The Science of Reading in Action

Whether you are an educator new to the Science of Reading and preparing to make the shift or a literacy expert looking to strengthen your Science of Reading implementation, Savvas Learning Company has the resources, tips, and insights to help you on your Science of Reading journey.

Students discover the elements of the science of reading instruction.

What is the Science of Reading?

The Science of Reading is a large body of research on how children learn to read. Gathered over the past 40 years, this evidence-based body of knowledge highlights the most effective strategies for teaching children how to read. For example, the Science of Reading indicates that students need systematic, explicit instruction in the following critical elements of reading: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. When students are directly taught these essential skills while they are learning to read, they will have a better chance at becoming successful readers.

What are the Key Elements of the Science of Reading?

  • Science of Reading Components
  • Reading Instruction
  • Practices to Avoid

Science of Reading Components

  • Phonological Awareness
    Phonological awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the sounds in spoken language. Phonological awareness includes word awareness, rhyme awareness, syllable awareness, onset and rime awareness, and phonemic awareness.
  • Phonics
    Phonics is the ability to associate the sounds of spoken language with the letters of written text. Letter-sound correspondences, decoding, and encoding are skills that students learn and practice as they grow in their phonics abilities.
  • Fluency
    Fluency is the ability to read words at an appropriate speed, accurately, and with expression. These three components of fluency are often known as rate, accuracy, and prosody. Strong fluency requires that students are able to read with automaticity.
  • Vocabulary
    Vocabulary is the knowledge of the meaning of words and the ability to apply that knowledge to text. Vocabulary is often deeply intertwined with background knowledge. Content vocabulary is specific to a subject area, whereas academic vocabulary is used across multiple subject areas.
  • Comprehension
    Comprehension is the ability to read, process, and understand the meaning of written text. A common formula for comprehension is: Word Reading + Vocabulary + Background Knowledge = Reading Comprehension. Comprehension is a skill that grows throughout a person’s lifetime.

Reading Instruction

  • Explicit Instruction
    Explicit instruction is clear, direct instruction. The components of explicit instruction include articulating the skill, telling students why they’re learning the skill, applying the skill, scaffolding lessons in the gradual release model, providing feedback, and checking for understanding.
  • Systematic Instruction
    Systematic instruction is sequenced: lessons are carefully planned out and delivered in an order — or sequence — that builds upon the students’ prior knowledge and moves from simple to more complex skills or concepts.
  • Integrated Instruction
    Integrated instruction involves teaching a skill, and then giving students multiple subsequent opportunities to apply and practice that skill, especially in other content areas such as writing, science, or math.
  • Engaging Instruction
    Engaging instruction captures students’ interests and inspires a love of learning. Science of Reading research identifies student engagement as one of the critical components to effective reading instruction right along with explicit, systematic, and integrated instruction.
  • Multisensory Instruction
    Multisensory lessons incorporate multiple learning modalities, such as speaking, listening, moving, touching, reading, and writing activities. Combining visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning can activate different parts of the brain and stimulate growth.

Practices to Avoid

  • Avoid: Cueing Systems

    Cueing systems, such as the “3-cueing system,” encourage students to use “cues” (such as “picture cues” or “context cues”) to read words, which often leads to guessing. With the Science of Reading, students should learn how to decode and encode words as part of phonics instruction.

  • Avoid: Rote Memorization of Sight Words

    Avoid using rote memorization to teach “sight words.” Instead, with the Science of Reading, students should learn how to decode and encode words as part of phonics instruction. Even irregular words, such as “of” and “was,” can be explicitly taught using phoneme-grapheme mapping to highlight regular and unexpected sound patterns in these words. 

  • Avoid: Silent Fluency
    Avoid having students practice fluency skills primarily via silent reading. When instruction is aligned with the Science of Reading, students will have ample opportunity to practice fluency by reading aloud.
  • Avoid: Only Using Leveled Readers
    Use decodable readers to help build and reinforce students’ phonic skills when students are learning to read. Especially with beginning readers, avoid sorting students into reading groups based on reading ability and having them practice reading using leveled texts. Instead, make sure all students have the opportunity to practice their reading skills with rich, engaging grade-level texts.
  • Science of Reading vs. Balanced Literacy
    Balanced literacy is a loosely defined term that means different things to different educators. However, most forms of balanced literacy rely on implicit instruction (e.g., skills are not directly taught) for teaching foundational reading skills. However, without explicit instruction in these skills, most students will struggle to become strong, independent readers. Look for instructional programs that are rooted in the Science of Reading.

Why Does the Science of Reading Matter?

The Science of Reading Matters because 23% of 3rd graders with below-basic reading skills do not graduate high school by age 19.

In Elementary

23% of third graders with below-basic reading skills do not graduate high school by age 19.1

The Science of Reading Matters because 82% of 6th graders who failed an English class did not go on to graduate high school.

In Secondary

82% of sixth graders who failed an English class did not go on to graduate high school. 2

The Science of Reading Matters because 70% more math and science questions are answered correctly by students with strong reading skills.

Math and Science

70% more math and science questions are answered correctly by students with strong reading skills.3

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Explore the Research Behind the Science of Reading

  • Science of Reading Simplified
  • Align Your Instruction
  • Classroom Management Strategies
  • Research Brief
  • Podcasts

Science of Reading Simplified

Featuring award-winning researcher and author Dr. Sharon Vaughn, The Science of Reading Simplified eBook shares what every educator should know about the Science of Reading in simplified, straightforward terms. Get teaching tips for the classroom, explore activities to share with families and caregivers, and learn what to look for in teaching materials that use the Science of Reading most effectively.

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What is the science of reading? Learn more in our Science of Reading Simplified series.

Align Your Instruction

What are the four main components of Science of Reading-aligned instruction, and how can teachers implement them in the classroom? Featuring Savvas author and literacy expert Dr. Lee Wright, this eBook provides actionable insights into what explicit, systematic, integrated, and engaging instruction looks like in the elementary classroom.

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Align your literacy instruction with the science of reading.

Classroom Management Strategies

Taking the time to put classroom management strategies into place can greatly impact the effectiveness of Science of Reading-based lessons. In this eBook, Savvas author and literacy expert Lee Wright, Ed.D. guides us through how classroom management can affect the quality of your reading lessons, along with practical strategies you can start using right away.

Get Your Copy
Learn how to manage your classroom with science of reading instruction.

Research Brief: The Science of Reading

Interested in the research behind the Science of Reading? Read this Research Brief to get an overview of the decades of studies that have contributed to our understanding of the Science of Reading, and learn how the Science of Reading differs from other instructional approaches.

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What is the science of reading? Learn more in our research brief.

Science of Reading Podcasts

Want to learn about the Science of Reading and other essential education topics directly from the experts? Listen to the Fresh Ideas for Teaching podcast! Check out episodes like The Science of Reading: Clarifying Misconceptions with researcher Dr. Sharon Vaughn or What is Systematic & Explicit Instruction? with author Dr. Elfrieda “Freddy” Hiebert. 

Listen Now

Take the Science of Reading Master Course

What is the science of reading?

What is the Science of Reading?


What is engaging instruction?

The Science of Reading for Education Leaders


Classroom Observation

It’s important for education leaders to check in on the quality of the curriculum and instruction through direct observation. With our Science of Reading Classroom Observation Checklist, you can start to understand how well the curriculum and instruction in your school is aligned with the Science of Reading — which can help students become successful readers and ultimately increase student achievement.


Making the Shift

An administrator plays a vital role in fostering effective, Science of Reading-aligned instruction in their school or district. But how do you know what to look for, and where do you start? In this blog, explore what every administrator should know about the Science of Reading and discover three high-leverage instructional shifts that will help move your teachers toward evidence-based literacy practices.

Put the Science of Reading into Action


Classroom Resources

3 Weeks of Free ELA resources


Classroom Resources

50 Fun Phonics Activities


Classroom Resources

50 Fun Phonological Awareness Activities


Professional Learning

Put the Science of Reading in Action: Best Practices for Reading Instruction


Professional Learning

Unlock the Power of Writing: Developing Reading and Writing Skills


Insights & Tips

Unpacking the Science of Reading


Insights & Tips

The Science of Reading: Clarifying Misconceptions


Insights & Tips

Tiny Steps to Incorporate the Science of Reading


Classroom Resources

10 Ways to Word Sort


Insights & Tips

Strengthening Phonics and Vocabulary with Word Study Webinar


Professional Learning

Advanced Reading, Writing, and Knowledge Development for Elementary Students


Insights & Tips

Background Knowledge, Knowledge Building, and the Science of Reading

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School Stories

In these inspirational stories, you'll learn about what schools and districts from across the country are doing to help students succeed and shape the future of education.

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1. Balfanz, R., L. Herzog, & D. Mac Iver. “Preventing student disengagement and keeping students on the graduation path in urban middle-grades schools: Early identification and effective interventions,” Educational Psychologist 42, no. 4 (2007): 223-235.

2. Cromley, J. G. “Reading achievement and science proficiency: International comparisons from the Programme on International Student Assessment,” Reading Psychology 30, no. 89 (2009): 89-118.

3. Hernandez, D. J. “Double jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation.” Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012.

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