The Changing Emphasis of Subskills in ELA – What We Need to Know

As educational leaders, when we are reflecting upon curriculum and instruction, it is imperative we consider work done by experts and researchers in our field.  When it comes to literacy instruction, Ohio districts refer to the “Changing Emphasis of the Subskills of the Five Components of Reading” (pictured below) in order to more effectively evaluate their own curricular programs/materials and ELA frameworks used by classroom teachers.  If the curriculum that schools are using does not provide instruction in all of these subskills, districts need to find and use supplemental resources in order to prevent any gaps in subskill instruction.  In addition, gaining awareness of the appropriate emphasis of subskills within different grade levels helps us to determine whether our classrooms are providing an effective system of focused instruction among different ELA components.


In the graphic above, the “Big Ideas” of reading are listed on the left side, and connecting subskills are placed in each row underneath specific grade levels.  It is important to understand that this chart does not imply an equal balance of time among the components on the left.  Rather, it highlights what should be emphasized (shown in orange) and taught explicitly throughout the elementary grades and beyond.  For example, in grades K-1, although all of the ELA components on the left are included in daily lessons, an emphasis should be placed on students receiving explicit instruction in the areas of phonemic awareness (blending and segmenting sounds) and basic phonics.  As learners move into the middle of 1st grade through the end of their 3rd grade year, the emphasis of instruction shifts to explicit teaching in the areas of advanced phonics, multisyllabic words, and reading connected text.  In 4th grade and beyond, the emphasis moves to explicit instruction in writing and reading complex texts.  Of course, it is critical to remember that data analysis at the school and classroom levels will also dictate additional needs when it comes to explicit and systematic instruction.  If students do not master the subskills emphasized in earlier grades, they will need additional instruction in those areas in order to continue to successfully grow as readers.

Connecting to The Simple View of Reading

The concept outlined by The Changing Emphasis of the Subskills of the Five Components of Reading also connects to the Simple View of Reading (Gough, 1986), which illuminates the idea that proficient readers have well-developed skills in both word recognition and language comprehension.  As students grow their language and literacy skills, effective classroom teachers learn to adjust the balance of time spent on different ELA components to accommodate their students’ needs academically and developmentally.  Early readers need to spend more time engaging in activities that allow them to practice word recognition skills, while more advanced readers should be given more exposure to opportunities to analyze language and complex text.  All learners need daily support in both word recognition and language comprehension, but as teachers plan their daily lessons, the balance of time spent on different ELA components should change as students become more proficient readers.

Big Takeaways

When considering what we have studied and learned about the Changing Emphasis of Subskills and The Simple View of Reading, we now “know better and can do better” for our students.  Literacy leaders are taking a closer look at the tools and resources they have been using in order to make sure they are in alignment with the research behind best practices in language, reading, and writing instruction.  Teachers are learning to better analyze data to ensure they are meeting their students’ needs.  District and school leaders are analyzing curriculum, pacing guides, frameworks, and classroom schedules in order to better support teachers as they strive to provide exceptional instruction for students.  The effort is ongoing, but as we continue to be thoughtful about our process for consistently making necessary and timely changes, we will continue the important work of continuous improvement for our students.

*link to Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement

Mary Williams

I am a School Improvement Consultant who previously spent twelve years teaching and five as a Literacy Coach. I also serve as the Regional Early Literacy Specialist for State Support Team 13. I love animals and music along with spending time outdoors. My current favorite quote is: "Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later." - Og Mandino