Reading Programs for Students With Special Needs

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Teaching students with disabilities presents many challenges, mostly because of the diversity of your learners. When creating or selecting a reading program, it is important that teachers understand the most important areas of reading instruction.

The Big Five

In the year 2000, the National Reading Panel published an extensive report on the most effective practices in reading instruction. This panel, made up of school administrators, teachers, and scientists, concluded that there are five areas of instruction that must be included in effective reading programs. These five elements include phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the understanding of how words can be broken down into smaller phonemes, or sounds. The ability to separate the word 'cat' into separate sounds, 'c-a-t', demonstrates phonemic awareness.


Phonics is the knowledge of letters and the sounds they make. Phonics also teaches that letter sounds blend together to make new sounds, which make words. For example, all readers must understand that the letters 'b-u-s' spell the word 'bus', and if you add an 'e-s' to the end, it makes a new word, 'buses'.


In order to understand what's being read, students need to comprehend the meaning of different words. Vocabulary instruction is where teachers describe the definition of new words and use the words in context to help students fully understand their meaning.


Fluency is the ability to read written text at a quick speed with accuracy and appropriate expression. When reading aloud or silently, a student should read quick enough that the sentences flow, making sure they pause and change their voice appropriately. The ability to understand what you're reading depends largely on your ability to read fluently.


Comprehension is the ability to understand what you've read. Students show their comprehension of text in a variety of ways including summarizing and answering questions.

Each of these areas of reading are critical to include in a reading program and have been proven to be effective in working with students with and without disabilities.

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