Reading Automaticity: Strategies and More

Reading is a fundamental skill that plays a vital role in a child’s academic success and overall development. Automaticity is an essential component of lifelong literacy and a successful career of learning. Automaticity refers to the ability to read effortlessly and accurately, with little conscious effort or attention required. This means, as the name implies, that the process of reading becomes automatic. You may recognize that certain tasks in your own life are automatic– like tying your shoes, crocheting, or even cooking something– all tasks that at one time took you much more thought and energy to learn. Automaticity reduces your cognitive load and results in a process characterized by fluidity and facility. Automaticity is distinct from reading fluency because fluency depends on automaticity, accuracy and intonation / prosody (how the words are expressed).

For emergent readers, automaticity in reading is critical because it frees up cognitive energy and concentration for comprehension, analysis, and critical thinking. When a child automatically recognizes words, their reading fluency increases, allowing them to focus on understanding the text’s meaning rather than reading and decoding individual words.

Achieving automaticity comes with time, deliberate practice, and consistent, multisensory opportunities to engage all literacy skills. As Generation Z grows into their education and Generation Alpha arrives, schools will change their instructional strategies to focus more heavily on engaging, visual, multi-modal and tactile (hands-on) learning. There are several strategies that aid in developing automaticity and all can be adapted for the current and emerging generation of learners.

During dedicated instructional time, phonics, which focuses on teaching the relationship between letters and sounds, allows readers to recognize and decipher patterns effortlessly. A diverse and engaging tour that follows a progression from letter-sound correspondence to blending to irregular word recognition provides readers with the strong foundational skills they’ll build upon all their lives as both readers and writers.

  • Letter-sound correspondence forms the foundation of reading as children learn to associate letters with their corresponding sounds.
  • Blending is the ability to combine individual sounds to form words.
  • Irregular word recognition (learning sight words) requires explicit instruction and repeated practice. Irregular words appear frequently in the English language, but do not follow patterns that are easily discernible. Some of these words include: “was” “do” “what” “are” “have” “they” and “to.”

Multisensory Strategies

As any 21st century parent or educator understands, utilizing multisensory approaches in all aspects of phonics is a significant part of early reading development.

Letter-Sound Correspondence:

Phonics songs and chants: Implement the use of catchy songs or chants that associate letter names with sounds. Honing the power of a child’s favorite tunes is a clever and creative way to engage students in understanding the different sounds a letter can make. Remember, despite the alphabet’s 26-letter team of words, there are 44 phonemes.

Hands-on manipulatives and letter formation activities: Whenever possible, utilize tactile implements like letter tiles, magnetic letters, or textured, moveable and magnetic materials. Similarly, writing letters in the air, on poster-size surfaces, or through the use of large motor movements will reinforce the connection between letter forms and sounds. Consider dusting off your chalk bucket and heading outside for sidewalk chalk letter tracing and writing. Differentiating instruction this way also offers opportunities to expand the learning space and create unique learning experiences.


Elkonin boxes: A favorite in early reading instruction, Elkonin boxes are segmented boxes or tiles that represent individual sounds within words. This allows early readers to segment those sounds. Students can slide their fingers, move tiles or even themed tokens through the boxes while blending the sounds together helps them form complete words. For instance, if you know your learners love cookies, create some cookie themed tokens to reveal or isolate the letters inside the boxes. This strategy can be differentiated in a variety of ways to engage a learner’s unique preferences and interests.

Irregular Word Recognition (Sight Words):

Word Walls: At home or at school, the presence of an interactive word wall with high-frequency irregular words, can aid a learner’s automaticity and later vocabulary acquisition. Learners can trace the words with their fingers, say them aloud, and engage in activities like “word wall scavenger hunts” to reinforce recognition and recall. To gamify your word wall, have learners toss a ball toward the word wall. Each time the ball makes contact with a word, ask the learner to say the word and use it in a sentence. Keep the game going until the ball makes contact with every word on your wall.

Memory Game: Upcycle an old deck of cards or customize a set based on a favorite theme, character, or topic. Alternative, design memory games that have cards with irregular words printed on them. Learners can turn over the cards, read the words aloud, and match them. Remember, repeated interaction will promote automaticity.

Within and outside of the classroom, several reading strategies can stoke automaticity and these strategies are merely part of a much larger whole related to phonics instruction. However, nurturing automaticity in a number of ways will empower readers to unlock a world of knowledge, imagination, and language development.

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