Using Student Engagement for Enhancing Science of Reading Lessons


In this blog series, Savvas author, educator, and literacy expert Dr. Lee Wright will guide us through the importance of effective classroom management when delivering Science of Reading-based instruction, along with practical strategies you can start using right away to help lead your students to reading proficiency.

Most of us know that to get better at something, like a sport or cooking, it’s not enough to simply watch a YouTube video and suddenly be an expert. We have to get our hands dirty, so to speak, and engage our minds and bodies in the activity we want to learn. We need to try and fail and try again to hone the skill that needs honing. Learning to read should be no different for our students.

Savvas - Using Student Engagement for Enhancing Science of Reading LessonsIn fact, Science of Reading research is clear about the importance of engaging not just the minds of students in reading instruction, but their physical and emotional selves as well. If students sit passively and quietly during reading lessons just listening to the teacher lecture about a skill — akin to watching a YouTube video on how to bake a cake — then we can’t expect them to be motivated to learn what we’re trying to teach them.

In this blog post, I’ll cover the three types of engagement that research shows are essential to fully optimizing Science of Reading-based lessons, and I’ll provide examples of what those types of engagement look like in the classroom. Because when these three types of engagement are present during reading lessons, learning becomes more memorable and impactful.

The Importance of Engagement in Reading Instruction

In today’s classrooms, student engagement activities have become synonymous with “hands-on activities,” such as clapping, snapping, or using tactile learning tools. We now know from research findings, however, that students need more than just physical activity. They also need to be engaged emotionally and cognitively to be optimally motivated to become independent readers. 

When we incorporate these three types of engagement into reading lessons, students are much more likely to become motivated to:

  • pay attention to Science of Reading-informed instruction,
  • ask and respond to reading instruction questions,
  • collaborate with peers in partner and small-group reading activities,
  • follow classroom rules, and
  • personally connect with reading content.

By tapping into students’ physical, emotional, and cognitive interests, you have a better chance of engaging them in their learning and, therefore, helping them to be successful readers.


Tools, Ideas, and Activities to Activate Engagement in Reading Lessons

Now that we know what the types of engagement are, let’s take a closer look at what they mean and how to put them into practice.

Physical Engagement

Students are engaged physically when lessons incorporate multisensory activities and tactile learning tools that cause them to move their bodies or use their senses to see, hear, and feel.

Multisensory activities may involve clapping out syllables for work on phonological awareness. Or, instead of clapping, students could use finger counting, arm tapping, or hopping — anything that gets them to use some sort of motion that they can associate with the lesson, and have fun doing it!

Teachers can also incorporate tactile learning tools to tap into students’ other senses. Tools such as word cards, syllable cards, onset-rime cards, sound boxes with manipulatives, phoneme phones, sticky notes, small dry-erase boards, and even pop-bubble fidget toys will create that multisensory learning experience that is so helpful to engaging students.

There are many tools and multisensory activities to choose from, and the more you incorporate them into your instruction, the more your students will be engaged in what you’re teaching them.

Emotional Engagement

Students are engaged emotionally when they feel a connection to the teacher and other students in the classroom. Teachers can help students be emotionally engaged by giving them opportunities to build relationships through activities that allow them to listen to and speak with their peers.

For example, you may have students participate in an activity, such as Think, Turn, Talk where they listen to a reading, think about a question the teacher asks about that reading, and then partner with a fellow student to talk about their thinking with each other.

During these peer-focused activities, students can make use of classroom materials, such as multiplayer board games or online word games. They can participate in classroom gallery walk activities together or work together in a Classroom Helper System. Ice-breaker activities where students can ask each other questions, such as What is your favorite word and why? or What is your favorite book and why? will get students talking and more comfortable with each other, ultimately helping them to emotionally engage with their learning.

Cognitive Engagement

Students are engaged cognitively when they are being asked to think more deeply during a reading lesson and when they need to put in a little more of an effort into understanding a topic. Teachers can help students cognitively engage with a lesson by encouraging them to access background knowledge when learning something new, provide access to texts above their grade level to add some rigor, and by introducing new academic vocabulary words.

When students access background knowledge, for example, it means that they are having to refer to skills they’ve already mastered to learn a new, more complex skill. For example, under the umbrella of phonological awareness, students will need to learn how syllables and rhymes work before they can attempt to understand the more complex skill of phonemic awareness. They have to do some problem solving and engage their minds in order to learn something new.

And when you read aloud texts to them that are above their overall grade level, you’re exposing them to more complex academic vocabulary words and grammatical and syntactic patterns, thus providing them with that productive struggle, which is essential to learning new ideas.

By incorporating these types of engagement into your reading lessons, you’ll observe more student interaction in a classroom space where they’re more inclined to ask and answer questions. You’ll watch them enjoy learning as they tap or hop out the number of syllables in a word. Ultimately, with these ideas woven into your instruction, your students will be more motivated to connect to the content that you’re sharing with them, which will lead them to reading success. Happy teaching!

Tip: Introduce one student engagement activity at a time. Consider refraining from introducing a new student engagement activity until most of the class has demonstrated mastery of the last engagement activity that you taught.


About The Author

Lee Wright, Ph.D.

Dr. Wright began his career as a kindergarten teacher in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. For over two decades, he spent time as a literacy coach, Texas statewide staff developer, and professor of education. Today, he trains educators on topics that focus on the importance of effective classroom management, small-group instruction, and early literacy. He is a coauthor of Three Cheers for Pre-K and myView Literacy from Savvas Learning Company.