Ehri’s Phases of Reading Development (part 1)

Ehri’s Phases of Reading Development (part 1)

Written by: Morgan Mason

September 13, 2023

In recent years, the science of reading has emerged as a compelling and contentious topic in education, garnering widespread attention and igniting passionate debates. The surge of interest can be attributed to a growing body of research that sheds light on the cognitive processes underlying reading proficiency. This research emphasizes evidence-based practices, highlighting the significance of phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, and explicit decoding skills. As educators and researchers delve deeper into the neurological and linguistic aspects of reading, there is a greater recognition of the importance of equipping students with robust foundational skills to unlock the doors to comprehension, critical thinking, and academic success. The science of reading has sparked a dynamic discourse on instructional approaches, curriculum design, and teacher training, ultimately seeking to bridge the gap between scientific insights and classroom practice for the benefit of learners of all backgrounds and abilities.

The science of reading provides a solid theoretical foundation which aligns seamlessly with Ehri’s Five Phases of Reading Development. These phases reflect the cognitive processes which occur in a reader’s mind as they transition from basic visual recognition to fluent comprehension. The science of reading emphasizes the crucial role of phonological awareness, phonics instruction, vocabulary development, fluency practice, and comprehension strategies in fostering proficient reading skills. Ehri’s phases align with these principles, as they highlight the progression from visual word recognition to phonetic decoding, the acquisition of sight vocabulary, and the ultimate goal of automatic reading, where all these elements unite.

“These phases reflect the cognitive processes which occur in a reader’s mind as they transition from basic visual recognition to fluent comprehension.”

Reading is a fundamental skill which opens doors to knowledge, imagination, and communication. As individuals embark on their reading journey, they progress through various stages of development, each building upon the foundation of the previous one. Dr. Linnea Ehri, a prominent cognitive psychologist, proposed a comprehensive framework that outlines these phases of reading development. In part 1 of this blog post, we’ll delve into the first three of Ehri’s five phases of reading development and explore how they shape a reader’s path towards fluency and comprehension.

Phase 1: Pre-Alphabetic Phase

Child reading a book at a table.
Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

At the initial stage of reading development, children are in the pre-alphabetic phase. This phase is marked by a limited understanding of the alphabetic principle – the relationship between letters and sounds. Instead, children rely on visual cues, such as memorizing the shapes of words or recognizing logos and images. During this phase, children might associate the first letter of a word with its meaning but lack the ability to systematically decode words based on their individual phonemes.

Teachers can support pre-alphabetic readers by fostering print awareness, introducing letter-sound relationships, and engaging in activities that promote letter recognition.

Phase 2: Partial-Alphabetic Phase

As children progress to the partial-alphabetic phase, they begin to grasp the alphabetic principle more systematically. They can recognize and manipulate individual letter sounds and may associate specific letters with certain phonemes. However, their word recognition skills are still primarily based on a partial understanding of letter-sound correspondences.

Educators should provide opportunities for phonemic awareness activities, phonics instruction, and exposure to decodable texts to strengthen early decoding skills.

Phase 3: Full-Alphabetic Phase

In the full-alphabetic phase, readers make significant strides in their ability to decode words accurately. They have a solid grasp of letter-sound relationships and can apply this knowledge to unfamiliar words. Readers in this phase demonstrate the ability to sound out words, blend phonemes, and decode multisyllabic words. The full-alphabetic phase represents a crucial step towards independent reading.

Teachers should focus on expanding vocabulary, providing ample practice with decodable and authentic texts, and guiding students in developing fluency and comprehension skills.

Join me in October for part two of this blog, where we’ll explore the last two of Ehri’s phases, the consolidated alphabetic phase and automatic phase.



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  • Morgan Mason

    Morgan earned her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Ball State University and her Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Butler University’s EPPSP program. She has served as a grade 1, 3, and 4 classroom teacher and an instructional coach.

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