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Stages of Reading

In 2013, I'm planning to incorporate more posts about children's literature into My Book Retreat. To start, here's a post I wrote a couple years ago for another blog. I've updated it a bit with some new information and more book recommendations for each level. I hope you find this useful!

When I checked on Google, I found several different ways to categorize the stages of reading development, but I tend to favor this list of Stages of Early Literacy Development:
  • Early emergent
  • Emergent
  • Early fluent
  • Fluent
Here are some details about each of the reading levels, including some recommended books at each level. Note that some of the books I recommend are at the top end of the reading level, and some series cross between two different reading levels, so be sure to take a look at the books yourself to see if they're right for your child.

Early emergent
Early emergent readers are developing an understanding of the letters, both upper and lower case, and their relationship to the sounds of spoken language. They are beginning to understand basic concepts of books and print, such as the front/back of a book and where to begin reading. And they are beginning to acquire phonological skills, such as recognizing phonemes, syllables and rhymes.

In this stage, the child relies on pictures and repetitive sentence patterns. There is little text, and it is usually in the same spot on each page. The text is written in large print with wide letter spacing. Books for early emergent readers are kindergarten grade level books, DRA A/1 to 3, Guided Reading Level A-C, Reading a-z level aa-C. In our school system, children are expected to complete the early emergent reading stage by the end of kindergarten. Some of our favorite early emergent books are:

Emergent readers have a strong understanding of letters and sounds, as well as phonological skills. They also recognize a significant number of sight words. Emergent readers recognize different types of text, including fiction and nonfiction, and understand that reading serves a variety of purposes.

In this stage, the child relies less on pictures and repetitive patterns. Each page has a bit more text on it, and features more complex sentence structure. Books for emergent readers are generally first grade level books, DRA 4-16, Guided Reading Level D-I, Reading a-z level D-J. In our school system, children are expected to complete the emergent reading stage by the end of first grade. Some of our favorite emergent books are:

Early Fluent
Early fluent readers are more focused on comprehension than decoding words. They are beginning to read more smoothly, rather than one word at a time. They easily recognize sight words and no longer stumble over more complex sentences.

In this stage, the books feature longer sentences and more words on each page. Books contain more pages and fewer pictures. There is more variation in vocabulary and sentence structure. Books for early fluent readers are second grade level books, DRA 18-28, Guided Reading Level J-M, Reading a-z level K-O. In our school system, children are expected to complete the early fluent reading stage by the end of second grade. Some of our favorite early fluent books are:

Fluent readers are reading to learn rather than learning to read. Their reading is more automatic, with proper pauses and expression. Their reading is much more focused on comprehension.

In this stage, books feature much more description, complex ideas and sentence structure. There are few pictures and more challenging vocabulary. Books for fluent readers are third to fifth grade books, DRA 30-44, Guided Reading Level N-Z, Reading a-z level P-Z.

My son was reading in the fluent level when he was in first grade, so many of these book recommendations are for kids who are in this reading level but at a younger age.

What are your kids' favorite book series? Please leave a comment if you have other suggestions for each of these reading levels.


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