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Foundational Literacies


  • Small set of skills used to comprehend information.
  • Necessary when reading any type of text, online or "print on paper."
  • Include:
    • activating prior knowledge
    • connecting
    • visualizing
    • inferring
    • questioning
    • synthesizing
  • Strategies that can be taught through explicit instruction
  • Research proven instructional models for teaching these strategies include Reciprocal Teaching and Questioning the Author



Comprehension Strategies Effective Readers and Writers Use

Integration of foundational literacies, those strategies necessary for comprehending "print on paper" texts, within content instruction is paramount to learning content. Readers must navigate a variety of traditional text types, most often non-fiction texts, in order to grasp content. Proficient readers and writers of printed text actively construct meaning using a small set of powerful reading comprehension strategies (Pressley & Afflerback, 1995: RRSG, 2002.) Effective readers activate prior knowledge, predict, infer, question, determine importance, and monitor & fix up understanding when it breaks down (Keene, 1997.) Many of these strategies can be explicitly modeled and taught through Reciprocal Teaching (Palinscar & Brown, 1994) and Questioning the Author (Beck,et.al. 1997)- Both methods that have strong research bases and are explained below.  For a quick exercise that allows readers get a feel for these strategies, on the Parents page (see link in left margin) and try the Foundational Literacy Activity.

Instructional Models for Explicit Instruction on Foundational Literacy

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal Teaching is an instructional model in the form of a conversation around a text. Initially, the teacher facilitates the discussion through thinking aloud and modeling four important comprehension strategies: prediction; clarification, question generation, and summarization. Later, students take on the role of teacher and facilitate the conversation with an emphasis on the strategies. The teacher's role changes over time, starting as a model, moving to facilitator, and then finally to coach, scaffolding higher levels of student thinking.

For more detailed information on Reciprocal Teaching, visit this website: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory

Questioning the Author

An instructional approaches that forces students to read actively, thinking not just about the information they are gleaning, but also about the person behind that information-the author. Some questions a teacher might use to engage in this type of discussion might be as follows:

  • What is the author trying to say?
  • How does the author connect this new information to what's been shared so far?
  • Did that make sense? What is missing? Did the author explain that clearly?

Through these types of questions, students recognize misconceptions and return to the text to try and fix them. They consider the author's message and purpose and connect information across the text. These questions are asked before, during and after reading, depending on the purposes for raising them. This approach helps teachers move students to more active questioning while reading through modeling, thinking aloud, and discussion.