Yes, Virginia There Really are Three Cueing Systems (AND it pays to help student to balance their use of the three cues and to crosscheck them). By Dr Sam Bommarito & commentary by Dr. William Kerns

Yes, Virginia There Really are Three Cueing Systems

(AND it pays to help student to balance their use of the three cues and to crosscheck them).

By Dr Sam Bommarito

(Also see commentary by Dr. William Kerns at then end of the blog- as always Bill has some great insights!)

I’m betting my readers can decode the following message, using a combination of meaning cues, syntactic cues and letter cues (RR teachers call them visual cues). Know that all the vowels are missing from my message. They are each replaced with “-“.


D–r r.-s–rch-rs,

Th- r–d-rs o- my bl-g c-n r–d th-s w-th–t th- v-w-ls m-ss-ng. I th-nk th-y -r- us-ng th- thr– c—s t- h-lp th-m d-c-d- th-s m-ss-g-. Cl-y r-c-mm-nds w- t—ch cr-ssch-ck-ing. C-nt-xt pl-s th- f-rst s–nd.=  cr-ssch-ck-ng.


BTW- one of the important takeaways of the above passage is that consonants give more information than vowels.  That’s something I learned a long time ago in the pre-reading wars days. This fact is educationally significant. You should be aware that there are some K-1 readers who are unable to discern the vowel sounds. They are sometimes in second grade or beyond before they can hear them/say them. They still learn to read.  I think the three cueing systems help to explain how. It also explains why, while I do advocate the use of synthetic phonics, I also advocate that the synthetic phonics instruction be supplemented with an analytic phonics approach. For an example of researchers saying there is no reason to teach the 3 Cueing System see

Overall, I hope figuring out my message (minus all the vowels!) convinces my readers of this blog to look a little more carefully about how readers decode. I’ll start with the thought that by and large the readers of this blog are highly proficient. Yet you DID use all three cueing systems to read my message. The critics claim only poor readers use them.  My very good friend Eric Litwin proposed a way to decide what reading practices are really best practices. He says ” I am coming to the position that we must use three perspectives and each one helps us understand what could be a best practice. One, is it supported by research? Two is it supported by classroom experience. Three, does it make sense (common sense)?”
For me, classroom experience and common sense dictate that we should use our knowledge of the three cueing systems to scaffold all readers (not just “poor” readers) into literacy. Researchers critical of using the three cueing systems need to revisit the question of the three cueing systems and look carefully at the role of cross-checking.  When students learn to crosscheck “wild guesses” become “educated guesses”.  This is ONE of the methods MOST readers use to decode what they read. IT IS NOT THE ONLY METHOD. I view it as an example of analytic phonics.  But in some places, it has become the forbidden method.  That fact is hurting some children on a daily basis.

This is a chant I often use with the children to encourage crosschecking:

“Say the first sound, think of the clues, then you’ll know all the words to use. Say the first sound, say the first sound, say the first sound.”

By the way notice that I said “say the first sound” not the first letter. Example:

The clue is I saw it in the sky.

First sound is “s”, what word?

First sound is “st”, what word?

The first answer is sun.

The second answer is star.

Both answers come from educated guessing i.e. using visual cues (letter clues) plus meaning cues to arrive at the correct word. My point here is that it is important to teach the students about the SOUNDS of consonant blends and consonant diagraphs. Also notice how crosschecking can usually overcome most of the limitations of guessing words from their first sound.

So, I really do think the three cueing systems exist. Speech pathologists have been basing instruction on them for years! In my own head I often think of readers as falling into decoding continuum that is as follows:


To be in the center of that decoding continuum, readers should learn to use all three of the cueing systems and crosscheck them.

Readers- your thoughts, opinions and concerns.

Dr. Sam Bommarito

Thanks to Eric Litwin for his input on this issue

A Commentary on Scaffolding and Cueing Systems

By Dr. William Kerns

Sam Bommarito’s blog this week is a valuable reminder of the importance of helping readers make use of grapho-phonic (visual and sound), syntactic (sentence structure) and semantic (meaning) cueing systems in order to improve their understanding of increasingly complex texts. In this commentary, I build on the following point made by Sam within the blog: “We should use our knowledge of the three cueing systems to scaffold all readers (not just “poor” readers) into literacy.” Instructional scaffolding should promote engagement and challenge.

Instructional scaffolding is rooted in the work of Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976) who understood scaffolding as a “process that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts” (p. 90). Appropriate scaffolding will help a reader to develop increasing skill both within and between cueing systems  while solving problems related to reading tasks and pursuing goals.

Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) provides a framework for understanding how to use scaffolding in the context of cueing systems. Children who are striving toward increasing independence in the use of cueing systems  rely on scaffolding such as think-alouds by a teacher in order to become more proficient readers. Scaffolding takes place within a ZPD, which is often defined as “the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).

When using instructional scaffolding, teachers should focus on the difference between a reader’s demonstrated performance and their learning potential (Kozulin, 2003). ZPD’s can be said to change as a reader’s skill evolves, so it is critical to carefully track performance in the use of cueing systems.

A possible mistake by teachers is to engage in instructional scaffolding without the use of adequate or ongoing assessment. Assessment should track patterns in students’ use of cueing systems. These patterns may vary with different genres and modes of texts. Patterns may also change over time. Methods of assessing these patterns include conducting a miscue analysis (Davenport, 2002; Goodman, 2008; Goodman & Goodman, 2004), assessment of prior knowledge (Afflerbach, 1998), and running records (Clay, 2017).

Many instructional strategies for scaffolding are available (see Beers & Probst, 2017; Block, 2004; Gallagher & Kittle, 2018; Keene, 2018; McKay & Teale, 2015; Serravallo, 2015). Scaffolding should have as its goal the guiding of students to “complete complex mental tasks they could not complete without assistance” (Pearson & Fielding, 1991, p. 842). Reading aloud (Regan & Berkeley, 2012) and shared reading (Falco & Soloway, 2011; Stahl, 2012)  can open the door for a teacher to engage in a think-aloud as a form of instructional scaffolding.

In a think aloud, the teacher can pause while reading to verbally demonstrate the thought process involved in the use one of one or more of the cueing systems (Davey, 1983). Too often, a think-aloud can be passive in which children simply sit at their desks and listen to the teacher engage in a musing about a text. This is not how strategic use of the think-aloud instructional strategy should work. Instead,  the think aloud should be used as a gateway toward involving children in active problem solving and challenges at appropriate levels of difficulty.

Teachers should use think-alouds to help children learn and utilize reading strategies within one or more of the cueing systems that can be useful in varied contexts. In this way, a reading task is broken into manageable parts as a cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1990; Dennen, 2004). This can be done through guiding questions and statements that help children see how a skilled reader makes connections to a text, then allowing children to participate in making sense of a text by drawing on a cueing system (Pentimonti & Justice, 2010). The use of cueing systems should increasingly be self-regulated (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011) by the child.

In sum, I urge instructional scaffolding as part of activities such as shared reading. Teachers can use instructional scaffolding to guide students as they set goals, preview texts, use visual clues in order to make predictions, ask strategic questions and making connections (e.g. text-to-self; text to text, text to world). A goal of a teacher is to help children engage in strategic and reflective thinking in the use of cueing systems to make meaning from a text.


Afflerbach, P. (1998). Reading assessment and learning to read. In O. Jean and F. Lehr (Eds.), Literacy for all: Issues in teaching and learning (pp. 239–263). New York: The Guilford Press

Beers, K. & Probst, R.E. (2017). Disrupting thinking: Why how we read matters. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Block, C. C. (2004). Teaching comprehension: The comprehension process approach. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Clay, M.M. (2017). Running Records: For classroom teachers (Second Edition). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Newman, S. E. (1990). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453–494). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Davenport, M.R. (2002). Miscues not mistakes: Reading assessment in the classroom. Portsmouth: Heinemann Publishers.

Davey, B. (1983). Think aloud—Modeling the cognitive process of reading comprehension. Journal of Reading, 27, 44–47.

Dennen, V. P. (2004). Cognitive apprenticeship in educational practice: Research on scaffolding, mentoring, and coaching as instructional strategies. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (2nd ed., pp. 813–828). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Falco, V., & Soloway, R. (2011). Building independent readers with interactive read-alouds and shared reading: Lessons for modeling comprehension strategies and engaging students in effective guided practice. New York, NY: Scholastic.

3 thoughts on “Yes, Virginia There Really are Three Cueing Systems (AND it pays to help student to balance their use of the three cues and to crosscheck them). By Dr Sam Bommarito & commentary by Dr. William Kerns

  1. Eric Litwin

    Hello Sam and William. Thank you for the quote in the blog. I think this was an excellent discussion on the importance of queuing from a practical perspective. In so many ways, all children become word detectives. And they should use every means possible to figure out what the word means. The more we scaffold books, and teach queuing strategies, the more students can read with full comprehension. Eric Litwin

  2. Pingback: Optimizing Literacy Instruction for our Special Education Students: Part 2 – Literacy Pages

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