Levels of Language & Literacy
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.