5 Stages of Reading Development​

5 Stages of Reading Development​

"Reading is a complex interaction between the text, the reader and the purposes for reading, which are shaped by the reader’s prior knowledge and experiences, the reader’s knowledge about reading and writing language and the reader’s language community which is culturally and socially situated.

Dr. Janette M Hughes

What are the 5 Stages of Reading Development?

When children learn to walk they go through various stages before becoming independent. They move through these stages at their own pace. This is the same for reading. The stages of reading development are a continuum that children move through as their reading skills become proficient (Dorn & Soffos, Fountas & Pinnell, Chall, CLPE, Campbell-Hill). Each child is different!
A child’s previous literacy experiences will influence their progression through the stages. This is different for all children as not all of them start school with the same levels of literacy understanding and exposure. The teacher must understand this to help all children become successful readers. This is why knowledge of the reading process is crucial.

Importance of the Reading Process

As a Kindergarten teacher, I needed to know the level of literacy understanding of each child so I could effectively support them on their reading journey. I would speak to each set of parents before the children’s first day to get the big picture of literacy exposure at home. This helped me tailor reading support to each child and move them through the reading continuum individually.
But it is not just a case of helping children move through each stage. Children need to learn, practice and master a multitude of reading strategies to help them succeed. This includes using prior knowledge, predicting, visualising, questioning, comprehension, drawing inferences, summarising, synthesising, evaluating, and knowing when to use each strategy. So, as you can see, reading is not just about knowing how to read a word, it is about so much more.
I will take you through each stage, highlighting the characteristics of a reader at each level. I have also added in some strategies you can use at home. For young children, you will mainly be looking at the first 2 or 3 stages, though I have added information on all 5 stages so you have the full picture.

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Stages of Reading Development Characteristics

I will take you through each stage, highlighting the characteristics of a reader at each level. I have also added in some strategies you can use at home. For young children, you will mainly be looking at the first 2 or 3 stages, though I have added information on all 5 stages so you have the full picture.

Stage 1: Pre-Reading/Emergent Readers

The first and most important stage is when children show an interest in reading and voluntarily picks up a book. They need exposure to quality and entertaining literature.
At this stage, you will see children:
  • understanding print has meaning
  • being familiar with handling books
  • commenting on illustrations, with guidance
  • starting to recognise letter names and sounds
  • having a good grasp of oral language
  • relating a story to their own experiences
  • pretending to read a story
  • starting to rhyme
This stage is the foundation for all the other stages and it should be fun. The goal is to help children love to read so they don’t see it as a chore! Reading wordless books are also great for practising these strategies.
  • Read aloud vibrant and exciting books
  • Read nursery rhymes and poetry with repetitive text
  • Go on a picture walk before reading. This also develops an understanding of story structure
  • Make predictions together. Model how to predict by offering your own suggestions
  • Ask questions and model how to answer them
  • Encourage children to make connections to the book. Remind them of related events that have happened to them
  • Point out important events in illustrations and make connections back to the text

Stage 2: Reading/Early Readers

During Stage 2 children become more involved in the reading process. Their self-confidence grows as they begin to feel like a ‘reader’.
You will see children:
  • start to memorise the story
  • begin to memorise common sight words
  • make connections between sounds and print
  • use the illustrations to tell the story
  • start to read for meaning
  • start to predict unknown words by using visual cues
  • connect what they see on the page to the meaning of the text
  • start to take risks
  • using rhyming knowledge to add, change and delete phonemes or individual sounds to make new words
  • begin to use a combination of strategies in their attempts to read unknown text
  • use illustrations to support their predictions
Don’t make children feel self-conscious about predicting or guessing words. It will only make their reading progression more difficult as they read harder books.
  • Continue to read stories to children
  • Model how to question, predict and comprehend
  • Introduce new vocabulary.
  • Read aloud with children regularly
  • Sing songs about letters
  • Focus on letters in their own name and other meaningful words
  • Read the environment when shopping. Point out signs and labels

Stage 3: Responding/ Progressive Readers

Children are becoming more fluent as they enter Stage 3. They are using multiple reading strategies in combination. You will find they are starting to self-correct themselves using different strategies, such as reading the sentence again, saying the beginning sound of a new word, checking the pictures for cues and guessing a word that makes sense.
At this stage children will:
  • understand text has meaning
  • use illustrations as part of self-monitoring
  • understand how to tell a story
  • independently use their comprehension and prediction strategies
  • use multiple strategies to increase their reading fluency
  • make educated guesses when predicting the outcomes of a story. Adapt their predictions, if needed, as they continue to read
Ask questions while a child is using strategies to read unknown words
  1. Does that look right? Child says ‘moose’ for mouse. Child…. “well yes it does start with a ‘m’ sound or letter.
  2. Does that sound right? The moose lived in a tiny little space. Child… “It sounds ok.”
  3. Does that make sense The moose lived in a tiny little space. Child… “No, it doesn’t make sense, a moose is too big.”
  4. Ask the child to read the sentence again and problem solve.

Stage 4: Exploration/ Transitional Readers

Children are reading more fluently and accurately but will still need help with more difficult texts.
At Stage 4 children are:
  • recognising an increasing number of sight words
  • using decoding, new vocabulary, increased comprehension and reading fluency and speed.
  • using strategies of predicting, checking, self-correcting and clarifying more independently
  • still using illustrations along with the text as a way to monitor and self-correct their reading independently
  • using their knowledge of phonemes and digraphs to read unknown words
  • starting to use punctuation marks and read silently to themselves
  • choosing certain books so they can learn about things they are interested in
  • reading books as part of a series, providing security of knowing the characters and setting while using their reading strategies independently
  • reading at a good pace

Stage 5: Applying/ Independent Readers

Children are consistent and independent in their reading at this stage. They read longer and complex texts and choose relevant books for an intended purpose.
During Stage 5 children:
  • use phonics, syntax, meaning and comprehension to be a fluent and accurate reader and self-correct
  • use reading for school work, projects and expanding their own interests
  • understand how reading works and use it for different purposes
  • read longer texts, extracting the information they need
  • understand what they read can influence their opinions  
  • read text from different points of view
  • begin to critically analyse what they are reading and learn to read between the lines
  • expand their comprehension and vocabulary as they read more complex texts
What do you think of the Stages of Reading Development? Will it be useful? If you have had success with particular books let me know in the comments below. I will add them to this post!
5 Stages of Reading Development​
5 Stages of Reading Development​

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10 thoughts on “5 Stages of Reading Development​”

  1. This is extremely interesting to see this laid out. I’ve been teaching my own children to read and have noticed this progression. I just didn’t really recognize them to be different stages. Do most children tend to transition between these stages fairly easily? I have one daughter who practically jumped from stage 2 to stage 5 overnight while my second daughter seems stuck between stage 2 and 3. I’m not pushing since I know everyone learns differently but I’m wondering if I need to be more intentional with her to help her get past this stage. Or if I can just let her read herself out of it naturally.

    1. Hi Rebekah, your daughter will definitely pass this stage, it just may take her a little longer than her big sister. Going from stage 2 or 3 is hard as stage 3 is about being more fluent and independent. This is daunting for many children. You are doing the right thing by not pushing her and giving her lots of positive encouragement. If some days she is finding it a bit much then why not read to her and get her involved in discussing the book (comprehension, questioning, predicting, inferring, etc). Let me know how it goes!!

  2. This is such a great article! So much information has been covered. It’s a wonderful resource for parents who homeschool or those who want to support their children once they are in school. I especially like that you have included strategies that go with the first three stages..

  3. This is so helpful! Thank you for sharing all the stages. I’ve got a little one who seems just about ready to start putting some time into focusing on learning to read, so I found the information very beneficial!

  4. I love that you point out that children will move through these stages at different rates. A wise teacher once told me that on the first day of kindergarten you can easily tell which children have been read to which have not. And it is so true. Understanding the reading process really shows the importance of reading to children from a very early age, long before they are ready to start school. My youngest, who isn’t even two, is already beginning to show signs of in the first stage just because we read books so often. She has already learned which way a book should be held and interacts with the pictures. She’s well on her way to reading!

    1. Hi Michelle, you are so right! When I taught Kindergarten I could tell which children had been read to consistently before starting school. How wonderful that your 2 year old has learned the basics already!!

  5. As I read your post, I could picture my children and grandchildren at the different stages. This really helped me to see their growth and progress with reading. I particularly liked your problem solving strategy, “Does that make sense?” Sometimes my kids would get so caught up in the process of reading they forgot about the story!

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