop into independent reading.

Environmental Print

Print and text can be found everywhere in the world around us. For young students, they are exposed to print every time they travel in a car and see the signs on the side of the road, every time they are taken to the grocery store or shopping, every time they go to eat at a restaurant and color on the kids’ menu. Environmental print refers to the texts children see and are in contact with on a daily basis just living their lives. And this doesn’t necessarily mean actual books. Signs, posters, and labels on common objects at home or at school are all encounters with environmental print that children experience regularly.

Concepts of Print

There are a variety of concepts of print that children must master before they are ready to become readers. It is not enough that they should be aware that print exists and creates meaning for those who can read it. To get to that stage, children must first understand that words are made up of letters, that each of those letters represents a specific sound, that put together those sounds create meaning, and so on. However, awareness of print as a form of language and communication is an early step toward literacy development.

Students who live in a print-rich environment, with regular exposure to print and guided engagement with it through reading together, pointing out words, sounding out words, etc., generally transition to reading and language comprehension faster than those who grow up in a print-deficient environment. Engaging with print through book experiences and being read to helps to increase print awareness and better prepares students for learning to read. It also helps if the classroom contains the printed version of the names of things children encounter and use, as well as other language written down for use during classroom activities.

Early Orthographic Development

Early orthographic development refers to the process through which children learn that visual cues (letters) represent sounds and that certain sounds strung together create recognizable words. They understand key ideas of reading, namely that there is a reliable and regular relationship between letters and sounds and that put in a particular order those letters create words. In their earliest stages of orthographic development, students may struggle with letter order, but they soon learn to recognize, without needing to sound it out, that d-o-g spells dog.

Phonological Awareness

Although sometimes used interchangeably with the concept of phonics, phonological awareness is somewhat different, and it’s important to understand its distinctions and its role in literacy development. Phonological awareness is simply the knowledge that oral language is made up of multiple parts, that there are specific sounds in spoken words. Remember, “phonological” can be broken down into its Greek roots of phono, meaning voice or sound; -logy, the study of; and -ical meaning relating to. So phonological means relating to the study of voice or sound. In their journey of language development, understanding that sounds create words that have specific meanings and can communicate specific ideas is critical. This is phonological awareness.

Syllables—The most basic unit of pronunciation or speech is called a syllable. Children are often taught to “count” the syllables or “beats” in a word by tapping on their desk or feeling when their chin drops when speaking a word. Words are made up of syllables: sometimes one syllable (hi, two, mine), sometimes many (baby, telephone, hippopotamus). The number of syllables a word has is not dependent on the number of letters, but instead depends on the number of vowel sounds present. For example, babe has four letters but only one vowel sound and so is one syllable. Baby also has four letters, but there are two vowel sounds so it is a two-syllable word.

Onsets—Onsets focus on the beginning consonant sounds in words. This might be one or two letters (e.g., d-oor or sw-ing). These initial phonological units can be used by students to help them sound out unfamiliar words.

Rimes—As onsets are the initial consonant sound that begin words, rimes are the sounds and letters that follow. These usually include a vowel(s) and final consonant(s). In the examples from above, -oor and -ing would be the rimes in door and swing.

Segmenting—As students prepare to read, being able to identify word parts and deconstruct unfamiliar words into syllables or phonemic sections is important to be able to decode those words. Breaking words apart into their smaller components or “chunks” is the essence of segmenting.

Blending—If segmenting is breaking words and their sound parts apart, blending accomplishes the opposite. In blending, students put together word parts to form a cohesive whole. If you have heard a student sound out c-a-t, he or she was segmenting. However, putting the sounds together and saying the letter sounds faster is blending. Ideally, blending should be smooth and the reading of a word should sound “natural,” however, there may be some hesitancy or pause as students build their blending skills.

Deletion—Phoneme deletion means that students recognize that phonemes can be removed from a known word to create a new word. This is a more advanced level of phonemic awareness than segmenting or blending, as students recognize the impact of deletion at both the beginning and end of words but also the impact of deleting entire syllables. For example, if shown a picture of a block, students would understand that if the first letter was removed the word would change to lock. If the ending sound of the word toes was deleted, you’d be left with toe. If pan was deleted from pancake, you would have cake left.

Substitution—In substitution, a phoneme in the word is changed to make a new word. If you substitute the c in cow with a b, it becomes a bow. Change it to an n and it’s now. This kind of language manipulation is an advanced level of phonemic awareness, especially when the substitution of a letter changes how the word is pronounced, as it could with bow depending on whether you are referring to the front end of a boat or the ribbon placed on a gift.


Phonics, not to be confused with phonemic or phonological awareness, is understanding the relationship of specific letters and their sounds. Phonics builds on a student’s phonological or phonemic awareness, so if they cannot or do not hear the distinct sounds that make up words, they will have a hard time connecting those sounds to specific letters and reading will be a challenge. Phonics helps students connect the letters to specific sounds and is a building block of reading.

The Alphabetic Principle—This principle states that there is a correlation between specific letters and specific sounds. They correspond in a reliable and consistent way. Phonics is based on the reliability of this relationship between letter and sound. For example, when students learn that the letter b will always make a buh sound, they associate that sound when they see that letter in a word and they know how to say it. An m will always make an mmmmm sound. Not every letter is consistently reliable, however, and as students gain understanding of the principles of phonics and the basics of reading, this fact can be introduced to them.

Phonemes—Phonemes refer to speech sounds or sound units. A phoneme is the specific sound made, not the letter that makes a particular sound. Phonemes may be made up of one or more letters. For example, p makes a sound of puh but ph sounds like fff. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, but scholars suggest there are upwards of 44 phonemes in the English language.

Decoding—Once students have phonemic awareness and an understanding of phonics, or the letter-sound relationships, then they are able to use those skills to figure out unfamiliar words. They can apply their understanding of what sounds certain letters make to segment or sound out a word, or to blend recognized sounds of letters together. When students can match the letters and their respective sounds together and recognize the patterns in a word, they can decode what that word is.

Word Recognition Skills

Word recognition skills are an important milestone in students’ literacy development. By learning how to recognize a wide variety of words and being able to recognize spelling patterns, word forms, and speech sounds in words that are not immediately familiar, children develop the word recognition skills they need to be effective readers.

Sight Words

As the name suggests, sight words, sometimes called high-frequency words, are words that students recognize by sight that require no decoding on their part. These are words that students see and recognize immediately and read with fluency. Students increase their number of sight words, in part, by being exposed to them with high frequency (hence the term high-frequency words). There is a certain level of memorization that takes place as students learn sight words.

Phonics Knowledge

Invariably, we all come across words we do not recognize. For children whose language and literacy skills are still in early stages of development, this happens more often. Understanding phonics and being able to apply some level of phonics knowledge to unfamiliar words allows students to access those words and work to make meaning of them. Decoding becomes a critical skill in word recognition and that ability comes with a strong foundation in phonics.

Choosing a Strategy

There are a variety of strategies teachers can select from when they are teaching word recognition and early literacy to students. It is important to remember that there is not a “one size fits all” solution to teaching children to read. Some will need more support in one area, others in another area. Teachers may consider using a variety of word recognition strategies in their classroom to support all levels of learners. Regular assessment of student skills and abilities is necessary to monitor student growth and identify when a student is ready for a more elevated level of strategy to enhance their reading skills and to identify and target those who need help with the more foundational skills.

Reading Development

Reading development refers to the whole suite of skills that students build as they work their way from emerging readers negotiating the language they hear around them to expert readers who can navigate competently through a wide variety of texts. This skill set includes interaction with all parts of language, from letters and their respective sounds, to recognizing patterns within those letters and sounds, to stringing them together to create cohesive, coherent sentences. As students’ reading development increases, the text complexity they are able to understand increases and their fluency increases.

Text Complexity

Text complexity is an important factor for consideration as young readers are exposed to different texts. It refers to the level of challenge a text poses to the reader. There are multiple facets to consider when evaluating a text’s complexity that go beyond the number of words or vocabulary level. The evaluation requires an assessment of both qualitative and quantitative elements. Below are some of the features to consider to determine text complexity when deciding if a particular text is appropriate for a specific reader.

Length of Words

Perhaps more important than the number of words a text contains is the length of those words. For early readers, multisyllabic words can be a challenge. If there are too many long, difficult words, a new reader may give up on the text in frustration. Conversely, if the length of the words is too short, the text is deemed “too easy” by a young reader, and they may quickly lose interest.

Sentence Length

Just as it is important to consider how long the words in a text are, it is also important to consider sentence length. Short, simple sentences generally indicate a lower level of complexity, but a text with too many lengthy, complex sentences may be inaccessible to a developing reader.

Picture Support

Early readers may benefit from the support images can provide in helping them access the written text. The use of pictures, photographs, images, or illustrations helps support or give examples of the topic of the text and can help support student comprehension of the subject. Those texts with fewer pictures, or whose pictures are more complex, like a graph or chart that must also be “read,” are considered to be of a higher complexity level.

Level of Vocabulary Used

Easier, less complex vocabulary is generally found in less complex texts. Texts that include subject-specific vocabulary or higher level words tend to be more complex level texts.

Text Structure/Layout

In addition to the elements above, the visual appearance of the text is another factor in measuring its complexity. Texts that use smaller font size, decrease the line spacing, or decrease the margins to pack more text on each page generally indicate texts of higher complexity.

Book Leveling Systems

To determine a book’s complexity or level, there are a variety of systems used by different teachers, schools, and districts. Some publishing companies, such as Scholastic, provide a leveling system to identify the difficulty of each text. Other systems include lexile numbers, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Reading Recovery measurements, or Direct Reading Assessment (DAR). Start by asking your school librarian or administrator about the book leveling system used at your school or inquire of your grade level team what their approach is to determining the level of a book. Sharing this information with parents and caregivers can also be helpful so they can make appropriate reading selections for students outside of school.


Many texts have assigned lexile scores. These scores correspond to their level of complexity. Students may take a test to determine their lexile range and then the idea is that if they choose a book within the lexile range within which their score falls, the text will be challenging without being inaccessible. Lexile is not age-dependent and you are likely to have a wide range of lexile scores in your classroom. Ensuring that students read and engage with texts that are in an appropriate lexile range based on their score will help to support their reading growth.

Other Scales

Other scales, including the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level readability test, the Gunning-Fog index, and the SMOG index, are other ways to assess book levels. It is important to understand what these scales are, how they calculate readability, and what their numbers mean. For example, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level readability formula includes calculations of the average number of words per sentence and the number of syllables per word to determine reading level, while Gunning-Fog considers the number of words per sentence and the number of “complex” words (three or more syllables). SMOG assesses 30 sentences in a text (ten each from the beginning, middle, and end of the text) to determine readability and is generally more appropriate for readers in fourth grade through college.

Different Levels for Different Situations

A child’s reading level is not singular but involves a complex assessment for the child to have an appropriate level of challenge, good comprehension, and comfort while reading.

Frustration Level—Generally, this is a level anywhere below 90% accuracy. There are just too many unknown words for a child to read at this level with comprehension and comfort.

Instructional Level—A child should be instructed in, and read with guidance, books he or she can read with 90% to 95% accuracy.

Independent Level—If a child can read a book level with 95% accuracy or greater, the material can be assigned for independent work.


It is not enough that a student can correctly identify, read, and pronounce a word. Reading means being able to understand or comprehend what you’ve read, to glean meaning from it, process it, and compare what it says to one’s own personal experiences. Below are some of the skills students develop as they build their level of comprehension in reading.

Main Idea

The foundation of comprehension may be the ability to understand the main idea of a text. The main idea, sometimes referred to as the central idea, is the primary point the author wishes to make and communicate to his or her reader. Asking “What is this story about?” is the first step to identifying the main idea. Follow-up “reporter questions”—who, what, when, where, why, and how—can further identify and specify the main idea of a text. In less complex texts, the main idea may be stated directly, often at the beginning of a text. As text complexity increases, the main idea may become more difficult to find, as it may not be clearly or overtly stated within the text. Being able to infer an implied main idea delivered by an author is a high-level comprehension skill.


When asked to explain the main idea, students will turn to the details to explain how they determined the main idea. Details are the supporting ideas that are used to help explain the main idea of a text. They will help to answer those reporter questions mentioned in the last section. In identifying details, readers show that they understand and can identify the evidence or hints used by the author to support, explain, or describe the main idea.


As their reading comprehension develops, students will begin to look past the obvious and the outright or overtly stated and begin to make inferences with regard to a text. When students make an inference, they are drawing a conclusion based on information they gleaned from the text they read. Making an inference requires looking at the clues given by an author and piecing them together to make meaning. Inference is often based on experience, so you may find that different students make slightly different inferences. Requiring them to support their inferences with evidence or details from the text is one way to gauge their comprehension. Generally, if they can support their inferences in a logical way using details from the text, their answer is “right.”


When students analyze a text, they study it in depth, picking it apart and looking at its parts and pieces. In breaking a text down and examining each part, students create meaning (comprehension) and are able to apply it to their own understanding of the world and their prior experiences. In analyzing a text, students may empathize with a character or critique a decision a character makes based on their own experiences. These personal interactions and connections with the text help readers to create meaning.


In terms of reading comprehension, asking students to summarize a text is a strong indication of their reading comprehension ability. This is because summarizing requires students to identify the most important parts of a text (including the main idea and supporting details) and condense them into their own language. When students summarize, they practice determining the most important information and, in doing so, better remember what they read by focusing on only the essential components.


When students predict what will happen next in a text, they engage with it on a different level. In predicting, students make educated guesses, applying their own experiences and prior knowledge to a text. Making predictions before and during reading gives students a purpose in reading, which is to “test” their predictions and see which ones come true within the text. When students read with a sense of wonder and questioning, they tend to be more engaged readers, thinking about and connecting with the text. When predictions turn out to be false, it is an opportunity for students to reconsider how they made their predictions and what they might consider differently next time.

Connection with the Text

Being able to make connections with the text is critical to reading comprehension. Students who are able to make personal, meaningful connections with a text are more likely to understand it and remember it because they are engaged with it and engaged readers are stronger readers. Connecting with prior knowledge and personal experience as they are reading, students are better able to make meaning of a text, increasing their comprehension. There are a variety of ways students can make connections with the text. Below are three examples.

Text to Self

Students may be able to make personal connections to a text. They may recognize something in themselves or someone they know to be true about a character in the story. There may be a situation in the story that they have faced themselves. In other words, they may recognize something of their own life or experiences reflected in the text and use that to make meaning.

Text to Text

As readers read more and build their personal mental libraries, students may also be able to make connections between texts they have read and are familiar with. For example, students may read The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell and compare it to the stories they know about the three little pigs. Text to text comparisons indicate that students comprehend the text at a high enough level to be able to connect it to a similar text they recall from prior reading.

Text to World

As student readers gain more life experience (even as young readers), they can begin to make connections between the text they are reading and the greater world around them. Recognizing elements of neighborhoods or communities, common “characters” they know in their own life (teachers, store clerks, policemen, etc.), or some of the social issues they have experienced allow them to make connections between what they are reading and the larger world.


With regard to reading, fluency is defined as the accuracy, rate, and expression students have when reading aloud. As it is impossible to assess fluency in silent reading, fluency must be measured by oral reading assessments. Reading fluency is part of what makes reading enjoyable. When students stumble over words, read very slowly, or mispronounce or mis-emphasize words, their ability to comprehend what they are reading is diminished and reading becomes a burdensome challenge as opposed to an easy pleasure.

Three Parts

As noted above, fluency is made up of three parts: accuracy, rate, and expression, sometimes referred to as prosody. When students have strong skills in each of these areas, they are considered fluent readers.


The rate, or speed, is how quickly a student can read a text. This is usually measured in words per minute. As students increase their sight word recognition and build their word recognition skills, their rates generally increase. It is important to keep grade level in mind when assessing student reading rates, as different grade levels have different baselines for average reading rates. Reading at an appropriate rate helps a student to understand what he or she is reading because the message is delivered quickly enough to make sense.


The accuracy with which a student reads refers to the number of mistakes they make when they read aloud. As students apply their decoding skills and phonics knowledge to unfamiliar words, their accuracy may decline. But with practice, both rate and accuracy will improve. It is important to note (and to remind students) that a fast reader isn’t necessarily a good reader. Being able to read accurately and pronounce words correctly so that they can make meaning from those words is just as important as the speed with which they read.


Reading is meant to be an engaging activity that brings stories to life and captures the reader’s attention. Fluent readers read not only quickly and accurately, but with appropriate and meaningful expression. This means pausing at appropriate places, correctly emphasizing certain words or the syllables in certain words, minding punctuation cues, and varying the pitch and tone as they read. Fluent readers recognize when to speed up, when to slow down, when to pause in a sentence, and so on. Students become fluent readers not only with practice, but also with modeling. Hearing others read aloud and listening to not only what is read, but how it is read is helpful. Being able to read with expression actually demonstrates a certain level of comprehension.

Relationship of Fluency and Comprehension

Students with higher levels of reading fluency tend to have higher levels of reading comprehension. Stumbling over words, reading with inaccuracy, reading too slowly (or too quickly), or reading in a monotonous voice can cause frustration and boredom that often manifests in low reading comprehension rates. As students increase their level of reading fluency, the general pattern is that their comprehension rates also rise as they find reading more enjoyable and more engaging.

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