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What is the best way to teach children to read?

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There are multiple ways to teach and learn reading. Some methods work better than others, and some readers learn better from one method than they do from another.

In 1997, Congress asked the NICHD, along with the U.S. Department of Education, to form the National Reading Panel to review research on how children learn to read and determine which methods of teaching reading are most effective based on the research evidence. The National Reading Panel developed recommendations based on the findings in reading research on the best way to teach children to read. They found that specific instruction in the major parts of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) was the best approach to teaching most children to read. They also noted that instruction should be systematic (well planned and consistent) and explicit. Although the National Reading Panel is more than a decade old, the findings on reading instruction are still relevant today.

In addition, NICHD-supported researchers have discovered other things about learning to read, including (but not limited to):

  • Researchers showed that the number of poor readers in the early grades could be reduced by providing students with explicit instruction (like that recommended by the National Reading Panel). By working more intensively on reading with students in the lowest one-fifth of the classes, researchers taught all but a very few children to read.
  • By taking pictures of readers’ brains as the students were reading, researchers observed which parts of the brain were active during the reading process. The researchers also saw that the active areas of the brain differed slightly for poor readers and for good readers. After using an intervention to help poor readers become better readers and overcome reading difficulties, the brain activity patterns of the poor readers during reading changed to look more like those who did not have reading problems. For more on this finding, visit http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/pages/brain_function.aspx.
  • Researchers discovered that children with reading problems are not identical and that some students were better able to benefit from specific interventions than others. Using brain recordings, they were able to tell the difference between which students would respond better years later. Continuing research like this may one day help tailor specific approaches to individual students, so that more people with reading problems can learn to read successfully.

Last Updated Date: 10/29/2013
Last Reviewed Date: 02/28/2014
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