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Levels of Language & Literacy

by Joan Sedita | 1 | 1 Comment

Question: What role does knowledge of language play in reading and writing? Answer: A huge role!

Teachers tend to focus on the “five components of reading” when thinking about what’s needed to teach students to be good readers (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). But there is another model that should be considered: the seven levels of language.

I first learned about these levels over 30 years ago from a speech and language specialist who worked with me at the Landmark School for students with reading disabilities. At the time, I had studied to be a reading specialist and special educator. I thought I knew everything there was to know about teaching reading until this colleague introduced me to terms such as phonology, syntax, and pragmatics and helped me understand the very important role that knowledge of multiple levels of language plays in learning to read and write.

The levels are listed below with descriptions of how weaknesses in each area might contribute to skill development in reading and writing.

Phonology: sound system, awareness of speech sounds

  • Mispronunciation of sounds and words
  • Poor memory for names
  • Inability to blend or segment sounds in spoken words

Orthography: spelling system, knowledge of letters

  • Difficulty remembering the letters in irregularly spelled words
  • Use of unreasonable letters and letter sequences when writing

Morphology: system of units of meaning in words

  • Leaving off word endings or confusing them
  • Lack of knowledge of prefix or suffix meaning
  • Mixing up prefixes and suffixes

Semantics: knowledge of word meanings and relationships

  • Spoken vocabulary is limited in range
  • Alternate meanings for common words not known
  • Difficulty with synonyms, antonyms, analogies

Syntax: system of rules of grammar; awareness of permissible word order in sentences

  • Using wrong verb forms or pronouns when speaking or writing
  • Speaking in short and/or incomplete sentences
  • Poor sentence structure when writing

Discourse: ability to combine sentences to communicate ideas

  • Difficulty identifying main ideas/details in text
  • Disorganized or limited retelling ability
  • Problems with listening comprehension during read-alouds

Pragmatics: social rules about language use

  • Demands instead of asks
  • Difficulty taking turns in conversation
  • Lack of awareness of appropriate voice volume and/or physical boundaries when conversing

For more related reading, view my post from 2016 The Language and Literacy Connection, a short piece from the Dartmouth College of Education, and the chapter School-Age Language Development from the book Language Development: Foundations, Processes, and Clinical Applications.

Joan Sedita

Joan Sedita is the founder of Keys to Literacy and author of the Keys to Literacy professional development programs. She is an experienced educator, nationally recognized speaker and teacher trainer. She has worked for over 35 years in the literacy education field and has presented to thousands of teachers and related professionals at schools, colleges, clinics, and professional conferences.

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1 Comment

  1. Anna Dawson

    The most difficult levels for students are pragmatics and discourse. Иecause these levels require activation of thinking and imagination, not just theoretical knowledge.
    Thank you for the article. It really is a very interesting view of the components of language and literacy.



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