Reading skills are the gateway to influence. The ability to read well opens the door to understanding God’s Word, world literature, the sciences, mathematics, history, social sciences, and every other area of study. But what should a Christian school’s priorities be when choosing a comprehensive language arts program? By understanding students’ diverse learning styles and an ever-growing body of research supporting different learning theories, schools may develop a framework for teaching language arts. But first and foremost, a Christian school’s responsibility is to provide curriculum that correlates biblical truth with subject content and then to incorporate evidence-based research that further develops and strengthens synergistically all the literacy processes of reading, writing, listening, and speaking.  

In her article about reading efficiency, Randi Bender (2018) states, “We’re not born with the ability to read; we have to learn how to do it. We must move through a progression of steps that include learning how to recognize letters and sounds, decode words, and ultimately figure out how to comprehend texts.”  

Components of an Effective Program 

The science of reading, a growing body of research, identifies five essential components of an effective reading program: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension (National Center on Improving Literacy, 2022; University of Nebraska, 2020). Other fundamental components of a well-rounded language arts program also incorporate sight word recognition, listening comprehension, language structures including syntax and semantics, verbal reasoning, and literary knowledge. 

Phonemic Awareness  

Phonemic awareness is the foundation of learning phonics (Center on Improving Literacy, 2022; University of Nebraska, 2020). It is the ability to hear the segmented sounds of language and the ability to manipulate those sounds in the playful early stages of language. Adding, deleting, substituting, blending, segmenting, and isolating final and medial phonemes are some of the exercises that assist young readers in playing with language (University of Nebraska, 2020).  


Phonics is the “system by which the sounds in spoken language are represented by the letters in printed language” (University of Nebraska, 2020). Phonics includes the study of the relationship between the sounds of a language and the letters and letter groupings (e.g., blends, diagraphs) that represent those sounds. Essentially, phonics is the study of the phoneme-grapheme relationship. The student must master the alphabetic code and the corresponding sounds that go with that written code to decode written language. 


Mastery of phonics and daily practice lead to reading fluency. Fluency in reading involves automaticity, accuracy, and speed. When readers no longer slowly “sound out” the words in the reading process, but instead automatically recognize entire syllables, words, or phrases, their reading speeds up, and their brains literally shift to reading for meaning.   

Including explicit sight word instruction in a language arts program helps students develop fluency. Well-established and research-based sight word lists such as the Fry Word List contain the thousand most frequently utilized words in English publications (Kress & Fry, 2015;, 2020; Bales, 2019). “The first 300 words make up approximately 65% of all written material” (, 2020). Reading automaticity or “efficiency goes hand in glove with motivation and comprehension,” says Berkeley Professor Emeritus, Dr. P. David Pearson. “Readers need all three to be able to learn new ideas from the books they read. Think of it as a combination of skill, will, and thrill. Efficiency provides the skill, motivation engenders the will, and comprehension leads to the thrill of acquiring new ideas” (Bender, 2018, par. 6).  

Vocabulary Development and Listening Comprehension  

Including explicit vocabulary instruction in a language arts program is essential since students learn vocabulary through systematic instruction and through conversations on a variety of topics at home and in the classroom (Lee, 2020). Students master vocabulary through grouped vocabulary words that share meaning (i.e., morphology) through the systematic study of affixes (i.e., prefixes and suffixes) and base words (i.e., root words) that, in English, are primarily derived from Greek and Latin roots. Additionally, the practice of reading advanced books aloud to students raises their listening comprehension beyond their reading comprehension. Then, when students read text, they recognize the meaning of the words used and derive pleasure from understanding the passage they have just decoded. Advanced listening vocabulary undergirds reading vocabulary and activates background knowledge (Hogan, Adlof, & Alonzo, 2014; Sedita, 2016).  

Reading Comprehension 

Reading comprehension is the ability to make meaning from what has been read. It builds on listening skills, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and background knowledge (Hogan, Adlof, & Alonzo, 2014). Working memory and attention are also essential. Comprehension enables students to learn, grow, and exchange ideas; access the Word and the world; think critically; clarify their belief system; and change the world for Christ!   


As you preview comprehensive language arts programs, your end goal should be a highly reputable Christian publisher whose language arts series blends research-based science of reading components and fundamental literacy components and also weaves a trustworthy biblical worldview throughout. The Purposeful Design Publications (PDP) Language Arts series masterfully incorporates systematic phonemic awareness and phonics skills instruction. Explicit vocabulary instruction is taught through oral vocabulary lessons, rich literature read-aloud selections, guided and independent reading, and spelling. Additionally, the PDP Language Arts series provides an opportunity for students to develop their fluency skills with decodable readers as well as providing a robust selection of literature from a variety of genres at all levels. Promoting daily practice and recreational reading at an independent reading level is key to ensuring that your students learn to enjoy reading and develop reading fluency through interest-based reading selections. Interest, motivation (Christensen, Reschly & Wylie, 2012), and time on task are key (Bridges, 2015). Every chapter and level in PDP’s Language Arts series weaves together the wonders of oral and written language along with a biblical worldview. PDP’s Language Arts series also includes an emphasis on writing, grammar, spelling, and rich literature as an essential part of any language arts program. There are 12 decodable readers and 18 leveled readers provided for use in Kindergarten–Grade 2, as well as reader guides to accompany the leveled readers. As students advance to middle and upper elementary grades, literature guides promote comprehension, text-to-text and text-to-life connections, and an overall love of literature. There is no doubt that PDP’s Language Arts series will enrich young readers for generations to come. 


About the Author 

Dr. June Hetzel, Dean and Professor of Education at Biola University, specializes in literacy processes, curriculum development, and spiritual formation for teachers. A former public and private school teacher and administrator, as well as an in-house editor, she has authored 18 teacher resource books, including Responding to Literature (1993; 2002). She also co-authored the text, The Literacy Gaps (2009); edited eight levels of textbooks for English learners, entitled Passport to Adventure (2014); and co-edited Inclusive Classrooms for Community Flourishing (2018) and Biblical Integration Models for Education (2023). She has written chapters for books and numerous articles for journals, including the Journal of Psychology and Theology, Evangelizing Today’s Child, the Home School Researcher, Christian School Education, and the Journal of Religion and Health. Dr. Hetzel has spoken for a variety of regional and international conferences, such as the Oxford Round Table, Oxford University; educational conferences in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Jakarta, Indonesia; K–12 professional development in Taichung, Taiwan, and Washington, D.C.; and the ACSI regional administrators’ conferences in California and Malta.   



Bales, Kris (July 12, 2019). “What are Fry words?” ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2/15/20 from 

Bender, Randi (October 15, 2018). “Efficiency, Motivation and Comprehension = the ‘Skill, Will and Thrill’ of Reading. Retrieved 2/9/20 from 

Bridges, Lois (2015). The Joy and Power of Reading: A Summary of Research and Expert Opinion. New York, NY: Scholastic.  

Christensen, S., Reschly, A., & Wylie, C. (Eds.), (2012). Handbook of Research on Student Engagement. New York, NY: Springer Science.  

Hogan, Tiffany P., Suzanne M. Adlof, & Chrystle N. Alonzo (2014). “On the Importance of Listening Comprehension.” International Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 16(3): 199–207. (2020). “Fry Words: We’re building our sight word vocabulary.” Retrieved 2/15/20 from 

Kress, Jacqueline & Edward Fry (2015). The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists (6th Edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  

Lee, Andrew (2020). “6 Essential Skills for Reading Comprehension.” Retrieved 2/15/20 from McRae, A. & Guthrie, J.T. (2009). “Promoting Reasons for Reading: Teacher Practices that Impact Motivation.” In E. H. Hiebert (Ed.), Reading More, Reading Better. New York: Guildford Press. Retrieved 2/9/20 from 

National Center on Improving Literacy (2022). The Science of Reading: The Basics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Improving Literacy. Retrieved from Improving   

Nebraska Department of Education (November 2020). Science of Reading: Phonological Awareness & Phonics. Professional Presentation, pp. 1-34. Retrieved 4/2/2024 from 

Sedita, Joan (2016). “The Listening and Reading Comprehension Link.” Literacy Lines, retrieved 2/16/20 from 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *