Foundational Reading in Upper Elementary

Foundational reading skills are the basics of phonic, decoding, and fluency.  It’s the actual reading the words part of reading (as opposed to the comprehension part).  In primary grades, students are largely ‘learning to read,’ meaning they learn to decode the letters and accurate read them.  In upper elementary, students focus more on ‘reading to learn,’ where they switch over to working more on comprehension.  But, like most of education, we these skills overlap heavily, and teachers will need to support students in both areas.  Even though the focus in upper elementary is more on comprehension, we can’t neglect these foundational reading skills. 

If students are truly struggling with basic phonics and decoding in upper elementary, most likely they are going to need an intervention in this area.  But, for our students that are (more or less) on grade-level in this area, there are many ways to support foundational reading skills in the upper elementary classroom.

What are the foundational reading skills students need in upper elementary? They fall into three areas: decoding, fluency, and oral fluency.


-decode multisyllabic words-use prefixes, suffixes, and roots to decode and understand the meanings of words

-apply phonics and word analysis skills to decode words

-read irregularly spelled words


-read accurately enough to support comprehension

-read fluently enough to support comprehension

-self-correct based on context-reread when necessary

Oral Fluency:

-read aloud accurately

-read aloud with an appropriate rate

-read aloud with expression

Ways to support these foundational reading skills in upper elementary:

1. Word Walls:

-These are especially good for reviewing irregularly spelled words.  Collect them throughout the school year as you come across them.  Students can even keep their own mini-dictionaries of irregular words.

-Use example words that have prefixes, roots, or suffixes that the students will come across, so they can use these words as a reference.

-Use word walls as a reference for phonics and other skills students will need for decoding.

2. Modeling: When reading aloud to students, model these behaviors:

-self correcting for errors-rereading when comprehension breaks down

-strategies decoding multisyllabic words.  Connect the written word and each syllable/ affix/ root with its sound and meaning.

-reading with appropriate rate

-you can also read too fast or too slow to show students what happens when you don’t read at an appropriate rate

-reading with expression

-or read things with a flat tone to show students how expression helps comprehension.

3. Have students share their strategies with each other:

-Students can listen to each other read aloud and give each other tips on how to be more expressive

-Students can offer help with decoding strategies by sharing their decoding strategies and asking each other, “How did you figure out that word?”

-Ask students, “How did you know you needed to reread that?” or “How did you know that was wrong and you needed to correct it?”

4. practice:

-Whenever possible, give the students copies of the read aloud text, so that they can see the words in print as they hear them.  Connecting the written words with the the auditory will help them become more fluent.

-Provide opportunities for multiple readings.  Have the students practice a paragraph or page until they can read it accurately and with expression.  This works especially well with poetry.

-Do partner work.  Students can read to each other or to younger students (or even to pets!) to become more accurate and expressive with their reading.

Happy (Foundational Reading) Teaching!!
Christine Cadalzo