Foundations of Literacy: The Skills Behind Reading & Writing

Children reading and writing

If you’re looking to help your child develop the foundations for literacy, you’re in the right place.

Literacy is a fundamental component of the Australian K-6 curriculum, as it enables students to interpret and use language. Literacy allows students to understand and analyse information, make meaning, and effectively share their ideas. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how skills in literacy play an essential role in communication. Literacy serves as a toolkit to effectively interact with others and participate in society more broadly.

Today, these kinds of skills are vital. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the modern economy is “marked by an increasing demand for information-processing skills and other high level cognitive and interpersonal skills”. It’s clear that these skills are vital, but are Australian K-6 students meeting the mark when it comes to literacy?

Well, according to recent NAPLAN results, many Australian primary school students require further assistance. One in five 14-year-olds cannot read well enough, according to the 2019 NAPLAN results, with up to 20% of Australian students needing extra help to read (although that varies between schools).

When it comes to assisting young Australians in this area, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of literacy. The Australian curriculum organises literacy into interrelated elements:

  • Grammar knowledge
  • Text knowledge
  • Word knowledge
  • Visual knowledge

Each of these elements fall under the overarching processes; comprehending texts (such as listening, reading and viewing) or composing texts (speaking, writing and creating).

In order to be skilled in literacy, children need to be competent in each of these elements. Let’s explore these areas more thoroughly.


The role of phonics, comprehension and grammar in literacy

Skills in phonics, comprehension and grammar and are fundamental pillars of literacy. Whilst they are all distinguishable, they work hand-in-hand to form comprehensive understanding. Here’s more about each pillar, and how they work together. 


What is phonics?

Phonics refers to the decoding of letters, and combinations of letters, into sounds (known as phonemes). That it is say, phonetics demonstrates the relationship between speech sounds and spelling patters. 

The English language consists of about 42 sounds (phonemes) which are represented by letters, and combinations of letters (known as graphemes). Sounds represented by two letters are called diagraphs, sounds represented by three letters are called trigraphs, and sounds represented by four letters are called quadgraphs. Some examples you will be familiar with includes the “ch” diagraph in “chip”, the “tch” trigraph in “catch” and the “aigh” quadgraph in “straight”.

Did you know, one phoneme can be represented by multiple graphemes?

One phoneme can be represented by several different graphemes. That is, one speech sound can be represented by multiple different letters, or combinations of letters. Let’s take the last example; the “aigh” sound in “straight”. This phoneme can also be represented by the following:

  • The “a” in “acorn”
  • The “ay” in “play”
  • The “ai” in “snail”
  • The “ey” in “they”
  • The “ei” in “veil”
  • The “eigh” in “eight”
  • The “ea” in “break”

Graphemes are not always a consecutive string of letters. Sometimes, other letters sit “in between” the grapheme. Let’s return to the “aigh” example. This phoneme is also produced by the grapheme “ae” in “snake”, despite the “ae” grapheme being separated by the letter “k”.  

Overall, different sounds in words can be represented in multiple different ways, which is why it’s important for children to start learning the code which underpins English. There are key factors which indicate what grapheme will be used in a particular word. For example, we know that the suffix “s” can be used to make some words plural. Using this pattern, we know to add the “s” morpheme to make bird into “birds”, rather than using “z” (“bridz”).

Whole words are often combined by multiple graphemes. When we combine graphemes together to form one word, it’s called blending. Primary school students may be taught to “sound out” each phoneme, and then blend all these together to say the whole word.


Helping your child with phonics

At LJ Harper, we understand the important role of phonics in literacy. We have a wide range of resources to help develop skills in this area. 

Browse our range of literacy resources to discover resources which teach this phonemic approach. You’ll also discover resources across spelling, reading and handwriting.


The role of comprehension in literacy

In addition to utilising skills in phonetics, children’s literacy can also be enhanced by the ability to interpret each word’s meaning within the broader text. Using the context, the child may use words they know in a sentence to work out those they don’t.

This approach involves the important skill of literacy comprehension, that is, understanding the overarching meaning whilst simultaneously reading the words. 

According to the Department for Education and Child Development, proficient readers with skills in comprehension demonstrate the following: 

“Proficient readers monitor their understanding as they read, integrating new information with existing knowledge and experience. They focus on relevant parts of the text to distinguish important content from minor detail. They make and monitor predictions and evaluate content as they read. For this to happen, they learn to adjust their reading strategies, pace and vocabulary knowledge, as well as their strategies for decoding and chunking to read the unfamiliar.”

There are specialised literacy resources which can help children develop these skills. Shop online with LJ Harper to help your child in this area with our range of comprehension strategy boxes.


The role of grammar in literacy

Grammar can be defined as the whole system and structure of a language. Understanding this ‘system’ behind our language plays a vital to children’s skills in literacy. This may be obvious, but have you ever wondered how an understanding of grammar plays out? How can it help children read and write?

Well, when exploring phonics, we’ve seen how many different graphemes (letters/letter combinations) can be used to create a certain sound. It can be challenging to select the correct grapheme. In saying this, there are grammatical conventions which provide frameworks around making the correct selection. As we’ve discussed, in making the word “bird” plural, students know to add “s” grapheme rather than “z” grapheme, due the knowledge of the “s” suffix. This is a great example of how grammar (such as an understanding of suffixes) can be used with phonetics in literacy.

Here at LJ Harper, we provide extensive resources to help children of various ages and abilities with grammar. Shop grammar to discover workbooks, reference books, and activity booklets.


Putting it all together

When it comes to literacy, children rely on many competencies, including an understanding of phonics, grammatical knowledge, and skills in comprehension. The practice of reading a whole text independently is a great tool for grasping all these elements, and bringing them together.

There is a plethora of literacy resources to help in this area. Decodable readers are a fantastic resource for encouraging children to read. They allow students to practice blending and segmenting through the learnt phoneme-graphemes that they have been practicing, and apply this skill to a text which is appropriate for their skill level.

According to the NSW Department of Education, “decodable texts contain a very large percentage of words that incorporate the letter-sound relationships that students have been taught [in school]…”

Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Dr Deslea Konza agrees, and says that these types of readers are a great tool for reinforcing what is learned in the classroom. “You get good at what you practice. We’re teaching children the letters and how to blend them together… Decodable texts match that… the large percentage of that text is material that they should be able to read on their own. That is what will help them practice.”

Shop literacy with LJ Harper to discover fiction and non-fiction decodable readers, including Kangaroo Readers for a range of Oxford Levels.

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