Aligning to the Science of Reading:  3 Considerations for Every Teacher

Aligning to the Science of Reading: 3 Considerations for Every Teacher

As far as hot topics in literacy go, the Science of Reading would make the top of the list. If you google the term, you get a myriad of results, from trainings to programmatic promises. It has been interesting to me to feel the fire of the conversation. It often feels like a debate, one that you have to take sides regarding. Interestingly enough, the conversation has been happening for years.

The science (known understandings, results, data, etc.) about how humans learn to read has long been studied. And, while nuanced understandings and new information does filter in, the baseline understandings have largely remained the same.

In 2002, in a workshop in my home state, I used pipe cleaners to model Dr. Hollis Scarboroughs reading rope. This is a common activity and bulletin board in schools digging into the science now. Why? It is seminal work. The Reading Rope was first shown in 2001, the same year that the five essential elements were highlighted by the esteemed National Reading Panel. In all seriousness, much of what educators do already use the evidence. The next best steps are to provide opportunities for continued learning, fine-tune instructional practices, and let go of practices contrary to the body of research. 

Reading Rope


In an effort to support all teachers align their classrooms to the Science of Reading, lets examine three considerations that can greatly impact student achievement by ensuring that evidence-based opportunities exist in every classroom. Let’s be clear before we get started: we are going to focus on the comprehension strands that weave together on the rope above. While we are not discussing the integral and important work of developing word recognition, we are not discounting it either. The word recognition will be another blog on another day. Watch for it!


Teacher and student reading in class1. Carefully consider:  How is this unit/lesson intentionally designed to build knowledge and vocabulary?

Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more able you are to make connections to new learning and understanding. Teachers often consider background knowledge to be facts and information that students have so they can comprehend content-area informational text. However, background knowledge is more than just facts. It is a composite of all the experiences, vocabulary, and personal interests and interactions students have ever had. Background knowledge and understanding impact how students engage with and understand text. Thus, one significant priority in developing students who comprehend text is ensuring that students have adequate knowledge and understanding to support them as they learn and engage with new content. Students have a working and growing knowledge base. For students to build knowledge, they must have regular access to rich and captivating informational text and stories. Importantly, students will attain more information and build more background when their learning is structured to introduce and explore specific topics and ideas.


For example, second graders can dig into learning about plants: they can engage with informational books about plants, articles about plants, and a story that takes place in a rooftop garden, as well as pictures and short video clips that discuss plant life cycles. This approach supports the building of knowledge and allows students to develop a robust understanding of a topic that is fundamental and supports learning across contexts.

Teacher Reading Aloud to ClassHow to do it?

First, set up students for success by ensuring that all students know what they need to know. What is the purpose of this learning? How does it connect to what they already know? Provide students with deep opportunities to learn about highly engaging and relevant topics, those that will transcend into understanding about other things. When students are engaged in a unit, learning about SOMETHING, ensure they have access to multiple books, videos, pictures, vocabulary words, graphic organizers, and hands-on opportunities to learn.

For example, if students are learning about plants:

  • Plant some quick-growing plants

  • Keep a journal

  • Watch videos about plants

  • Look and label pictures of plants

  • Look at diagrams of the plant life cycle

All students can benefit from read-alouds, to engage with complexities they may not be able to tackle independently. Opportunities to self-select texts that continue to build knowledge and vocabulary about the topic will enhance both engagement and understanding. 


2. Identify:  What strategies are in place for my students to have consistent access to complex text?

Complex text is an important way to be certain that all students develop knowledge that will support them as they continue to make connections with their learning. However, I havent been in a room of teachers (not yet, anyway) that were all confident that their students could all independently navigate complex text. Tackling this challenge isnt easy, but there are many strategies to support all students. 

How to do it?

First, recognize what makes text complex. To keep it simple, lets recognize these four. Certainly, these are not the only things that make text complex, but they certainly are a great place to start. 


When these are recognized as the barriers to success with complex text, finding ways to support students becomes much more realistic. 


  • Explicitly teach how authors support word knowledge within text

  • Explicitly teach words that students need to be successful with the text

  • Provide students with student-friendly definitions of words

Background Knowledge

  • Support students making connections with previous knowledge

  • Provide students with a cheat sheet that supports their background information


  • Explicitly teach how words, phrases, and sentences work

  • Dissect mentor texts to highlight the nuances of syntax

Text Structure

  • Provide graphic organizers to support text structure

  • Supply students with signal words that help identify text structure (see example below)


Click on the image below to download an excerpt from What the Science Says about Reading Comprehension and Content Knowledge.


Small Group Instruction3. Purposefully plan:  How are my students engaged in authentic opportunities to collaborate, discuss, and write about what they are learning?

Plan for focused discussions on text and knowledge being built. Discussing what has been read during and after reading allows students to reflect on the information in the text, clarify confusing information, and build knowledge in a collaborative setting. Discussions should be led by the teacher and students. The teacher may have a series of questions for the class or group to consider, or students may devise their own questions to discuss. Support collaborative discussions with questions that allow for multiple responses and varied ideas. Teach protocols that support discussions. 


Campfire Discussions 

Students are in small groups. Each group is given a topic, quote, question or prompt related to the learning target. This is placed in the center of the group as the “campfire.” Each student individually responds on a sticky note, and then places it around the campfire. This leads to a discussion around the ”campfire.”


Students use evidence from a specific text to understand what the author was working to convey. Students build upon one another’s ideas, with little or no intervention from the teacher.

Casual Brainstorm

Students are divided into small groups. In their groups, they respond to prompts or questions on various poster papers around the room. They can also respond to their peers in writing on the posters


With these three considerations, your classroom is using the science to provide high-quality instruction. Is that it? Of course not. The science is both wide and deep. We all have things to learn. This is simply a quick starting point to ensure all students with access to research-based (isn’t that what science is?) instruction. For more Science of Reading tips and strategies, check out the new What the Science Says series. Happy teaching!


What the Science of Reading Says about Word Recognition

What the Science of Reading Says about Reading Comprehension and Content Knowledge

What the Science of Reading Says about Writing

This practical book supports all teachers as they embark on the word learning journey with students.  Discover practical classroom applications, look-fors, and the “why” that supports word recognition.

This practical book aligns with the blog today.  Discover additional classroom applications, excellent look-fors, and some things educators can consider to align to the research that supports reading comprehension.

This book reminds us that writing IS a part of the literacy work for all students. Discover strategies that support a range of writing opportunities for all students.


What the Science Says About Reading and Writing.What's Next?

Join Jen Jump for a free on-demand webinar on What the Science Says About Reading and Writing.

Based on the brand new professional development book series, What the Science Says About Word Recognition, Reading Comprehension & Content Knowledge, and Writing… join co-author, Jen Jump for an upbeat conversation about how a focus on the Science of Reading can enhance instructional practice through research and engaging strategies.



In this webinar, participants will:

  • Discover key components of research about reading (from the last several decades!).

  • Identify research-aligned instructional adjustments supporting daily instruction.

  • Experience engaging activities that align to the Science of Reading.


Register Now:

Watch the on-demand webinar at your own pace.



Author bio

Jen Jump

Jen Jump, Academic Offer

As an Academic Offer, Jen Jump provides professional development and training on TCM curriculum materials and Shell Education professional resources for districts, teachers, and educational trainers. She is a passionate educator who has spent more than 20 years in various roles dedicated to student achievement. Before joining TCM, she contributed curriculum and professional development support to the fastest-growing urban school district, the public school system in Washington D.C. She led the curriculum work, providing teachers with organized, content-rich, text set curriculum for ELA in grades K-5. She also provided professional learning for both large groups of teachers and individual teaching through coaching to improve the literacy outcomes in the district.