In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Literacy Development and Language Acquisition

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Data Sets
  • Comprehensive Strategies/Interventions
  • Techniques for Teaching Comprehension
  • The Role of Vocabulary and Techniques for Teaching Vocabulary
  • Techniques for Teaching Spelling and Writing
  • The Role of Text in Early Reading Instruction
  • Techniques for Using Assessment within a Response-to-Intervention Model
  • The Classroom Teaching Environment

Education Literacy Development and Language Acquisition
Jill H. Allor, Stephanie Al Otaiba, Jessica Folsom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0025


Literacy development and language acquisition are processes that are studied within several overlapping fields: education, special education, educational psychology, communication disorders, and, more broadly, psychology. Understanding these processes is relevant to researchers, educators, school leaders, reading specialists, school psychologists, and, of course, families. The citations that have been chosen for this article were selected to lead users to important sources of information that are highly relevant to this field and deliberately include some texts that are more researcher oriented and others that will aid practitioners in applying research in classrooms and other instructional settings. The first few sections provide a general overview of the field of literacy and language acquisition, including textbooks, data sets, and theoretical frameworks. The next sections focus on the relationships among various components of the reading process and how to teach these components. Finally, issues related to selecting texts for early reading instruction, assessment, and the classroom environment are covered.

General Overviews

The following general references provide a well-balanced introduction to the broad field of language and literacy development. Readers interested in understanding the debates about how best to teach reading will appreciate Adams 1990 and may also wish to go back in history to read the classic Chall 1967. Rayner, et al. 2002 provides an up-to-date, relatively brief overview of the more-recent evidence-based approaches to reading instruction. Anderson, et al. 1985 is an excellent, comprehensive synthesis of reading research. A more recent synthesis targeting the prevention of reading difficulties is presented in Snow, et al. 1998, published by the National Academy Press. National Reading Panel 2000 provides a meta-analysis of evidence-based practices related to phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. This panel report led to the expression of scientifically based reading research (SBRR), which continues to figure prominently in federal reading legislation. Kamil, et al. 2011 offers a review of research conducted in the first decade of the 21st century. Neuman and Dickinson 2011, a handbook, is similar but focuses specifically on early literacy research. National Early Literacy Panel 2008 also contains extensive reviews of the literature.

  • Adams, Marilyn Jager. 1990. Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

    This classic text summarizes basic and applied research on the acquisition of reading and includes instructional implications and an examination of predictors of successful reading. Adams highlights the need to teach children explicitly and systematically to decode words automatically and to connect words to meaning and context.

  • Anderson, Richard C., Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Judith A. Scott, and Ian A. G. Wilkinson. 1985. Becoming a nation of readers: The report of the Commission on Reading. Washington, DC: National Academy of Education.

    Appropriate for upper-level undergraduate classes, graduate classes, and professional development, this is a thorough synthesis of the knowledge base of reading and state-of-the-art reading instruction, focusing on the importance of teaching reading in a comprehensive approach.

  • Chall, Jeanne S. 1967. Learning to read: The great debate; An inquiry into the science, art, and ideology of old and new methods of teaching children to read, 1910–1965. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    In this book, Chall reviews the literature on how best to teach beginning reading. She emphasizes the importance of teaching students phonics to help them sound out, or decode, words. “The great debate” refers to disagreement between camps of researchers who favored different reading approaches.

  • Kamil, Michael L., P. David Pearson, Elizabeth Birr Moje, and Peter P. Afflerbach, eds. 2011. Handbook of reading research. Vol. 4. New York: Routledge.

    This handbook provides a comprehensive review of reading research conducted in the first decade of the 21st century. When combined with the previous volumes, this text provides a broad history of reading research. Chapters are suitable for graduate students, researchers, and policymakers.

  • National Early Literacy Panel. 2008. Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel; A scientific synthesis of early literacy development and implications for intervention. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

    This report examines the research to find the early skills that most strongly predict later literacy achievement. Predictors include alphabetic knowledge; phonological awareness; rapid automatic naming of letters, digits, or objects; writing or writing name; and phonological memory. The report also summarizes the effectiveness of home and school programs.

  • National Reading Panel. 2000. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. NIH Pub. 00-4769. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

    Reports the findings of a government-commissioned, large-scale meta-analysis of quasi-experimental and experimental studies on reading instruction. The goal was to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children how to read.

  • Neuman, Susan B., and David K. Dickinson, eds. 2011. Handbook of early literacy research. Vol. 3. New York: Guilford.

    This handbook is a valuable text for early-childhood researchers as well as preservice and in-service teachers. It provides a solid research basis for the importance of high-quality early literacy instruction for children’s development and later academic achievement.

  • Rayner, Keith, Barbara R. Foorman, Charles A. Perfetti, David Pesetsky, and Mark S. Seidenberg. 2002. How should reading be taught? Scientific American 286.3 (24 March): 84–91.

    DOI: 10.1038/scientificamerican0302-84

    This article briefly describes three approaches to reading instruction, how beginning readers learn to read, the necessity of phonics, and the importance of balanced instruction.

  • Snow, Catherine E., M. Susan Burns, and Peg Griffin, eds. 1998. Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

    This synthesis of the research on reading development and instruction, and intervention to prevent reading difficulties early in a child’s career, remains a very helpful resource for school leaders, school psychologists, and teachers, as well as parents, pediatricians, and policymakers. Suggestions include specific skills children should attain at certain grade levels.

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