How We Learn to Read

In 2000, researchers released a report summarizing thousands of studies about reading and the individual skills involved. Called the “Five Pillars of Reading,” they are:

1. Phonological (Phonemic) Awareness
2. Phonics
3. Fluency
4. Vocabulary
5. Comprehension

(For more details about the Five Pillars, click here.)

The 5 pillars boil down to two things: 1) learning to “decode” words; and 2) then connecting meaning to those words—first one by one, and then when words are joined together in sentences and paragraphs.


PHONEMIC AWARENESS – This has to do with developing an awareness that letters and words are made up of different sounds and the consequent ability to distinguish between them.

PHONICS – There are 44-45 different sounds or phonemes have been identified in the English language. Phonics is essentially learning the sounds of each phoneme and then using what we’ve learned to decode words.

As you can see, decoding words isn’t something we’re born knowing how to do—it’s a skill—just like learning to ride a bike, control a soccer ball with our feet, tie our shoes. And, as with any skill, learning to read and read well requires starting and practicing the fundamentals. In a word, through repetition. Skill development involves the neurons in our brains—the more we practice, the faster and stronger the firing of neurons in our brains get. Learning to dribble a basketball starts with standing still and bouncing the ball and then progresses to running while bouncing the ball, etc.

Broken down into smaller parts, beginning the process of connecting the letters and sounds involves 7 initial steps. Each step builds on the one before.

To learn more about each of these 7 Steps, click here.

The Tiger Tuesday Reading Program is organized around teaching these first 7 Steps, with games, activities, worksheets, and more, aligned with each of the steps. But it doesn’t stop there. Its stories, activities, worksheets and plays focus on improving fluency, enhancing vocabulary, and practice with strategies for increasing comprehension. Once we’ve learned how they all fit together, we can continue to build on the foundation.


FLUENCY – What is fluency? The ability to read a series of words with speed, accuracy and appropriate expression/inflection, both out loud and silently.

VOCABULARY – Building vocabulary is simply the process of increasing the number of words we know.

COMPREHENSION – Where vocabulary refers to individual words, comprehension is absorbing facts and understanding themes communicated when words are arranged together in sentences and paragraphs.

Phonics Centered — Consistent with Orton-Gillingham — Multisensory