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What is the Best Way to Begin Teaching Reading in Kindergarten?

two kindergarten girls and a boy holding letters and smiling

The best way to begin teaching reading in kindergarten is to resist the urge to jump right into instruction. First, you need to know where to start and then you need to know where you are going. We refer to this instructional cycle as “Assess, Analyze, Instruct”. At Informed Literacy it is our core belief that the best instruction begins with targeted assessment and analysis of students’ understandings. This analysis will help you identify your next steps in reading instruction.

Is there a standardized assessment for kindergarten students?

While there are several valuable standardized assessments available, we use DIBELS 8 as a universal screener to obtain beginning, middle and end-of-year benchmarks. DIBELS 8 offers free downloads for fall, winter and spring benchmarks as well as progress monitoring materials.

It’s important to review the Administration Guidelines as this assessment has discontinuation procedures in kindergarten and first grade in an effort to to maintain efficiency of benchmark assessment and decrease frustration for beginning learners.

When should I assess kindergarten students?

Since this is the first experience with school for students, we recommend assessing several weeks into the school year rather than Week 1. Students will come to school with vastly differing understandings and most will benefit from several weeks’ time to get acclimated to the school environment.

Anecdotal Observations: While official assessments or screens won’t start on Day 1, teachers can certainly gather anecdotal data that can provide a picture of the whole child. Here are some things to look for:

  • Can the student follow directions?
  • Can the student attend to a story?
  • Does the student have strong (or weak) oral language?
  • Can the student recognize their name?
  • Does the student demonstrate an awareness of letters?
  • How does the student interact with peers?

Since DIBELS is a standardized, criterion-referenced assessment, we wanted to know the specific benchmark assessment window for the fall, winter and spring screenings. We contacted DIBELS and they confirmed the following assessment windows:

  • Fall/Beginning of Year= 1-3 months into the school year
  • Winter/Middle of Year= 4-6 months into the school year
  • Spring/End of Year= 7-9 months into the school year

What types of assessments should I give?

After your initial observations of your students and once students have become acclimated to the school environment there are three types of assessments that we recommend.

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Letter Names and Sounds
  • Whole Word Reading

What do I need to know about phonemic awareness?

Phonemic Awareness: Phonemic Awareness is an auditory skill that is fundamental to mapping sound to print. As Mark Seidenberg explains in Language at the Speed of Sight, ...”phonological information is an essential element of skilled reading in every language and writing system; impairments in the use of this information are typical of poor readers and dyslexics.”

assessment materials on a table with a pencil

DIBELS 8 contains a Phonemic Segmentation Fluency (PSF) assessment. However, it only addresses the ability to segment words. There is more to phonemic awareness than just segmentation, so if your student struggled with this one-minute screening, you would want to dig a little deeper. It is for this very reason that we created an easy-to-use Phonological Awareness Assessment. In addition to the more discrete phoneme skills, this assessment includes phonological skills such as rhyming, segmenting words in a sentence and segmenting and blending syllables. We also include ‘Guidelines for Analyzing’ to help teachers know what to look for after administering the assessment.

FREEBIE ALERT!! We are offering our Phonological Awareness Assessment resource for FREE!

When is the best time to assess letter names and sounds?

the letter name and sound assessment on a clipboard wth a pencil

Letter Name and Sound Assessment: We typically assess letter-sound correspondence several weeks into the school year in kindergarten. We developed a FREE Letter Name and Sound Assessment which is incredibly helpful to determine current letter-name and letter-sound knowledge.

DIBELS 8 includes a Letter Naming Fluency (LNF) that can be administered as a universal screening at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. This assessment can be used to flag students who may have issues with Rapid Naming.

In kindergarten, we usually wait to administer the DIBELS LNF assessment until letter-sound instruction is underway. Per DIBELS’ recommendation, this is 1-3 months into the school year. For example, in our area, school starts at the end of August. We usually conduct our DIBELS beginning of the year screenings in October.

What about whole word reading?

Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF): Another critical step in reading is the ability to blend words. This is what reading is all about! Once again, DIBELS 8 offers a one-minute timed assessment of this skill.

Initially, not all students will be ready for whole word reading. So, it’s worth mentioning again, that teachers must be mindful of the discontinuation procedures put in place by DIBELS to keep these assessments quick so as not overwhelm or frustrate students with tasks in which they are not yet proficient.

What’s Next? Analyze.

The best way to begin teaching reading in kindergarten is to then analyze your students’ assessments. What do they reveal? Do they know letter names but not letter sounds? Can they orally segment words but have difficulty blending?

If you’re not sure what to look for, our ‘Guidelines for Analyzing’ will make your job easier. These guidelines are included in both of the freebies offered in this blog (Letter Name and Sound Assessment and Phonological Awareness Assessment) and provide specific considerations based on student performance.

What’s Next? Instruct.

Emphasizing foundational skills is the best way to begin teaching reading in kindergarten. These include phonemic awareness, letter names and sounds, and letter formation (handwriting). Vocabulary and comprehension can be targeted and strengthened through read alouds and rich conversation.

We hope that you have found this post helpful in getting you started on the best way to begin teaching reading in kindergarten. Please be sure to explore our website for specific ways to include structured literacy practices into your kindergarten classroom.

Here’s a link for a FREE K-2 Phonics Scope & Sequence to get you started!

Are you interested in learning about teaching reading in first grade?

Check out our post on the first step in teaching reading to first graders for some helpful tips.

Help! I need Science of Reading aligned resources to support my students.

We’ve got you covered!
This science of reading aligned resource is available in our TPT store. Click on the image.
Letter Name and Sound Bundle Cover
Click on the image to shop for this Science of Reading aligned resource in our TPT store.
Decodable books help students apply phonetic patterns and develop automaticity.
Are your kindergarten students ready to begin reading? This SoR aligned resource will help them meet with success!


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