Happy #phonologicalfriday everyone!

This week we are going to be focusing on more than just phonology, we will be discussing many of the complex skills related to skilled reading development.

In 2001, Dr. Hollis Scarborough introduced Scarborough’s Reading Rope as a way to represent how related complex skills need to work together so an individual can become a skilled reader.

The Reading Rope builds on the concepts that Gough and Tumner (1986) had in their Simple View of Reading formula. This formula states:

And it shows us that both of these components are essential for a reader to understand what they are reading.


In the Reading Rope, you can see that the two components from the Simple View of Reading, decoding and language comprehension, are part of the Reading Rope. In the Reading Rope, there are two main skills, Word Recognition and Language Comprehension. Each of these skills is comprised by subskills within the strands of the rope.


In the Simple View of Reading, Gough & Tumner considered this to just be Decoding, but Scarborough shows that decoding alone is not enough to recognize words in text. She considers word recognition to have 3 essential components to it: phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition.

Phonological Awareness includes several skills related to an individual’s understanding of how a spoken language works and the different ways a word can be broken down. This includes the ability to break words into their smaller components like syllables and phonemes and their ability to notice similarities in the sounds in words such as rhymes and alliteration.

Decoding requires the individual to know that a written letter corresponds with a speech sound and that these speech sounds are combined together to make a word. In order for an individual to be able to decode, they must learn the relationship between the letters and the sounds they make (graphophonemic awareness). The best way for an individual to learn about these relationships is through phonics instruction.

Sight Recognition is the ability for an individual to look at any word they come across and automatically know what it says. This means that the individual has been exposed to this word enough times that this word has been stored in their long term memory so that they can retrieve it automatically whenever they come across it. They no longer have to decode this word in order to know what it says.


Skilled reading requires that the processes involved in word recognition become so well practiced that they can proceed extremely quickly and almost effortlessly, freeing up the reader’s cognitive resources for comprehension processes.
Hollis Scarborough (2001).

These three skills are braided together to form Word Recognition and they are all still seen as individual threads of the Reading Rope. Beginning readers rely more heavily on the phonological awareness and the decoding strands of the rope. As they become more experienced readers, the number of words they recognize by sight will increase, and reading words and connected text will become more fluent and automatic. However, these skills are still needed because when individuals continue to read to learn, they will come across new words they have not read before.

Together, these three skills allow an individual to identify what has been written on the page, but it does not help them understand what these words mean or how they are related to each other.


Language Comprehension contains more strands than Word Recognition because there are more elements that need to be considered for an individual to understand the words they are trying to communicate. These components are Background Knowledge, Vocabulary, Language Structures, Verbal Reasoning, and Literacy Knowledge.

Background Knowledge means that an individual has at least a basic understanding of what is being discussed. It allows the individual to build a foundation on a topic so that as they read, they can connect the new information with what they already know. When the reader comes across a word that has several meanings, it allows the reader to select the appropriate meaning.

For example, consider the following sentence:

The horse’s frog was black and smelly.

If the reader did not know much about horses, they may assume the horse had a pet frog that was smelling and looking black.

However, if the person knew about horses, they would know that part of the horse’s hoof is called a frog. They may even know that when a horse’s frog is smelling and looking black, the horse’s hoof likely needs to be treated for a thrush infection.

An individual needs to have the vocabulary to understand what they are reading. This means they must know what a significant percentage of the words in the text means. If a reader is reading a passage and does not understand what the words they are reading mean, they will not understand what the text is trying to say.


An individual needs to understand the language structure related to what they are reading for them to take the intended meaning away. This means they must understand the language’s syntax and semantics. Syntax refers to the grammatical rules and conventions we follow when creating sentences. Semantics refers to how the symbols (punctuation) and chosen words relate to each other and whether they can make a meaningful sentence.

For example, if you think of the two sentences
A panda eats, shoots and leaves.
A panda eats shoots and leaves.
These two sentences have very different meanings. The first sentence has the panda eating something, then they shoot (presumably a gun) and then they leave the place they were eating.

The second sentence discusses the type of food the panda eats (bamboo shoots and leaves).


Understanding a language’s structures allows the reader to make sure they are understanding the text the way the author intends it to be read.


Verbal reasoning allows the reader to take a deeper look into what the words on the page are intending to say. It allows them to infer meaning and not take similes and metaphors literally. This allows the author to use figures of speech to enhance their writing and the reader to interpret what the author meant to convey.


Literary knowledge provides the reader with the information they need to know to enjoy reading. For example, they need to know how to hold a book, the way to read the words on a page from left to right and which way to turn the pages (print concepts). They also need to understand the different genres of text so they know what they can expect from what they read and how to interpret it. They should know that in fiction they should let their mind explore the written word and allow themselves to interpret the information based on their own experiences. However, if they are reading a non-fiction book, they should know that it is based on more factual information.


Scarborough’s Reading Rope provides a good visual representation of the various different components of reading. When you are working with an individual who struggles with some aspect of reading, you should consider looking into all of these factors to help guide your intervention efforts.


Gough, P. B. & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education. 7 (1): 6. doi:10.1177/074193258600700104.

Moats, L. C. (2020). Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers (3rd Ed). Paul
H. Brookes Publishing House.

Scarborough, H. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory and practice. In S. Newman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of Early Literacy Research. pp. 97-110. New York, Guilford Press.

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