With two-thirds of United States fourth-grade and eighth-grade students unable to read proficiently, according to The Nation’s Report Card, it is crucial that teachers have training in literacy approaches proven to work. Many educators today have been trained in balanced literacy, but they may feel unsure about what they’re teaching or frustrated by inconsistent results. By incorporating the science of reading in schools’ literacy programs over decades, educators have created effective, evidence-based strategies to enhance literacy instruction and support all learners in all Tiers, including those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Research tells us that 95% of students can learn to read with the right approach, so let’s examine some of these science-backed strategies in detail.


The Five Components of the Science of Reading


First, some background knowledge. The science of reading identifies five key components of proficient reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.


  1. Phonemic Awareness
    Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. It involves recognizing, segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in speech. Developing strong phonemic awareness lays the foundation for phonics instruction and contributes to general phonological awareness.


  1. Phonics
    Phonics is a reading method centered on the relationship between sounds (phonemes) and the letters (graphemes) that represent them in written language. It teaches learners how to decode words by understanding spelling patterns and their associated sounds. Proficient phonics skills enable readers to decode unfamiliar words accurately and efficiently.


  1. Vocabulary
    Vocabulary is the store of words that students understand and use in both speech and writing. A sizable vocabulary is essential for comprehension, as readers need to understand the meanings of individual words they see in text to grasp the larger message. Building a rich vocabulary enhances language comprehension skills and feeds into decoding strategies from the science of reading.


  1. Fluency
    Fluency refers to the ability to read text accurately, seamlessly, and with expression. Fluent readers can decode words without much effort, allowing them to focus on deriving meaning from text. Fluent readers tend to enjoy reading much more than non-fluent readers and benefit from increased comprehension.


  1. Comprehension
    Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading. It involves recognizing and making meaning from written text. There are several cognitive processes involved in comprehension, including identifying main ideas, making inferences, summarizing, and evaluating text. Effective comprehension instruction equips readers with the tools to engage with text critically and extract deeper meaning.


The Ten Science of Reading Strategies Broken Down by Component


For educators who want to apply the science of reading in their classroom, school, or district in 2024, here are our top ten evidence-based reading strategies.


1. Finger Blending to Decode


Finger blending is a reading strategy primarily used with early readers. Because 65-70% of readers need explicit, systematic instruction in foundational skills to read, this strategy can be a helpful tool for learning phonemic awareness and phonics skills. It involves physically manipulating fingers to represent individual sounds and then blending those sounds together to decode words. It’s particularly useful for tactile and kinesthetic learners who benefit from hands-on approaches to learning. 



This strategy strengthens the connection between spoken language and written symbols, laying the groundwork for fluent reading and accurate word recognition.


Recommended Ages

Finger blending is typically appropriate for preschoolers and early elementary school-aged children, typically between the ages of 4 and 7, although it can be adapted for older students who may still struggle with phonemic awareness or phonics skills.


How to Implement

  1. Select a word from a text or list of words that the child is learning to decode.
  2. Have the child say the word out loud, emphasizing each individual sound. 
  3. As the child says each sound, they use their fingers to represent each sound. For instance, with cat, they might touch their thumb to their index finger for the initial sound, their thumb to their middle finger for the middle sound, and their thumb to their ring finger for the end sound.
  4. After the child has segmented the sounds using their fingers, encourage them to blend the sounds together by sliding their thumb along their fingers. This motion represents blending the sounds together to form the word.
  5. Finally, have the child say the complete word aloud.


2. Sound Sweeping to Blend


Sound sweeping, also known as sound blending, is a reading strategy primarily used to help readers develop phonemic awareness and phonics skills. This strategy involves sweeping or sliding one’s finger or a pointer across individual letters or letter combinations while making the corresponding sounds and then blending those sounds together to form a word. 



Sound sweeping builds foundational skills in phonemic awareness. It teaches students how to segment words into their individual phonemes and then blend those sounds together to decode and read the words accurately.


Recommended Ages

Early readers, particularly those in kindergarten and early grades of elementary school.


How to Implement

  1. Select words that contain simple phonetic patterns or letter combinations that students have been introduced to and are familiar with.
  2. Model the process of sound sweeping by saying the word aloud, segmenting it into its individual sounds, and sliding a finger or pointer across the letters.
  3. Have students practice sound sweeping first with guidance and support, and then independently. 
  4. Differentiate lessons by adjusting the difficulty of words based on students’ proficiency. 


3. Airwriting


Airwriting is a kinesthetic reading strategy designed to enhance phonics and reinforce letter-sound relationships. This technique involves using hand movements to simulate the formation of letters in the air while simultaneously articulating the corresponding sounds.



Airwriting engages multiple sensory modalities—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—to reinforce the connections between letters and their associated sounds. It helps build a deeper understanding of phonemic relationships, which is foundational for proficient reading and spelling.


Recommended Ages

Airwriting is particularly beneficial for young children in the early stages of literacy development, typically ages 4 to 7. However, it can also be adapted for older students struggling with phonics concepts. 


How to Implement

  1. Begin by demonstrating how to form letters in the air using large, exaggerated hand movements. Model the correct sequence of strokes for each letter while simultaneously articulating the corresponding sound.
  2. Encourage learners to imitate your movements and vocalizations as you airwrite letters together. Start with simple letter-sound combinations and gradually progress to more complex phonics patterns or sight words.
  3. Provide feedback and guidance as needed to ensure learners are forming letters correctly and accurately producing the associated sounds.
  4. Incorporate regular practice sessions into daily routines to reinforce letter-sound relationships and phonemic awareness skills. Consider incorporating games or activities that involve airwriting to make learning fun and interactive.


4. Readers’ Theater


Reader’s theater is a dynamic reading strategy where students perform a script based on a literary text. Unlike traditional theater, reader’s theater focuses primarily on reading aloud rather than memorization. Participants take on different roles within the script and read their lines, aiming to convey the emotions and intentions of the characters. 



This strategy encourages active engagement with the text, enhances oral reading fluency, and promotes comprehension through repeated exposure to the material in a meaningful context. It also cultivates collaboration and teamwork as students work together to perform a script.


Recommended Ages

Reader’s theater can be adapted for various age groups and reading levels, making it a versatile strategy for literacy instruction.


How to Implement

  1. Choose a suitable script. Select a script that aligns with students’ interests and reading abilities. Scripts can be adapted from existing literature or plays, or created from scratch.
  2. Assign character roles to students. Encourage students to take on diverse roles and explore different perspectives.
  3. Provide opportunities for students to rehearse their lines individually and practice reading with expression.
  4. Perform your reader’s theater script, either in front of the class, for other grade levels, or even for parents and the community. 
  5. Reflect on the performance experience, highlight key themes or messages, and identify areas for improvement. Encourage students to share their thoughts!


5. Oral Reading Passages


Oral reading passages are a reading strategy where students read aloud from a selected text, either independently or with guidance, to practice fluency, comprehension, and expression. 



This strategy can improve reading skills by allowing learners to practice decoding words, develop fluency through repeated readings, and enhance comprehension by engaging with writing.


Recommended Ages

Oral reading passages are appropriate for learners of various ages, from early childhood through adulthood.


How to Implement

  1. Choose texts that align with the readers’ proficiency level and interests. Consider factors such as vocabulary and sentence structure.
  2. Before asking learners to read aloud, model fluent reading by reading the passage aloud yourself. Demonstrate proper phrasing, intonation, and expression.
  3. Provide guidance and feedback: Encourage learners to read the passage aloud, providing support and feedback as needed. 
  4. Encourage learners to read the passage multiple times to improve fluency and comprehension. 
  5. After reading the passage, reflect and discuss with students.


6. Morphology: Affixes and Root Word Study


Morphology is a reading strategy that focuses on understanding the structure and meaning of words through the examination of their morphemes, which are the smallest units of meaning in language. Morphemes can be divided into two main categories: roots, which are the units conveying the central meaning of a word, and affixes, which are added to roots to modify their meaning or create new words. 



This strategy enhances vocabulary acquisition, improves word recognition, and builds comprehension by empowering readers to decipher the meanings of unfamiliar words based on their morphological components.


Recommended Ages

This strategy is appropriate for learners of various ages, from elementary school students to adults. In early grades, teachers may introduce basic affixes and root words, gradually building students’ understanding of word structure and meaning. 


How to Implement

  1. Choose an activity. Morphology covers a wide range of activities and exercises based on explicit instruction, each providing definitions, examples, and different opportunities for students to practice. For example, word sorts (where students categorize words based on their morphological features) can help reinforce understanding and build vocabulary, while word trees or graphic organizers can visually represent the relationships between roots, affixes, and full words. 
  2. Lead the activity, helping students when they get stuck and explaining key concepts as needed.
  3. Reflect and provide feedback.


7. Academic Vocabulary Squares


Academic vocabulary squares are a reading strategy designed to enhance students’ understanding and retention of key vocabulary words that they encounter in writing.



The purpose of academic vocabulary squares is to help students engage deeply with important terms by encouraging them to interact with the words in multiple ways. This interaction forms meaningful connections that result in better comprehension and retention. 


Recommended Ages

This strategy is beneficial for students across various grade levels, from elementary to high school.


How to Implement

  1. Select a target vocabulary word.
  2. Have students write the word.
  3. Have students provide a concise definition or explanation of the word’s meaning. This may involve using a dictionary definition or paraphrasing the definition in their own words.
  4. Have students provide an example sentence or context in which the vocabulary word might be used. This helps students understand how the word is applied in different contexts.
  5. Have students draw a visual representation or symbol that represents the meaning of the word. This could be a simple sketch, diagram, or symbol that captures the word’s essence.
  6. Reflect and provide feedback.


8. Double-Sided Note-Taking


Double-sided note-taking is a reading strategy that involves dividing a piece of paper into two columns, with one column designated for note-taking while reading and the other column for summarizing or synthesizing the information. 



This strategy helps students actively engage with a text while reading, encourages critical thinking, and promotes deeper understanding and retention of the material.


Recommended Ages

Double-sided note-taking is appropriate for learners of various ages, from elementary school students to adults. However, the complexity of the notes and summaries may vary depending on the age and reading proficiency of the individual. 


How to Implement

  1. Begin by dividing a sheet of paper into two columns, labeling one column “Notes” and the other “Summary.”
  2. As students read the text, they actively engage with the material by jotting down important information, key concepts, main ideas, supporting details, and any questions or thoughts that arise in the “Notes” column.
  3. Periodically pause while reading to review and reflect on the notes students have taken so far, ensuring comprehension and identifying any areas that require clarification or further exploration.
  4. Once students finish reading a section or the entire text, they use the “Summary” column to synthesize the information from their notes. Have them condense the main ideas and key points into sentences or paragraphs, highlighting the overarching themes or arguments.
  5. After completing the summary, students review both the notes and the summary to reinforce learning and consolidate understanding.


9. Writing About Reading


Writing about reading is a reading strategy that involves actively engaging with text through writing responses, reflections, or analyses. This strategy encourages readers to interact with the material by synthesizing information, expressing opinions, making connections, and posing questions. 



Writing about reading deepens comprehension, promotes critical thinking, enhances metacognition, and fosters a deeper appreciation for literature. By articulating their thoughts and reactions in writing, readers can clarify their understanding, explore complex ideas, and develop insights into the text’s themes, characters, and plot.


Recommended Ages

The strategy of writing about reading is appropriate for a wide range of ages and reading levels, from elementary school students to adult learners.


How to Implement

  1. Choose a piece of writing for students to read, paying attention to reading level and student interests.
  2. Provide structured prompts or guiding questions to frame students’ responses. These prompts may cover a wide variety of topics: for example, you can encourage readers to summarize key events, analyze character motivations, evaluate the author’s craft, or make personal connections to the text. 
  3. Reflect and provide feedback on student answers.


10. Book Groups

Book groups, also known as literature circles or book clubs, are a reading strategy designed to promote collaborative learning, critical thinking, and a deeper understanding of texts among participants. 



The purpose of book groups is to engage readers in meaningful discussions about books, fostering comprehension, analysis, and appreciation for literature. Participants typically read the same book independently or together, then come together to discuss various aspects of the text, including plot, characters, themes, and literary devices.


Recommended Ages

Book groups are suitable for a wide range of ages, from elementary school students to adults. Different age groups may engage in book groups with varying levels of complexity and support. 


How to Implement

  1. Choose a book that is suitable for the age and reading level of students, as well as one that aligns with their interests and curriculum objectives if applicable. 
  2. Organize students into small groups, ideally consisting of 4-6 members, to facilitate meaningful discussions and ensure active participation. 
  3. Establish a reading schedule that allows students ample time to read the selected book before each group meeting. Provide guidance on how much reading should be completed before each session to keep participants on track.
  4. Plan and lead discussions that encourage students to share their thoughts, ask questions, and engage in critical analysis of the text. Consider using discussion prompts, guiding questions, and activities to stimulate conversation and deepen understanding.
  5. Encourage students to reflect on their reading experiences and share insights gained from the discussions. Consider incorporating extension activities, such as writing assignments, creative projects, or related research, to further enrich the learning experience.



Master the Science of Reading Today


For educators to tackle the literacy crisis, they need methods and models that are proven to be effective. Strategies based on the science of reading work for every student at every age and every level, helping them build essential reading skills, build confidence, and engage more deeply with written language. The benefits of literacy don’t end at graduation— being able to read proficiently sets students up for success in every aspect of their adult lives.  

Want to learn more about the science of reading and get more great instructional strategies?

For educators who want to gain advanced understanding or lead their school’s or district’s literacy initiatives, we offer three certification programs. 


FAQs About the Science Of Reading Strategies


Does the science of reading include comprehension?

Yes. Hundreds of research studies conducted by leaders of various fields within the science of reading address reading comprehension directly or indirectly. 

What is the science of reading and decodable text?

The science of reading is a comprehensive body of evidence gathered through experiments and research studies about how people best learn to read. Decodable text is a reading method within the science of reading that uses carefully sequenced words to introduce new phonetic relationships to beginning readers.

How does the science of reading teach sight words?

The science of reading indicates that beginning readers should learn common, irregular words with methods like decoding and orthographic mapping rather than simply memorizing those words as in balanced literacy.

What is decoding in the science of reading?

Decoding is the process of identifying a written word by working with its constituent phonemes. Decoding strategies based on the science of reading have students match speech sounds to letters or groups of letters, allowing them to read words they have not seen before.

How can I improve my decoding skills?

There are many exercises and activities for improving decoding skills, including segmenting and blending, word chaining, rapid word recognition charts, and word dictation.

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