Effective reading instruction

Reading was once viewed as an ability acquired in the early years of schooling. Instead, it is now recognised as an expanding set of knowledge, skills and strategies that individuals build on throughout life in various contexts and interactions. Effective readers use complex processes to make meaning of words, symbols and non-print texts (Castles, Rastle & Nation, 2018). These processes involve accurate decoding knowledge of words, grammar and the broader language and text structures needed for comprehension. They require integration of meaning with one's knowledge about the world. Reading also involves metacognitive competencies: the awareness of and ability to use a variety of appropriate strategies when processing texts.

This section of the Literacy Teaching Toolkit is focussed on reading instruction. You'll find information about Teaching Practices, the Literacy focus for Reading and Viewing , and In-practice examples which reflect lessons that make connections between a practice and a literacy focus.

Effective reading instruction:

  • encompasses systematic and explicit teaching of phonological awareness and phonics. Both of these elements are essential for learning how to read print-based texts. Successful phonological decoding requires knowledge of a language’s grapheme-phoneme correspondences and recognition of whole words which are stored in a reader’s long-term memory (Hoover & Tunmer, 2018)
  • provides explicit instruction in comprehension (literal, inferential and evaluative) supported by drawing on a range of metacognitive strategies and processes for meaning making (Duke & Cartwright, 2021)
  • encompasses a range of teaching practices that provide varying levels of support at different points of need – these practices include modelled reading (including thinking aloud), shared reading, guided reading and independent reading
  • uses these teaching practices to provide explicit instruction in comprehension
  • includes whole group, small group and individual instruction
  • provides opportunities to maximise engaged reading and deep thinking about texts through practices such as literature circles and reciprocal teaching, or through providing prompts to promote extended talk about texts
  • uses a range of genres and modes of texts
  • features models of rich, authentic texts
  • takes place in English and across the curriculum
  • is given substantial time in the classroom

Effective reading and the curriculum

The Victorian Curriculum, F-10, provides the following account of reading and viewing:

Reading and viewing involves students understanding, interpreting, critically analysing, reflecting upon, and enjoying written and visual, print and non-print texts. It encompasses reading and viewing a wide range of texts and media, including literary texts. Reading involves active engagement with texts and the development of knowledge about the relationship between them and the contexts in which they are created. It also involves the development of knowledge about a range of strategies for reading. (VCAA, English Curriculum)

Reading and viewing, as a mode of English, is an integral part of learning in all disciplines in the primary school. As such, students need to not only become proficient in foundational capabilities such as phonemic awareness or alphabetic knowledge, they also need to understand the literacy demands specific to the various curriculum or discipline areas across a range of texts (Derewianka & Jones, 2022). At all year levels, daily opportunities for reading and viewing need to be built into classroom schedules so that students can practise processing words, symbols or actions to derive meaning and/or construct meaning. Through instruction and practise, readers learn to understand, interpret, critically analyse, reflect upon and enjoy written and visual, print and non-print texts (VCAA, 2017).

Literacy foci in the toolkit

The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Reading (Rowe, 2005) concluded that "all students learn best when teachers adopt an integrated approach to reading that explicitly teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension" (p. 11). As such these five key skills plus literature, multimodal literacy, visual literacy and literacy across the curriculum form the foci of literacy within the toolkit.

For more information, visit Literacy focus.

Teaching practices in the toolkit

Following an extensive review of research into early reading in the US, Snow, Burns and Griffin (1998) noted:

...no single reading instruction method works best for all children. lf we have learned anything from this effort, it is that effective teachers are able to craft a special mix of instructional ingredients for every child they work with. But, there is a common menu of materials, strategies, and environments from which effective teachers make choices.

More than 20 years later similar findings are currently being replicated in research. It is still argued that reading is a complex and multidimensional process which must recognise the individual learning trajectories of each student. A one-size-fits-all approach to the teaching of reading is "reductive" and does not "equitably serve all students" (Compton-Lilly et al., 2020, p. 1; Mantei et al., 2021). Teacher expertise plays a vital role in knowing how to address the varied and complex learning needs of students. To assist the teaching of reading, teachers should draw on practices such as modelled reading, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, guided reading-reciprocal teaching, literature circles, close reading, and the teaching-learning cycle.

For more information, visit Teaching practices.

For additional information on Reading and viewing and EAL/D students, visit Reading and viewing and EAL/D students.


Compton-Lilly, C.F., Guay, M., & Spence, L.K. (2020). A Confluence of Complexity: Intersections Among Reading Theory, Neuroscience, and Observations of Young Readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 0(0), 1-11.

Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the reading wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(1), 5-51.

Derewianka, B., & Jones, P. (2022). Teaching Language in Context (3rd. ed.). Oxford.

Duke, N. & Cartwright, K.B. (2021). The Science of Reading Progresses: Communicating Advances Beyond the Simple View of Reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(S1), S25-S44.

Hoover, W. A., & Tunmer, W. E. (2018). The simple view of reading: Three assessments of its adequacy. Remedial and Special Education, 39(5), 304-312.

Mantei, J., Kervin, L., & Jones, P. (2021). Examining pedagogies for teaching phonics: lessons from early childhood classrooms. The Australian Educational Researcher, 49(4), 743-760.

Snow, C.E.., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.), (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. National Academy Press.

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. (2017). Victorian curriculum: English Glossary https://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/english/english/introduction/rationale-and-aims