The science of reading has become a buzzword in literacy circles. The term is supposed to encapsulate the body of research on early reading instruction.
What is the science of reading?
The science of reading has several components:
Phonics includes teaching the most common sound-symbol correlations. There are 44 English phonemes (ex. a_ as in cat, e_ as in met, igh as in light, ai as in sail) and many common sight syllables (ex. tion as in motion and ble as in bubble).
For a list of the phonics sounds used in our decodable books, visit list of phonics sounds.
Our 120+ printable decodable books help kids learn the most common phonics sounds.
2. Systematic phonics
Systematic phonics is teaching the most common sound-symbol correlations one at a time. This allows the child to gradually improve their phonics knowledge. Systematic phonics is also referred to as step-by-step instruction.
Systematic instruction allows kids to master phonics sounds gradually over time.
Here’s a sample systematic phonics calendar:
Week 1- teach short a
Week 2- teach short i
Week 3- teach short o
Week 4- teach short u
Week 5- teach short e
Week 6- teach sh
Week 7- teach th
Week 8- teach ch/_tch
3. Explicit phonics
Explicit phonics involves telling kids the phonics sounds directly so they don’t have to guess or intuit the sound on their own.
For example, the teacher might say, “ee says /ee/ as in tree” or “ai says /ai/ as in sail.” This explicit instruction takes the guesswork out of learning to read.
Each of our decodable books includes a “Focus Sound.” That way, educators know what sound to introduce explicitly during lessons.
Interleaving is often left out of the discussion on the science of reading. However, interleaving is a powerful learning tool, not just in reading, but in many domains.
Interleaving is mixing old material in with only one new concept. For example, if a kindergartner knows letter sounds, a_, e_, i_, o_ u_, sh and is learning th, an interleaved list would look like this:
Notice how the above interleaved list mixes old phonics sounds with the child’s new phonics sound th.
Interleaved practice prevents kids from guessing. If they have a list with only one phonics sound like the following: jog, hog, nod, rod, pop… then they catch on quickly that the middle sound is always short o. This can prevent the short o sound from getting into the child’s long-term memory.
A phonics calendar with interleaving might look something like this:
Week 1- teach short a
Week 2- teach short i (review short a)
Week 3- teach short o (review short a and short i)
Week 4- teach short u (review short a, short i, and short o)
Week 5- teach short e (review short a, short i, short o, and short u)
Week 6- teach sh (review short a, short i, short o, short u, and short e)
Week 7- teach th (review short a, short i, short o, short u, sh)
Week 8- teach ch/_tch (review short a, short i, short o, short u, sh, and th)
It’s important that educators weave in old phonics sounds with the new phonics sound. Again, lists that repeat the same phonics sound again and again (ex. ship, shell, shack…etc.) don’t work. If the child is presented with a list that weaves in the old with the new (ex. cup, chip, pop, shell, tip…) then the child has to do real word analysis.
Our 120+ printable decodable books were carefully crafted to include built-in review.
That way, kids don’t become weak in old phonics sounds.
5) Avoid guessable books. Use phonics decodables instead.
The science of reading reveals that educators should avoid guessable, repetitive books (ex. Tim walked on the path. Tim walked through the field. Tim walked by the river. Tim walked in the garden…). Guessable books are ineffective.
Repetitive books teach kids bad guessing habits that are difficult to break.
Instead, use systematic phonics or decodable books. However, there are many poorly written decodable books. Avoid these. Kids need well-written stories. You can consult The Reading League for a list of decodable books. Our Reading Elephant phonics books are on the list.
6. Phonemic Awareness activities
Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate the smallest unit of sound (phonemes). Research suggests phonemic awareness is a good predictor of later reading success.
Phonemic awareness activities do not include text. These are solely audible and verbal activities, where the child blends, segments or manipulates sounds.
Some phonemic awareness activities ask kids to blend sounds. The teacher might say something like, “I’m going to say something slowly and you tell me what it is. Ssss-aaaa-nnn-d… what is it?” The child might correctly respond with, “sand.” Eventually, the teacher and student(s) would do these activities quickly. (Ex. Teacher: mmmm-eeee-nnnn-d Student: mend, Teacher: d-oooo-g Student: dog, Teacher: ssshhh-iiii-p Student: ship, Teacher: p-oooo-p Student: pop, Teacher: b-rrrr-aaaaa-nnnn-ch Student: branch).
Other phonemic awareness activities ask kids to drop sounds. The teacher might say, “I’m going to say a word. Get rid of the first sound and tell me the rest of the word. Stick. Get rid of ssss.” The student might correctly respond with “-tick.” Dropping sounds tends to be a bit harder for dyslexic kids than blending sounds.
Kids can also segment sounds. Segmenting sounds is helpful in spelling activities since children must identify the sounds of a word in a row before they write the letters. In a segmenting activity the teacher says the word and the student says the sounds. This is like the opposite of a blending activity. For example, the teacher might say, “I’m going to say a word and you tell me the sounds in a row. Blush. Tell me the sounds in a row.” The student might correctly respond with, “b-llll-uuuu-sssshhhh.”
In sum, the science of reading includes:
- Systematic phonics
- Explicit phonics
- Avoid guessable, repetitive books. Use decodable text instead.
- Phonemic awareness activities