Learning to read is an enormously difficult process because many skills and different types of processes are intertwined in complex relationships to allow an individual to be able to read. Rather than having distinct stages that can be separately identified, there are a variety of skills that must be mastered and combined. Awareness of these skills and an understanding of how well different students have mastered these skills has a direct impact upon the teaching of reading to a group of students.
Pre-reading skills include developing the visual discrimination to be able to recognize written or printed symbols, distinguishing between different symbols, and coming to understand that each individual symbol or group of symbols has meaning. Students who can not tell the difference between "a" and "b" on a printed page need help in developing that recognition. Students who haven't yet come to understand that different symbols have specific sounds associated with those symbols need to work on associating phonetic sounds with the letters that stand for those sounds.
Beginning readers may be taught from a largely phonetic-based approach, sounding out words by recognizing and combining the sounds of the letters, with a whole-language approach that focuses on learning to recognize whole words and phrases in use in everyday language without distinguishing separate letters or groups of letters, or with some combination of the two approaches. Activities developed to support acquisition of reading skills will depend upon the approach being used as well as the level of each individual student. Students being taught with a phonetic focus will gradually be exposed to groups of letters that stand for a single sound and will learn the rules governing exceptions to what the printed word would lead a reader to assume, such as silent "e" at the end of a word. Students learning with a whole-language program will use created spelling to express their thoughts in writing that they can then read, gradually being led to recognize patterns in spelling and grouping of words in increasingly complex sentences.