Reading is about Meaning

reading and thinkingThere are some people who think reading is just about ‘sounding out’ words. You only need to look at words like the, said, are, that we expect our young children to read in their easiest books, to know that is not going to work.

Reading is about meaning.


Phonics [sounding out] is one information source in recognising words when reading ….  but phonics only works when students have strategies to use all sources of information available in text.
From The Place Of Phonics In Learning To Read And Write by Emmitt, Hornsby and Wilson. (2013)

Capable readers are always checking for meaning, and look to correct errors when meaning is lost. Checking and confirming of meaning are going on all the time. (Often too fast to notice.) However, when meaning is uncertain or lost, more attention is given to checking the other ‘cueing systems’ one against the other. This means we get further clues from knowing how words are likely to go together in our Standard English language (sentence structure / syntax), and by looking more closely at the letters within the unknown words (graphophonics). We also look at the surrounding words and sentences to pick up more clues to the meaning.

E.g. Look down the road. Here comes a …. The word is likely to be a noun. (The word could not be was or they.) It is likely to be something you would see on a road. If it began with tr it could be a truck or a tram, or even a train if it was crossing the road. Being able to look through the whole word would be useful. (tr-am) A picture would be an excellent clue.


I thought I would look for a different example so I opened one of my own books to a random page and my eyes went to the beginning of a paragraph near the end of the page.

I read- “The cherry bounce was taking the place of the fog…”

Despite reading the book a year or 2 ago, I had no idea what that particular sentence meant. Icherry reread the sentence. (Didn’t help.) I could ‘sound out’, or take apart, each of the words because I am a competent reader. (Didn’t help.) I knew the meaning of each of the words. I knew the meaning of fog, cherry, place and bounce. (Didn’t help.) I was wondering if ‘cherry bounce’ was a noun, or bounce could have been a verb. (Didn’t help.) So far none of these sources of information were very helpful. It was not until I read the rest of the page that I was able to bring more meaning to the sentence.

In the preceding paragraph of my book I read that Jamie had given Claire a cup of cherry bounce and it was an alcoholic drink that tasted similar to cough syrup. But what did it have to do with fog?

Then I looked at the top of the page. Claire spoke about a recent event that had left her feeling numb from the fog of grief’’.

So I could now bring more meaning to the original sentence. The affect of the alcohol in the drink was taking the place of the numbness Claire was feeling from her grief. Her mind was probably still foggy. She felt distanced from what was going on around her, (and she probably needed a good lie down).

fogReading is about meaning. I could sound out the words. I knew the meaning of the individual words. But it was not until I actively searched for more meaning that I was able to understand what I was reading. I had to read more of the story (search for more information) and combine it with my own knowledge (grief, feeling numb, affect of alcohol) to comprehend the sentence.

Our students need to know how to do much more than ‘sound out’ words in order to read.

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