Advancing Research, Improving Education
SEDL's Reading Resources
Cognitive Framework of Reading Reading Assessment Database Short Papers Reading First Links
Table of Contents


Cognitive Elements of Reading

Reading Assessment Techniques

Research Evidence

Using the Framework



PDF version

Related Resources
Glossary of reading terms

Instructional Resources - Literary References

Instructional Resources - Instructional Activities

Research Evidence

Throughout this presentation of the framework, claims have been made that are founded in empirical research. Many of those claims have been summarized here, and a sample of research articles that support those claims have been listed below each (If a full reference is needed, it can be found in the References section).

This is provided in this format in the hopes that it can be used as a resource for the interested reader who would like to gather more information on a topic related to the cognitive perspective of the reading process.

01-Reading Comprehension

Children need to read stories that are at their reading level; in other words, they should be able to recognize most of the words.

When children read texts at their level, they have increased opportunity to read for meaning.

There is a schematic structure to stories that is not automatically understood. Children who are exposed to this sort of storybook reading dialog are more sensitive to the schematic structure of stories.

Repeated reading activities as well as reading a wide variety of discourse structures can facilitate comprehension and develop story knowledge.

With automatic word recognition, the child does not have to concentrate on the words and can concentrate fully on the meaning of the text.

There are children who have difficulty comprehending text despite being proficient at decoding (hyperlexics)

Reading, unlike speech, is an unnatural act -- children should not be expected to learn to read without explicit instruction in the underlying knowledge domains.

Reading comprehension is the product of decoding skill and language comprehension skill.

02-Language Comprehension

Most language development occurs indirectly through language exposure rather than through explicit instruction.

Oral language comprehension is a good predictor of reading comprehension.

Extent of oral language is highly correlated with later reading proficiency.

Oral language comprehension is more related to reading ability than intelligence.

Reading comprehension and language comprehension are governed by the same cognitive mechanism.

Some children decode words fluently and still have reading comprehension problems that seem to stem from language comprehension problems.

Some poor comprehenders have problems making inferences (implicit).


The core of reading skill is the ability to identify individual words quickly and accurately.

For first graders, the ability to decode individual words accounts for most of the variance in first-graders' reading comprehension.

The ability to name unfamiliar words in the first grade is a good predictor of reading comprehension skill in the 4th grade.

Early and systematic emphasis on decoding leads to better achievement than late or more haphazard approaches.

Good readers do not skip words or rely on context to decode words, but read virtually every word and see all of the letters.

Poor readers rely on contextual cues for decoding much more than good readers do.

Syntax and semantics play a role in the comprehension of text, but they do not play a role in the decoding of the individual words.

Teaching children to guess the meaning of words by context actually decreases the odds that they will learn to read well.

Children who recognize words more readily are able to focus more attention on the meaning of the words.

Children first learn to "sight" read words by memorizing the whole word or some salient feature of the word (Frith called this the "logographic reading stage"; Ehri called this "pre-alphabetic stage"; Juel calls it the "selective cue stage".).

After children develop phoneme awareness, they may use some partial sound information in decoding, typically the initial or final sound (Sometimes called this "phonetic cue reading".).

Eventually, the child learns to "sound-out" or "decipher" words (sometimes called "word attack skills").

Children who have learned to "sound out" words do not always use conventional spelling -- "invented" spelling or "phonetic" spelling is common, and with experience and feedback, children usually learn correct spellings.

Children who are taught to memorize words as wholes -- to develop a "sight vocabulary" -- are less able to decode unfamiliar words

Oral reading errors can occur for a variety of reasons

Children who can recognize words in context (e.g. the word "milk" when it is written on a milk carton) are often unable to recognize the same word out of context.

04-Cipher Knowledge

Reading English requires two different word recognition skills  the ability to read regular words and the ability to read irregular or exception words.

The ability to sound-out (decipher) regular words is generative and necessary in an alphabetic language.

Children who are better able to sound-out words have higher levels of reading achievement.

Lack of explicit instruction in the relationships between letters and sounds most adversely affects at-risk students.

Early and systematic letter-sound relationship instruction is more effective than later or haphazard instruction.

Children generalize from a words they know to words they don't know that are in the same word family. If they learn that the SM in SMILE sounds like /sm/, then they generalize that knowledge to other words that contain the letters SM (Ehri and Goswami refer to this as "reading by analogy.").

Good readers quickly and fluently sound-out words they do not know.

05-Lexical Knowledge

Sometimes as children learn to apply the alphabetic principle and "sound out" words, they begin misspelling words they could correctly spell before.

Reading English requires two types of word recognition processor  phonological processing and orthographic processing.

Poor spellers make spelling errors on all words, good spellers only make errors on irregular words.

06-Phoneme Awareness

A strong, positive relationship exists between phonological awareness and reading skills.

Phoneme awareness is one of the best predictors of reading success.

Most children do not develop phonological awareness without explicit instruction.

Children who fail to develop phoneme awareness have difficulty learning basic reading and spelling skills.

When children are taught phoneme awareness explicitly, they demonstrate greater abilities to read words and spell.

Phoneme awareness instruction is strongest when it is presented in the context of letter-sounds.

An awareness of syllables, onsets, and rimes (phonological awareness) typically develops before an awareness of phonemes.

Some phoneme awareness tasks are harder for children than others.

07-Letter Knowledge

Children need letter knowledge in order to be readers, and letter knowledge is a strong predictor of reading success.

Letter knowledge should be fluid and automatic

Letter knowledge significantly influences the acquisition of phonological awareness and phonological processing skills.

To be fluent at recognizing letters, students need to be familiar with the distinctive features of each letter.

08-Knowledge of the Alphabetic Principle

Children must understand the relationship between speech sounds and letters.

One of the best predictors of early reading ability is a child's understanding that written words are made up of letters that represent sounds in speech.

A child must learn to think of words as having both meanings and sounds in order to understand the alphabetic principle.

Direct, explicit instruction of the alphabetic principle is necessary for some children and is better than relying on the student to discover it for herself.

There is a very slight advantage for synthetic approaches (letter to word) over analytic approaches (word to letter) in teaching children the alphabetic principle.

Children who are explicitly taught the alphabetic principle (with appropriate attention also paid to their phoneme awareness) perform better on word recognition and reading comprehension measures later.

09-Concepts About Print

Books are constructed according to a set of conventions that can be understood without being able to read.

Knowing the conventions of print aids in the process of learning to read.

Children need to learn the mechanics of print in order to be readers.

Differences in parental support affect children's understanding of the mechanics of print.

Concepts about print knowledge may facilitate subsequent reading related skills.

11-Background Knowledge

Building knowledge requires more than accumulating facts about specific elements such as word definitions.

Background knowledge and reading comprehension scores are positively correlated -- the more background knowledge a reader has about a subject, the more the reader understands when reading text about that subject.

Insufficient background knowledge is likely a major factor in reading failure for many children, and domain knowledge factors may be masquerading as reading problems.

Enhanced background knowledge results in increased inferential comprehension.

Provision of relevant background knowledge prior to reading can facilitate comprehension.

Background knowledge is enhanced through reading


Development of language specific phonology is necessary for reading success.

Integration of phonology and orthography is important for reading success.

13-Semantics - Morphology

Letter strings that are present in many different words (such as -ing) are chunked together and perceived as single units by experienced readers.

We can only access meanings of words we already know.

A variety of methods for increasing vocabulary is more effective than a single method.

Five to six year olds have a vocabulary of 2,500 to 5,000 words.

Disadvantaged students in the first grade have a vocabulary that is approximately half that of an advantaged student (2,900 and 5,800 respectively).

The average student learns about 3,000 words per year in the early school years (8 words per day).

Vocabulary growth is considerably worse for disadvantaged students than it is for advantaged students.

Reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge are strongly correlated.

Limited vocabulary is the primary limiting factor for reading success.

Reading volume, rather than oral language, is the prime contributor to individual differences in children's vocabularies past the 4th grade.

Vocabulary size is a good predictor of reading comprehension.

Difficulty of vocabulary in text affects comprehension of that text.

The more storybook reading a child experiences during the preschool years, the greater the child's vocabulary and language development.

Context is important for helping children to learn the meanings of unfamiliar words.


Knowledge of syntax is important when the reader is reading for meaning.

Many children who have reading difficulties do not make use of their knowledge of syntax and tend to read word by word.

Children make use of syntactic information to help determine ambiguous or unfamiliar word meaning.


Reading achievement differences can be detected in the first grade.

Reading and writing develop concurrently and interrelatedly.

In the early grades, the cognitive processes underlying reading comprehension are only weakly interrelated -- development in one knowledge domain does not guarantee development in other knowledge domains.

Expert teachers use knowledge about the children in their classrooms -- their backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses -- to create lessons that connect new subject matter to students' experiences.

Matthew Effect: Children who have difficulties learning to read early are likely to have reading difficulties throughout schooling and into adulthood.

Archived Resource

The resources listed on this website are from a past project. The Reading Assessment Database and external links have not been updated since 2009.

Copyright ©2024 American Institutes for Research
Free Resources | Contact Us | Terms of Use