Unit 1: Approaches to Early Childhood Literacy Instruction

This is a picture depicting the multiple ways of teaching reading.


In this unit, we will explore the approaches to literacy instruction. Specifically, we will explore “The Three Cueing System” and “The Science of Reading.” We will learn the brief history associated with these forms of literacy instruction. Through this unit, we can better understand the “Reading Wars” and the importance of selecting the best literacy approach for your students!

Learning Objectives:

At the end of this unit:

  • Participants will be able to identify the parts of the three cueing systems.
  • Participants will be able to name reading strategies associated with "The Three Cueing System."
  • Participants will be able to define the science of reading and explain its value for literacy instruction.
  • Participants will be able to describe Scarborough's Reading Rope in their own words.

Let's Get Started!

Do: You will need a Gmail account. Please access and make a copy of the digital journal for the course. This is where you will save your thoughts and reflections as you progress.

Access Here: Digital Journal

Reflect and Record: Before we begin learning about the different approaches in reading, it is important to reflect on our own experiences about learning how to read. Please respond and record your thoughts in your Digital Journal.

Prompt: How do you remember learning to read? Ask someone who knew you from ages 3 - 8 what they remember about your reading. What made you feel great as a reader at this time? What made you ashamed or embarrassed as a reader?

Lesson 1: The Three Cueing System

Lecture: What is the Three Cueing System?

The Three Cueing System originates from psycholinguists Ken Goodman (The three cueing system, 2022). Goodman wanted to gain insight into how students decode or break apart words when coming across unfamiliar words. Students’ errors or “miscues” provided information on the reading strategies that students were using. He learned that students were making “guesses” and predictions based on the context of the book and looking at pictures. Thus, reading was viewed as a “Guessing Game.” Goodman (1967) noted:

“More simply stated, reading is a psycholinguistic guessing game. It involves an interaction between thought and  language. Efficient reading does not result from precise perception and identification of all elements, but from skill in selecting the fewest, most productive cues necessary to produce guesses which are right the first time. The ability to anticipate that which has not been seen, of course, is vital in reading, just as the ability to anticipate what has not yet been heard is vital in listening.” (p. 2)

In essence, Goodman developed a system of “cues” for learning how to read. These cues were:

  • Semantic (word meaning and sentence context - Does it make sense?)
  • Syntactic (grammatical features - Does it sound right?)
  • Grapho-phonics (letters and sounds - Does it look right?”)
Ken Goodman's Theory: The Three Cueing System

His ideas sparked a revolution in how teachers approached literacy instruction. The three cueing system involved students in the learning process rather than engaging students in drill work. Goodman’s theory became known across the United States and was implemented in reading programs such as Fountas & Pinnell, Reading Recovery, and Units of Study for Teaching Reading. The EdWeek Research Center survey shows that 75 percent of K-2 and elementary special education teachers use this method to teach reading (Kurtz et al., 2020).

What does the research say about the Three Cueing System?

Although the Three Cueing System has been utilized across classrooms, this theory has many flaws. For instance, the three cueing system needs to be backed up by research and evidence. As stated by Goodman, he mentions that “My science is different” (Hanford, 2022). For him, the purpose of reading is to have students focus on the meaning of the word rather than learning the words. However, by instilling these practices, students are forming poor reading habits.

This chart comes from the video "The Trouble with the Cueing System."

Consider the image on the right:

The sentence reads: “I see a cat.”

A student will come across the word “cat” and struggle to decode it. By looking at the picture, a student might say, “I see a kitty/kitten." Although the student is making a good prediction and the sentence makes sense, the student did not decode the word “cat.” Reading will only get complex as students get older. By third grade, books became longer and had fewer words and pictures. Students need explicit decoding strategies to uncover unfamiliar words. If students are not taught this and instead are learning the three cueing system, they will fall behind because they are learning the skills of a struggling reader.


Watch: You are now going to be looking at videos of reading strategies supported by the Three Cueing System. Watch the video "Skippy Frog" and "Chunky Monkey."

Prompt: Please respond in your digital journal to the following question: What are the strategies for "Skippy Frog" and "Chunky Monkey?" How do these strategies promote poor reading skills?

Check for Understanding

Do: Complete this Google Form before moving onto Lesson 2.

Lesson 2: The Science of Reading


Watch: Before diving into the Science the Reading, please watch "The Science of Reading, Explained" to get a brief overview of this topic.

A formula that makes up Reading Comprehension.

Lecture: What is the Science of Reading?

“Science of Reading” has become a buzzword within literacy education. But what exactly is it? For many years, teachers have relied on teaching reading through a “Balance Literacy” Approach. When teaching through this approach, students receive a combination of phonics instruction and whole-language strategies. The whole-language strategy consists of the cueing system where students make “guesses.” Through research, it has been concluded that these strategies do not build strong reading skills in students. Therefore, Science of Reading is a collection of research to teaching students how to read effectively.

Scarborough's Reading Rope

Reading can be defined as making meaning from print. Reading is complex, and to understand what happens when a person reads, Dr. Hollis Scarborough created a diagram to help parents understand what is involved in reading.

The Reading Rope consists of lower and upper strands: the word-recognition strands (phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition of familiar words) work together as the reader becomes accurate, fluent, and increasingly automatic with repetition and practice. Concurrently, the language-comprehension strands (background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge) reinforce one another and then weave together with the word-recognition strands to produce a skilled reader (International Dyslexia Association, 2018).

A skilled reader combines all these strands simultaneously. To continue being a skilled reader, the student must become increasingly strategic in applying background knowledge, understanding vocabulary, language structure, and understanding verbal reasoning. A student must also increase their automaticity regarding their phonological and phonemic awareness. These domains in reading will contribute to a reader's fluency and comprehension.

The Seven Principles of Science of Reading

When beginning the journey of teaching the Science of Reading, an educator must understand the seven principles of teaching reading (Science of Reading, 2022). Here are the seven principles to follow by:

1. Reading is not natural; it can and must be taught.

2. Background knowledge is as critical to comprehension as decoding skills.

3. Foundational skills instruction must be systematic and explicit, beginning with sounds.

4. Instruction must be engaging, through multiple modes and senses.

5. Science-based reading instruction reduces the need for intervention, and allows children to move forward as capable, confident learners.

6. Science-based reading instruction is a matter of equity.

7. Science-based reading instruction is urgent, and the most crucial work of the elementary teacher.


Watch: You will watch a TedTalk by Melissa Hostetter, who advocates changing how literacy instruction is taught. Click on the link "Can We Afford to Ignore the Science of Reading?"

Do: Please respond in your digital journal to the following question: In the video, Melissa Hostetter discusses adult literacy. How would the Science of Reading impact a student as they get older? What value does the Science of Reading have on literacy instruction?

Check for Understanding

Do: Complete this Google Form before moving onto Unit 2.

Unit Takeaways


  • Ken Goodman created "The Three Cueing System" based on the analysis that children make predictions and guesses when decoding unfamiliar words.
  • Goodman's ideas revolutionized how teachers across the United States teach reading to their students.
  • Goodman's ideas were challenged as the Three Cueing System leads to poor reading habits in struggling readers.
  • Science of Reading is an extensive body of research dedicated to learning how to teach reading effectively.
  • Scarborough's Reading Rope informs us that there are two domains skilled readers incorporate: Word Recognition and Language Comprehension.
  • There are seven principles that educators should know before incorporating the Science of Reading into their instruction.
  • The Science of Reading is vital to a person's life outside school.

Navigation Links

Sumaiyah Islam's Mini Course

Unit 1: Approaches to Early Childhood Literacy Instruction

Proceed to: Unit 2: How the Brain Learns How to Read

Unit 3: The Foundations of Early Child Literacy

Unit 4: Creating a Lesson Plan


Goodman, K.S. (1967). Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game. Literacy Research and Instruction, 6, 126-135.

Hanford, E. (2022, January 20). How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers. How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers | At a Loss for Words | APM Reports. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2019/08/22/whats-wrong-how-schools-teach-reading

Kurtz, H., Lloyd, S., Harwin, A., Chen, V., & Furuya, Y. (2020). Early Reading Instruction - Results of a National Survey. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://epe.brightspotcdn.com/32/4f/f63866df760fb20af52754fd07ff/ed-week-reading-instruction-survey-report-final-1-24-20.pdf

Scarborough's reading rope: A groundbreaking infographic. International Dyslexia Association. (2018, April 4). Retrieved December 3, 2022, from https://dyslexiaida.org/scarboroughs-reading-rope-a-groundbreaking-infographic/

Science of reading – foundational reading skills. Amplify Science of Reading. (2022, October 28). Retrieved December 3, 2022, from https://scienceofreading.amplify.com/

The three cueing system. Five From Five. (2022, May 17). Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://fivefromfive.com.au/the-three-cueing system/#:~:text=The%20three%20cueing%20model%20says,%2Dphonic%20(letters%20and%20sounds)