Prescriptive Systematic Intervention
Prescriptive Systematic Intervention
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5 Ways to Begin Aligning to Science of Reading

Alphabet Foundational Literacy Skills

5 Ways to Begin Aligning to Science of Reading


The science of reading has come to the forefront of education and for many educators, pulled the rug from right under us. The term itself, science of reading, is daunting and off putting. Here is a crash course and ways to start re-thinking your instruction.

I know I did not go to school for science, I went to school to learn how to teach and how I was taught contained nothing about the nuances of reading.  Kids just learned to read with enough exposure.  At least that is what I was taught.

This upsurge in the buzz around Science of Reading has left many of us with questions:

What is the science of reading?

I thought I was teaching the right way?

There is a science to reading?

And after enough google searches and articles read, we ask:

How do I start?

What is the Science of Reading SoR?

I water down the definition of SoR as being the 'brain skills' necessary to learn how to read. Readers are built through language comprehension and word recognition (decoding) to create reading comprehension. 

SoR acknowledges that through systematic and sequential skill building: phonics and word knowledge, phonological awareness, vocabulary and fluency, teachers  build student comprehension.

With more exposure and growing skill abilities to read with increasing fluency, automaticity, students can focus on comprehending more rigorous texts instead of focusing on decoding.

What SoR aims to support teachers in understanding is that a print rich environment and a love of reading, sprinkled with a daily 10-30 minute of some sort of phonemic awareness or phonics is not enough. 

Daily, systematic phonemic awareness practice, phonics instruction, sound writing practice, decodable books, vocabulary, and comprehension all need to be part of the reading routine to create independent and self sufficient readers.

"But I like my Super Powers and Guided Reading Strategies!"

I went to Columbia for training I get it.  The energy of Teacher's College is INFECTIOUS!

I used guided reading strategies, they are catchy and pervasive in lower elementary.

I was all in. 

However, turning out readers who can not decode or encode with automaticity.  Readers who memorize patterns in texts and know sight words, but can not decode new words.  Is not setting up any child for long term success.


How to get started

I firmly believe that we can all start working with SoR by implementing a few elements into our daily teaching: 

1.Systematic phonemic awareness practice

2.Blending boards for fluency,

3.Writing sounds

4.Using decodable books or texts that grow in complexity

Knowing exactly where to start takes a little planning or assessing. Depending on how much phonemic awareness exposure and explicit phonics instruction students have had will determine what gaps will need to be backfilled and how to roadmap future instruction.  

Simply put, there is not a singular right answer.  If 85% of your class is below basic in a phoneme or pattern, then I would begin whole group instruction at that place.  Students needing more then get grouped into small group instruction.

Starting with emerging readers

An emerging reader is a student who is in their letter sound correspondence stage.  They have print awareness, may know some of their letters and sounds, but need explicit instruction beginning with rhyming, alliteration, letters as symbols that make sounds.

For whole group phonemic awareness instruction 

There are a lot of resources for phonemic awareness practice, but for the cost Heggerty gives you a ton of value for the price.  Use Heggerty PA with fidelity beginning the first week of school.  Initially, begin with only half the skills until students build stamina and understand the routines and hand motions for each section.  

For blending and reading words 

Use a blending board.  Blending boards allow students to practice decoding words using sounds they know. 

For example, your class has practiced and received direct instruction in the sounds, c, o, a, d, g, m, l, h.  These sounds are added to a blending board in the beginning, medial, and ending positions and students begin to blend real and nonsense words.

Blending Board

Some words they may learn to blend are: dad, cad, gad, dag, had, mad, mod, lod, lad, hal, gal.  The list can go on.  With every new explicitly taught letter and sound, you add the letter tile to the board. 

As they see these sounds each day during your phonics block, they will read with more fluency and automaticity.  These routines also aided students recall with individual letter sound knowledge, which sped up their letter sound acquisition. 

As students become fluent with sounds and your data demonstrates mastery,  you can take off sound cards from the board and add cards students are working on so the skills they are practicing meet their instructional needs.  For example, students master l, g in the initial position and d at the end position, you can take these cards off, leaving cards that students need more practice with.

Here is a link to the blending board cards I created for my Kindergarten class.  I included cards through first grade sounds because in addition to teaching, I tutor first graders and find that since reading is a continuum of skills, some of my kindergarteners and first graders needed exposure to higher level skills.

In order to make the board itself, you can buy an inexpensive volleyball score board take off the numbers (save the numbers use them for math) and add your blending cards to the score board.  It works like a dream.  

If you want a cheap solution for a board here is the amazon link for the one I purchased.  Volleyball scoreboard


The board you create will fit under a document camera and can stand up right for classroom use.  


For Writing Sounds

Use a whiteboard or paper, but it is important that students encode or begin to connect what they are hearing to what they write.  

Using the same example as before, if students have the sounds 

c, o, a, d, g, m, l, h, have student write words using sounds they know.  You can begin practicing this routine by simply having students write the letters for sounds you say, build to vc, then cvc words.  

I stole this prompt from an IMSE training, but it stuck, "You know one way to spell the sound_."  We would go through spelling the sounds for letters that had less than 85% proficiency in my classroom.

Using Decodable texts

Decodable books are oftentimes frowned upon.  They are labeled as boring and not engaging.  Yes, some are lackluster, but they are affective .

A decodable is a book, passage or sentence that allows a student to use known phoneme patterns to decode new words in a text.  What a decodable does not do is have children rely on super powers or guided reading strategies to approximate the meaning of words in texts. 

Decodable texts allow students to have multiple at-bats for trying out new skills that they are being explicitly taught in the classroom.

Red Words

Dolch words, Fry Words, TCRWP Spelling lists, Snap Words, Sight Words...

Which one do we use?

Everyone has an opinion.

A red word is truly a word students cannot decode using sounds that have been explicitly taught.  Phonemes make all the difference.

With explicit phonics instruction, these lists become infinitely small and there are less words students need to learn, because they have strong decoding skills coupled with fluency that turn words like, got, get and can into readable words.  

Students need to see these words in both isolation and in context.  When we introduce a red word, we write them on a whiteboard, we read them in a decodable sentence, then we write them in a sentence as well.  The word is seen in homework and we incorporate the red word into words we know.  

Red Word Journal

For emergent readers, I use a Red Word Journal, red word phrase cards and a game called what's hiding to help build their skills.

Each time I introduce a Red Word, we use the journal to practice writing the word.

The words included are: 

the, one, only, once, two, four, do, does, were, what, where, their, said, you, your, want, of, from, to, too, done, don't, gone, was, they, there, are, says, have, give, live, & also.

 In addition to journaling red words, we play a game of What's Hiding? A red word game.  Each time we learn a word, we add it to a game board (a pocket chart). I hide an image card behind a word and students must tell me a word in order to find the hidden image.

Is it simple? Yes.

Is it silly? Absolutely.

Do kids want to find an image of an astronaut or cupcake? 100% Heck Yes they do!

Red Word Games

As students are exposed to a new word you add it to the game, when 85% of the class knows a word it is moved off the game board and a new one added.  

When playing if a student misreads a word, you front load the word and move on, but do not turn over the word.  

Kids ask for this game.  

The Science of Reading seems like a daunting undertaking, but it is truly easy to adapt  teaching to these best practices.

Take on what you can when you are ready!  Ground your instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics.  

These 5 steps will help you start transforming your practice.

As always, if you have questions, please reach out!  



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