Teaching Tuesday: Using the Science of Reading in an Everyday Classroom

By Stephanie West Ed.D., Using the Science of Reading in an Everyday Classroom

a student reading a book

Across education, we are hearing the phrase "science of reading." We are learning that the science of reading incorporates research across disciplines including developmental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive science and educational psychology. This research has become a global movement and is seen in all cultures and languages

The science of reading is not only a movement but demonstrates the best practices and methods to help children learn to read, starting in the earliest steps of language to the successful skills of decoding unfamiliar words.

As we learn more and more about the science of reading, we need to move from research to implementation.

Five Key Components of the Science of Reading Instruction

The research into the science of reading has identified the following five components that are key to reading success:

  1. Phonemic awareness
  2. Phonics
  3. Vocabulary
  4. Comprehension
  5. Fluency

Implementing the Science of Reading in Your Classroom

Historically, reading instruction was a step-by-step process along with incidental teaching moments — or the “aha!” moments. When implementing the science of reading instruction, we need to be more intentional and systematic. We need to focus our instruction on dedicating blocks of time for literacy, where phonics is taught clearly and sequentially from an identifiable curriculum.

We need to progress our teaching of comprehension skills through leveled reading groups, where small groups of students visit the teacher for round-robin reading practices. Instead, we can use rich, complex text for all students in a class. During these types of reading blocks, we provide multiple reads of the same text, beginning with modeling and then moving to opportunities for student practice. By including small group and partner reading strategies for repeated readings, our students develop increased fluency.

 As educators, we want to hear student voices, along with teacher-student high-quality conversations about rich, complex texts that focus on language, structure, and deepening comprehension. Let’s look at strategies that can be used in each of the five components of the science of reading.

Building Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the idea that phonemes (sounds) correspond to graphemes (letter sequences that signify sounds). The goal of phonemic awareness, usually accomplished in grades K-1, is to teach students the skills needed for them to independently start to decode unfamiliar words using the skills they have developed through the application of phonics instruction. The following activities can be easily implemented into your phonemic awareness instruction.

  • Guess-that-Word: Lay out a few items or pictures in front of the students. Let the students know you will be using ‘slow-motion’ talk, meaning you will be announcing the names of the items in a funny voice. For example, if there’s a picture of a cat, drag out the C, A and T sounds as long as you can. Their goal is to guess the name of the item or picture before you finish saying the word.
  • Mystery Bag: Using plastic letter magnets and paper bags, place three letters that can be used to make easy-to-sound-out words. For example, pat or cat. Have the students pull one letter out of the bag at a time, asking them to sound out each letter (for younger children, the teacher will give them the sound and the child will copy). Then have the students put the letters together to make words.
  • I-Spy with Words: The teacher says, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with the /a/ sound…” and then wait for your students to shout out something they see that begins with that sound.
  • Rhyme Matching Game: Print out pictures for common items that rhyme. For example, chair/bear, rat/mat, and so on. The students then try and match the pictures to make rhyming pairs.

Three Elements of Science-Based Phonics Instruction

Based on the research, there are three key elements needed for effective phonics instruction:

  • A hands-on approach
  • Moving from presentation to practice
  • Showing the direct application to reading and spelling

Below are a few activities using these key elements:

  • Flip the Pancake: Using brown construction paper, cut out 8 to 10 circles and write the letters the class is working on. Grab a spatula and have the students take turns flipping over pancakes. Have the students say the letter and sounds written on the pancake. You can extend this activity and have the students make words out of the pancakes once they have all been flipped over.
  • Play Dough Letters: Using play dough, call out different letters of the alphabet and have the students construct the letters. For a visual aid, place a flashcard of the letter on the board.
  • Word Roller: You will need a ball and alphabet flashcards. On the floor, have the students sit in a circle. Flip over a flashcard and then roll the ball to a student. That student will say a word that starts with that sound. They can roll the ball back to you or to another student who may have another word that starts with that same letter. Do this a few times before switching letters.

Vocabulary Development

Vocabulary is the foundation of language development, along with playing a critical role in reading comprehension. Vocabulary is essential to the improvement of not only reading skills, but communication skills. Expanding students’ vocabulary impacts their overall writing, reading, listening and speaking skills. Below are some fun activities that can be included in any vocabulary instruction.

  • Sketch Notes: Rather than writing out definitions, have the students draw a sketch that sums up each word. It’s a lot more fun and gives students a visual which builds memory.
  • Graffiti Wall: Think of this as a collaborative word wall. Post the words that you are working on that week on the wall and have the students add sticky notes to illustrate the term. These could be synonyms, antonyms (make sure they label), pictures, or definitions.
  • Fill In Words from A to Z: Choose a word, then challenge students to come up with related words for as many letters in the alphabet as possible. These could be synonyms, antonyms, examples, and more.

Reading Comprehension Strategies

Reading comprehension, or finding meaning from what we read, is the ultimate goal of reading. The process of comprehension is both interactive and strategic. Instead of passively reading text, students must analyze it internalize it, and make it their own. To read with comprehension, developing readers need to read with some proficiency and then be explicitly instructed through comprehension strategies.

The most important comprehension strategies that we teach extensively in most teaching preparation programs are using prior knowledge and previewing, predicting, identifying the main idea and summarization, questioning, making inferences and visualizing. Below are a few other strategies that can be used to strengthen these general strategies in any comprehension instruction.

  • Story Maps: Students learn best when a lesson is visual, and a story map brings in the visual component into their reading instruction. Story maps raise student awareness of the elements the author uses to construct the story. These maps should include:
  • Setting – When and where the story takes place
  • Characters – The people or animals in the story, including the main character, whose motivations and actions drive the story
  • Plot – The storyline, which typically included one or more problems or conflicts that the main character must address or ultimately resolve.
  • Theme – The overriding lesson or main idea that the author wants readers to glean from the story.
  • Retelling: Asking students to retell a story in their own words forces them to analyze the content and determine what the main idea is along with what is most important within the story. Teachers can also take this one step further by having the students draw their own conclusions or even change the ending of the story.
  • Sketch Notes: Another favorite of teachers. Have the students draw out the story, including as many details as possible within their notes. This will allow students to not only use their creativity but to visualize the story.

Building Reading Fluency

Reading fluency involves comprehension, speed, accuracy and prosody, or reading with expression. Here are a few favorite fluency activities that can be easily implemented into any classroom.

  • Model Fluency: Reading aloud to students is important for so many reasons, but one of the best is it teaches students what fluency sounds like and looks like. Teachers can model expression, phrasing, pace, and so much more when they read to their students.
  • Create Poems and Nursery Rhymes: Students often memorize nursery rhymes long before they learn to read. Take a nursery rhyme and print out each word on a tile or paper square. Give small groups of students the squares and have them put the words in the correct order to be able to read the nursery rhyme correctly. By breaking these rhymes apart into individual words and putting them back together again, students are then able to see how words build sentences and stories in a natural flow.
  • Line Trackers or Word Pointers: For some students, focusing is a challenge. Their eyes wander around the page, and they have trouble developing the speed needed for fluency. Use another piece of paper (preferable blue – which is a calming color) to help them focus on the line they are reading or try pointing to the words one by one.

The next time you hear educators discussing the “science of reading” we hope you feel comfortable joining in the discussion or sharing some strategies for the classroom.

As educators continue to learn about the science of reading, we will build confidence in our abilities to progress beyond research to implementation. Hopefully you will soon feel poised to teach reading by addressing the five components of the Science of Reading Instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.