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Building Strong Readers: Practical Tips for Applying the Science of Reading

Reading is a complex cognitive process that involves decoding and comprehending text. Because the brain does not naturally acquire these skills, students need purposeful instruction, and that’s where the Science of Reading can help. The Science of Reading is a growing body of research that informs teachers of evidence-based practices, many of which they have been using for years. Here’s a breakdown of what we know builds strong readers and a few strategies for implementing these practices in the classroom today.


  • Enrich phonemic awareness development. The ability to hear and identify the individual sounds (phonemes) in words is a critical skill and a precursor to successfully learning to read.
      • Use poetry to ask students to listen for rhymes. While this is only one part of phonemic awareness, it utilizes the brain’s natural ability to hear and separate sounds. Check for ideas on using poetry!


  • Teach phonics explicitly and systematically. Decoding instruction should follow a research-based sequence. Spelling-sound correspondences should be taught in an intentional way that helps students build on what they already know.
      • Begin with predictable consonants. Picture sorts encourage students to listen to and group similar sounds. Use pictures such as baby, ball, bus, book, pizza, pig, puzzle, pan to create beginning sound sorts. After sorting, ask students to identify the letter that makes the sound and suggest other words that match those sounds.


  • Use decodable texts.These simple texts aimed at beginning readers are a targeted way to practice reading and build fluency.
      • Match texts with the phonic elements students are learning. While these texts never replace the rich language and content in literature, they are a specific context for practice with the letter/sound relationships students are learning.


  • Build vocabulary and background knowledge.By hearing a wide variety of words and concepts through hands-on and virtual experiences, students develop critical comprehension skills.
      • Read aloud nonfiction books. This introduces academic language, builds background knowledge, and adds content vocabulary to their listening comprehension.


  • Craft ways to develop fluency. Fluency is not about speed; rather, it is effortless reading that leads to improved comprehension.
      • Choose story segments, poems, or song lyrics that students can read and reread. Giving them reasons to reread a poem or story segment, such as for performing or sharing with a buddy, helps develop automaticity in word recognition.


  • Provide opportunities to write.Writing, or encoding, helps children develop their understanding of how language works. Reading and writing are parallel processes, so give students ways to apply what they are learning.
      • Students use what they have learned about spelling-sound correspondences when they generate their own writing. Students demonstrate what they know when they encode, and research shows that how students write a word indicates what is available to them as a reader. (see


  • Organize opportunities for guided practice.Students need targeted opportunities to practice what they have learned.
      • Select individual alphabet letters (c, a, t, u, n, p, h) so students can construct words. Small groups can work together, providing a formative assessment opportunity.


  • Create a supportive environment. It is important for students to feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes.
      • Find ways to incorporate games. Simple games like BINGO or “Guess my word” make learning fun and are ways to apply new knowledge.


The science of reading is a complex and ever-evolving field. However, students can become successful readers by utilizing these research-based practices!


By Mary Jo Fresch, PhD


If you want to learn more about what you can do to build strong readers in your classroom,                        watch Mary Jo Fresch’s webinar here.

Bio: Mary Jo Fresch, PhD is an academy professor and professor emeritus from The Ohio State University. Mary Jo provides professional learning workshops that focus on K–8 literacy learning.


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