Two young students search for books on bookshelves at a library

The web version of this document outlines the high-priority skills students need to master in each grade level (kindergarten through Grade 3), including each area of reading development (oral language, phonological awareness, alphabetics and print conventions, phonics and word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) as well as written expression. For each grade level, the skills are specified in greater detail and accompanied by references and links to the Iowa Core standards, when appropriate. These are noted in the parentheses, for example: (L.K.6).  High-priority skills that do not align to a particular Iowa Core standard are indicated as not applicable, or (NA). Information relevant to English learners (ELs) and bilingual students is also included. Please note, information found on this site and the online version was published in 2019.

For definitions of unfamiliar terms in this document, please see our glossary.

There are three important considerations when using the milestones:

  1. This is not intended to be a comprehensive plan for literacy instruction. Rather, it is intended to serve as a starting point for ensuring that any curriculum or year-to-year instructional plan being implemented addresses the key milestones of early reading and writing development.
  2. The milestones assume typical development. Students with reading disabilities and ELs often do not make typical progress. Any student who does not master the high-priority skills identified in a lower grade level will need to continue working on them in higher grades. Therefore, it is important to consider the progression of skills and not focus on a single grade in isolation.
  3. Although each literacy component is listed separately, it is not intended that teachers separate the components in their instruction. Rather, the components should be integrated (e.g., students can be working on their oral language as they learn vocabulary and comprehension, or students can be working on achieving fluent reading of words with phonics patterns they are learning).

Cross-Grade Recommendations for Supporting Students' Literacy Learning

Motivation and Engagement

Students access a variety of high-interest texts and build motivation to read for enjoyment and to learn new information.

  • Create lessons and activities using high-quality, appropriately challenging, authentic texts1 that support the development of deep comprehension.
  • Integrate technology and media.
  • Offer some choices in materials and activities, opportunities to collaborate with peers2, and real-world applications of skills and content.
  • Integrate oral language development, reading, and writing.
  • Immediately follow skill work with the use of those skills for authentic reading and writing tasks.
  • Engage students in discussions to foster language and concept development.
  • Plan extended time for students to engage in reading and writing.

Assessment and Environment

Student learning is continually supported and measured to inform new and challenging reading goals for ongoing reading progress.3

  • Deliver explicit instruction that includes modeling and scaffolding whenever introducing new skills or strategies. This applies across the reading and writing domains.4
  • Provide ample time for guided practice, independent practice, and cumulative review.
  • Establish content and language objectives based on assessment data tied to standards.5
  • Help students make connections between previous and new learning.
  • Teach students how to monitor and be metacognitive about their own learning.
  • Provide whole-group and differentiated small-group instruction based on student needs as identified in assessment data.
  • Implement predictable routines that allow students to focus on learning.
  • Manage student behavior proactively in order to avoid disruptions and provide a productive learning environment.
  • Maximize the amount of time for instruction.

General English Learner Supports

Expected Development of English Literacy

  • If the EL student begins school in the United States in kindergarten, the milestones can be followed as laid out, keeping in mind that bilingual children may exhibit some interference from their home language when developing literacy skills in English. It is important to remember that bilingualism does not mean that the child has the same vocabulary or skills in each language.
  • If ELs begin school in the United States in Grade 2 or 3, it is important to be aware of their and their family’s literacy in their native language and their literacy practices in the home. This will indicate how much home language and English literacy can be reinforced at home. The brief Linguistic Context Questionnaire (also found in the Supplemental Materials of the Blueprint “Overview of Effective Literacy Strategy Instruction” module) can be filled out with the help of a teacher or by the child’s caretakers alone, depending upon the family’s English skills.
  • Before being introduced to reading and writing, ELs must have some oral expressive ability in English. It is important that the student be able to say and understand simple English sentences, have basic phonological and phonemic awareness, and understand the alphabetic principle. This can be taught more quickly to older children and those who have started developing literacy in their home language already.
  • ELs commonly transition out of an EL classification after they have attained general English proficiency, but it can take students 6 or 7 years to achieve full academic language proficiency in English.

Instructional Guidance

  • ELs may come back from school breaks during which they did not speak or hear English. Therefore, teachers should wait to administer high-stakes tests or other evaluations in English. However, the return from break is a good time to evaluate ELs’ literacy in their native language.
  • ELs will perceive and produce English through their native language system and, therefore, will potentially have difficulty recognizing and spelling English words. Failure to recognize words or misunderstanding words also could impact comprehension.
  • Children should be encouraged to translate vocabulary and grammar into their native language to support their understanding and increase their confidence in their linguistic abilities.

Supporting Bilingualism

  • When literacy is taught in the native language, the EL experiences better overall literacy outcomes in both English and the home language. Parents should be encouraged to enroll their children in immersion/dual immersion programs where they are available.
  • Bilingual children receive less overall input in each language and draw upon both languages when comprehending and producing English. However, that may not mean they have equivalent skills in their native language.
  • Responding in a combination of both the ELs’ native language and in English should not be discouraged as it is part of normal bilingual development. Bilingual students do not have two words for everything. Rather, they have different knowledge in each and use each of their languages in different contexts and for different reasons.

 English learner and bilingual footnotes

1 For ELs with lower-proficiency, controlled texts (rather than authentic texts) can be beneficial. Controlled texts use repeated vocabulary, which facilitates automatic word recognition, and they limit the reliance upon extensive background knowledge or sophisticated sentence structures that ELs may lack.

2 ELs with lower proficiency levels may benefit from working with peers who speak the same home language. The students can help each other with learning content, understanding vocabulary, and interacting with the teacher or native English-speaking peers. Same language peers also may serve as a social support system.

3 Evaluation of bilingual or EL students should be multidimensional to allow the students to demonstrate their understanding. For example, students may demonstrate their comprehension by drawing or ordering pictures, copying prepared sentences, or writing approximations of grade-level sentences (using invented spellings).

4 A supportive environment for ELs includes language scaffolds such as glossaries or pictures of key words and concepts in texts, extensive modeling of sentence writing, and extended time.

5 When possible, ELs’ linguistic development and early literacy skills should be evaluated in their native language.


The authors thank Christine E. Shea, Ph.D., Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Department of Linguistics, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Iowa, for her contribution of content specific to English learners.

The authors thank the following individuals for reviewing drafts of the document and providing feedback:

  • Michael Coyne, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
  • Joseph A. Dimino, Ph.D., Instructional Research Group
  • John Alexander, M.Ed., Groves Academy


The authors thank Destiny Eldridge of the Iowa Department of Education for reviewing and providing feedback on the Iowa Core standards.