Monday, September 28, 2020

A Deep Dive into The Big Five: How to Determine Reading Interventions

Last week, I shared with you all about The Big Five. Today we will take a deeper dive into WHY knowing and understanding The Big 5 is important in supporting your struggling readers.

Let's pretend that Henry is in the 3rd grade and he is struggling with reading comprehension. This might be your focus for intervention and small groups, right??

We need to take a deeper dive into WHY he is struggling with comprehension. Knowing about The Big Five will help you to determine specific interventions that your students may need.  Let's take a look at this example:

These are prompts we typically use with our students right? Can YOU tell me about what you just read? For many of our students, this is what the text is like when they are reading! It could be either due to the fact that they are unable to decode the word or possibly that they simply just don't know what the word means. Both of these issues lead to a breakdown in understanding. 

We need to refer back to The Big Five and think of it as a Hierarchy of Reading Skills. 

The reason why Henry is struggling with Comprehension is likely due to several different factors. For 3rd graders, their beginning of year oral reading fluency assessments can provide a lot of information. If your student's reading rate is way below grade-level expectations and/or their accuracy rate is low, it is highly likely that your student is struggling to decode the text. They are reading slowly (and with many errors) because they are spending most of their cognitive energy trying to figure out what each word is. Since their brain is focused on this, they are unable to comprehend the text. 

Analyzing the errors also helps you to determine what the student needs. Perhaps the student is unable to read-only multi-syllabic words. This tells you that your intervention will need to focus on decoding multi-syllabic words. 

Taking a step back to analyze each component of The Big Five is necessary for truly targeting your students' intervention needs. Continue to move one step back along the hierarchy to determine a starting point for interventions. 

I hope that this post was helpful to you! If you have any questions, I'd love to answer them for you! Send me a DM over on Instagram or Facebook!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Big Five: Essential to Supporting Your Struggling Readers

Back when Response to Intervention (RTI) was a new buzzword in Education and our staff was getting initial PD on what RTI is and what we would be expected to do, I vividly remember asking “will there be training provided for HOW to deliver these research-based intervention strategies?” Not sure about your college program, but I was not trained to teach kids how to read. I taught myself strategies to get by to support my 3rd graders with what they needed to become successful readers. I once had a student that moved from another country and spoke very little English. I found myself spending hours on the internet trying to learn how to teach someone their letters, letter sounds, and how to blend. 

Fast forward a few years - I am in a different role as an instructional coach. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend many amazing PDs on reading. I’m happy to say that since that distant memory, our staff has been trained and now have tools in their belts to support struggling readers. Despite this,  I’m sure that there are many educators out there who are in the same boat I once was, so today I’d like to share with you a bit of what I’ve learned over the years. 


One big thing I learned was The Big Five, which was identified by the National Institute of Health and the National Reading Panel in a 2000 report. The Big Five refers to Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. Together, these are the necessary components of quality, comprehensive reading instruction. A child who is competent in each of these aspects will likely be a good reader. 


So what is each of these components about, anyway? Rather than tackling the components alphabetically, let’s discuss The Big Five in terms of chronological order - starting with the component that appears first in a reader.

Phonemic Awareness involves listening. It is the ability to notice, think about, and work with individual sounds (phonemes) that make up words. 

Phonemic awareness develops in children between the ages of two and three. Imagine how much language a child hears in the first few years of life. ALL of this language goes into his or her development as a reader, and it all starts with phonemic awareness. 


This important building block involves listening and manipulating sounds. Although there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, there are a total of forty phonemes (sounds) and two hundred fifty spellings (/f/, /ph/, /gh/). Sometimes it’s a bit tricky.


Some of the other components of phonemic awareness include hearing rhymes, producing rhymes, identifying initial, middle, and end sounds, blending sounds, and orally segmenting and blending words. 


The next component of The Big Five is phonics. So what is the difference between phonics and phonemic awareness? In short, phonemic awareness focuses more on hearing sounds while phonics targets the relationships between letters and sounds. 


In phonics, the reader will learn about consonants and vowels (and their sounds). Further, phonics includes vowel blends (diphthongs) like -oi- as in coin and consonant digraphs such as /th/ and /sh/. Consonant blends like /dr/ and /st/ are also part of phonics.

These terms can often be confusing for upper-grade teachers, so to break it down for you Consonant blends are when two sounds are blended together, each of those sounds can be heard in the blend. Consonant digraphs are when two consonants are together and they make only one sound. Typically, this sound is changed and you cannot hear their original sounds.


Here is a great visual for you from Malia over at Playdough to Plato.  She has this as a FREEBIE over on her blog. Click here to check it out.

Reading should sound like speaking. Many teachers use this simple explanation to describe fluency to their students. 


Fluency is the ability to read text accurately, quickly, and with proper expression. Fluency is the bridge from learning to read to reading to learn.

When a reader is fluent, he or she is bound to better comprehend the text. The reason for this is that when a reader is fluent, he or she can focus on the meaning of words rather than decoding every single one. Thus, comprehension improves.


Vocabulary is the key to comprehension. The more words a reader knows and understands, the more he or she will be able to read, thereby learning more new words. An insufficient vocabulary can slow down comprehension significantly. Parents and teachers can build vocabulary in children by talking with them and reading aloud.


The definition of comprehension is ‘intentional thinking during which meaning is constructed during interactions between text and reader’. The ultimate goal of reading comprehension is not possible without the other four components. 


Reading comprehension involves many factors, including background knowledge, vocabulary, working memory, and exposure to language. A good reader is always asking questions internally (‘why did the character do that?’ or ‘who is this new character?’) and makes connections to the text.


Seeing the light bulb go on in the mind of a reader, when he or she is just figuring it out, is the ultimate gift for a teacher. After breaking down the reading process into its building blocks, it’s no wonder that it also seems like a miracle! 


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Click here to check out my next post in the series: How to determine reading interventions for your struggling readers.