Transitional Reading Behaviors

Assessing Ongoing Success in Reading

Demonstrating reading skills. Getty Images

Following Early Emergent, Emergent and Early Reading Behaviors in the Flying Start to Literacy continuum, the next reading stage is Transitional.  This article addresses those behaviors as well as providing a free printable PDF of the checklist.

Once a child’s reading behaviors have reached the “Transitional” stage, we are more concerned with sharpening reading comprehension skills than with building decoding skills.

  By the transitional stage children should also be building reading vocabulary by using the context to help understand the meaning and usage of the words, as well as the conformation of the word to decode it. 

A Transitional reader is also making the transition from being a “word by word” reader to a more fluent “phrase by phrase” reader.  This is not only a reflection of how your students sound, but also how

Honing Skills Already Acquired

The students will be able to

  • Demonstrate use of strategies from previous levels

Yes, of course.  We are always asking students to take skills already acquired and apply them to more complex, age appropriate texts. The Transition we are talking about in “Transitional Reading Behavior” is the transition to using what we already know about texts and genres to find information, learn the meaning of new words and effectively use text as a tool.  That, after all, is what comprehension is.


  • Independently reread the text to confirm predictions and clarify meaning

I remember the good old SQ3R method for developmental reading :  Scan, Question, Read, Review, Reread.   Now we talk about “predicting” in the place of “question.”  On both cases we are scanning the text, the headings and the pictures and making some guesses about what we will read.

  If they are “good” guesses, we will be able to confirm and check our predictions.  Understanding the form and organizations of text helps us make those good predictions. 

  • Integrate meaning, structure and visual information

“Text Features” such as headings, captions, index, etc. are great tools for finding meaning in text.  They are invaluable for students with specific learning disabilities, because they become hooks to hang reading comprehension on.  Students with learning disabilities may have problems visually with large blocks of print.  They may also struggle with slow processing speeds.  By learning to scan a text and use what the structure of the text to organize and find information, they may be able to use text without a word by word read.   At the same time understanding text features will certainly help them build reading fluency. 

  • Use meaning, structure and visual information flexibly and consistently

Once again, we are looking for children to use those text structures and other visual features to gain an understanding of what they are reading. 

Reading for Meaning

Ironically, we become so engaged with the latest gimcrack or gizmo that we often don’t notice that we forget our real purpose in reading:  for meaning.

  The teacher’s first question should always be,  "Does that make sense?"

At the same time, we shouldn’t force reading to be excruciating.  You know, the good old “sound it out.”  How do you do that for choral or perhaps harpsichord?  There are times we need to provide those difficult words and then return to examine the new vocabulary and discuss the strategies we could have used to decode them.  Sometimes, however, we just need to provide them.

  • Support thinking by referring to evidence in the text

This behavior is out of the sequence from the attached pdf, which is the order provided by Flying Start to Literacy, but fits better in this context.  Ten years ago the standard for comprehension asked students to use prior knowledge.  The problem was this created an uneven playing field, since most children from low socio-economic backgrounds were seriously disadvantaged, since they lacked the experiences of vacations, travel and access that their middle and upper class peers enjoy.

   The task now is to dive back into the text.

At the earliest age, we need to be asking students to identify where they find their answers in the text, even if we ask them to point to it in the pictures.  The behavior of using text evidence is one that will support future success in higher education.

  • Self-correct when the reading does not make sense, sound right or look right

Meaning, once again.  Does it make sense?  Does it sound like something we have already read?

  • Read with fluency and phrasing

Reading in a way that sounds like speech at the same time reflects an understanding of the underlying meaning.  Reading with “enthusiasm” or “expression” should reflect the author’s intent.   Was the passage exciting?  Was the passage scary? 

  • Retell the story in logical sequence

The ability to retell is of course a clear indication of whether the child understands the story or text.  Being able to logically sequence story is also a reflection of understanding cause and effect, and important cognitive skill students are going to need to master to be successful in any academic setting.

  • Discuss relationships between characters

Part of deep reading is as well to read critically.  This particular behavior will be especially difficult for children with developmental disabilities, as understanding appropriate social behavior is one of their deficits.   This skill needs to be pursued, at the same time, through appropriate social skills education.  Pairing books, like those of Jerry Spinelli (especially Crash and Wringer)  with social skills training, gives you the opportunity to explore the relationships and tough decisions characters like these in Spinelli’s books have to make.

Mastering the Code

By the time students are making the transition, they have mastered phonics and are beginning to use inflectional prefixes and endings as well word roots to decode and understand new words.  To that we add the next four behaviors:

  • Use visual supports when reading informational texts

I refer to “Text Features” earlier;  Captions, illustrations, table of contents, etc.

  Engaging students in understanding the information to be found in the text features will further their ability to understand more complex texts with more information.

  • Use their knowledge of punctuation to read fluently and meaningfully

Once students have mastered the code and no longer are decoding sound by sound, they are using increasingly sophisticated cues from the text, including punctuation to set the metre and phrasing of what they are reading.  Phrasing is in fact conferring meaning. 

  • Search for and use chunks in words

Syllabification used to be a common if somewhat meaningless skill—chunking is perhaps a far more organic and meaningful way to explain how to use familiar word parts or “graphemes” to decode new and unfamiliar words.  Chunking can also involve identifying the word roots as well as  peeling away the prefixes and suffixes.  The point for our students is to use what they know about words to learn new words. 

A Free Printable PDF of the Transitional Reading Behaviors Checklist