The Science of Reading in a Real Life Classroom

In my last post, we discussed the top three things you should know about the Science of Reading. When I first learned about this topic, I asked myself what many of you may be thinking at this very moment…NOW WHAT?!!!

I hear you. It’s one thing to learn about a teaching philosophy or strategy in theory, but actually putting it into practice is a whole different story. If you know me, you know that I absolutely love to learn. An optional PD? I’m there! An online course? Where do I sign up?

The one issue I have with learning new teaching ideas is sometimes, they are not always practical. As teachers, we know how intensely busy our jobs can be. Once we get into our “real-life”, day-to-day work schedules, it can be challenging to implement some of the new strategies we learn in those PDs.

That’s where this post comes in…I want to share how you can quickly and easily implement the Science of Reading into your classroom, whether you teach primary or upper grades.

The body of work referred to as the “science of reading” is not an ideology, a philosophy, a political agenda, a one-size-fits-all approach, a program of instruction, not a specific component of instruction. It is the emerging consensus from many related disciplines, based on literally thousands of studies, supported by hundreds of millions of research dollars, conducted across the world in many languages.

Dr. Louisa Moats

The beauty of the Science of Reading is that it can be incorporated into any lesson in any subject. It is not a curriculum. It is not subject-specific. It is especially important to note that as elementary teachers, we should be including literacy instruction throughout the day rather than just during language arts.

Therefore, I would like to focus on how to use the Science of Reading to develop a quick, 15-minute warm-up that can be used for any lesson in any subject. This is an idea that I have used for years in a real-life classroom. I have used it in both primary and upper grades, so I can vouch for its manageability and effectiveness.

When I plan a “Science of Reading” warm-up, I divide it into three parts: Vocabulary, Fluency, and Comprehension.


I always start my mini-lessons with a “Big Idea Question”. This question is the question the students need to be able to answer by the end of the lesson. It can also be the student objective. When I write these objectives/questions, I make sure to include as much vocabulary as possible. So much research has found that vocabulary has a significant impact on a student’s reading comprehension. Therefore, we need to include it in our lessons as often as possible.

I know what you’re thinking…vocabulary has always been taught in schools! Yes, you are correct. However, I have a slightly different take on vocabulary instruction. In order to master new vocabulary, students must be able to use it authentically in not only their writing but also their verbal communication. In order to achieve mastery, students must practice using vocabulary over and over again. Therefore, rather than only including vocabulary at the start and end of the unit, we must give students several chances to encounter these new words throughout the year in a variety of subjects. They must practice using this vocabulary in written responses, academic discussions, partner work, and so on.

In order to truly understand how to help our students’ vocabularies grow, we must first understand the three types of vocabulary:

  • Tier 1 Conversational: This vocabulary includes basic words that are commonly used in everyday conversations. Although important, especially for students who are learning English, we will not be going over this tier in today’s blog post.
  • Tier 2 Academic: I absolutely love teaching this tier of vocabulary! Why? You get the most bang for your buck. This vocabulary includes words that appear in multiple subjects. I often like to think of words that students will encounter in academic instructions. It is always so surprising to me how challenging some of these words can be. We as teachers, myself included, sometimes assume students know what it means to define a word. For instance, “definition” has the same meaning as “define”; it is just a different part of speech. This does not come naturally to students; it must be explicitly taught.
  • Tier 3 Content-Specific: This vocabulary tier includes words that are specific to each subject or topic. I have found that these are the words typically included in curriculum units, as the vocab in those lists is created with the purpose of understanding the included text.

Now what?! You may be wondering what I do with all of this information. When I write my daily Big Idea Questions and student objectives, I try to include BOTH academic and content-specific vocabulary.

When I introduce new vocabulary words, I make sure to include them in as many Big Idea Questions as possible. This includes questions and objectives in multiple subjects. For example, if I introduce the word “describe” in social studies, I will include it in my objectives for math, science, and language arts later that same week. This way, students will engage with the word several times after seeing it for the first time. This allows me to use a gradual release when it comes to defining the word. Perhaps the first time we see it in an objective, I define it and give examples. For the next couple of encounters with the word, I may ask students to define it with a partner or as a class. Eventually, students will define the word on their own while I walk around, checking their definitions. This entire process of identifying and defining words in the Big Idea Questions and/or objectives takes approximately 3 minutes, thereby making it a quick routine that can be repeated throughout the day.


Fluency can and should be practiced on a regular basis. It should also be explicitly taught. I have found that often teachers practice fluency with their classes but do not teach specific strategies. I have three go-to strategies that can be included in a warm-up for any lesson in any subject.

  • Scoop Lines: This strategy shows students where to group words together. When students are not fluent readers, they often read one word at a time. Literate readers’ brains actually are looking at words that have not been read yet. In other words, when a literate reader is reading “describe” (see image below), the brain is actually focusing on the words “the Gold Rush”. This skill must be explicitly taught and practiced. Drawing the scoop lines is a great way to show students how to group words together to avoid reading like a robot. When I use this strategy during the warm-ups in my lessons, I usually start by drawing the lines on the Big Idea and/or objective. Over time, I draw the lines on PART of the objective and then eventually not at all.
  • Color-Coding: This strategy also teaches students how to group words and phrases but this time using color. (This is great for teachers who prep slides ahead of time.) Each color shows a group of words that can be read together. When you are ready for students to color-code their own objectives/text, have them use different color highlighters. Again, over time, reduce the amount of color coding to allow students to group words without support. I often tell students to visualize the colors or scoop lines in their heads.
  • Thus far, the strategies discussed can be used for either whole-class or small-group learning. The last strategy, however, is best for small-group instruction or intervention groups. Mix-and-match is a strategy where students physically cut up sentences and rearrange them before reading them fluently. This is a great hands-on strategy that can help students who are struggling to read fluently.

I include one of these strategies in my warm-up after identifying and defining key vocabulary in the Big Idea Question. Choral or partner reading can quickly be incorporated into every warm-up. First, model the fluency strategy using the Big Idea Question or objective; then, have students practice said strategy by drawing/highlighting (not necessary for every lesson); finally, have the class practice reading fluently either as a class or in pairs. I would suggest starting with a class choral read after first introducing a new fluency strategy. Then, have students practice the next few objectives in pairs. This allows you to walk around and listen to students read so that you might identify which students need fluency intervention.


There are about a million reading comprehension strategies, which makes it difficult to choose which ones to focus on in this post. Although I could go on and on about various strategies, there is one that stands out: graphic organizers. The best part about using graphic organizers is that they can be combined with other strategies, such as Depth and Complexity Icons. However, in this post, I am going to explain how to use graphic organizers to not only support comprehension but also to support another component of the Science of Reading: vocabulary.

The idea behind combining graphic organizers and comprehension is that graphic organizers are only effective if students can use them independently. Although the teacher must first model and explicitly teach each organizer, the ultimate goal is for students to be able to read a text or writing prompt and select the appropriate organizer for the task at hand. How can we teach them how to select the most appropriate graphic organizer? By teaching them vocabulary words that are best suited for each organizer! This teaching strategy is essentially teaching them how to be independent readers, which is the ultimate goal.

How do I get my students to the point where they can choose their own graphic organizers based on a writing prompt or objective?

  1. Model each graphic organizer on its own. For upper grades, I would recommend teaching one organizer per day (Monday-Thursday) and then review all four of them in a gallery walk on Friday. NOTE: It is extremely helpful to teach the organizers BEFORE beginning curriculum. I suggest teaching them with SEL or picture book read alouds. For primary grades, I recommend teaching only one or two organizers a week. Please note that it is not necessary to teach ALL of the organizers before moving on to step two. Sometimes, I only use four organizers for the first half of the school year (especially with younger students).
  2. Ask students to identify vocabulary in the objectives that may give a hint about which organizer to use. (You can also have them identify vocabulary in Big Idea Questions or writing prompts, depending on what you choose to use for your lessons.) Once the “vocab hints” have been identified, ask students to select which organizer would be most appropriate. (See image below for vocabulary words associated with each graphic organizer.)
  3. Allow students to volunteer different graphic organizers that would be appropriate for a given objective. Think “math chat” or “number talk” but with graphic organizers. Once students are comfortable identifying vocabulary words that lend themselves to each graphic organizer (this takes several lessons and several weeks), they are ready for a “graphic organizer chat” if you will. After reading the objective as a class, ask students to identify a few possible graphic organizers based on the “vocabulary hints” in the objective. Then, call on students to share their ideas and record them on the board. After students have shared a few different organizers and how to set them up for the given objective, tell the class that they may choose one of the organizers shown on the board.
  4. Allow students to choose their graphic organizers. This final step should only be included in your lessons once the above steps have been practiced for several weeks. In upper grades, I usually aim to hit this last step by January or Trimester 2. For primary grades, my goal is to reach this last step by Trimester 3. Again, this depends on your grade level. For first grade, for instance, I may not reach this goal until after Spring Break. It is important to also keep in mind that if you teach younger students, you may not necessarily cover EVERY graphic organizer that year.

Want to learn how to introduce this concept during the first couple weeks of school? Read this post!

There you have it! I hope you have learned some quick tips that will help you incorporate the Science of Reading into a warm-up routine that can be used in any subject.

For my next blog post, we will look into how to incorporate the Science of Reading into differentiated small groups. I can’t wait to chat with you then!

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Published by Learning N Progress

I am an elementary teacher who specializes in differentiated instruction and intervention. I have taught grades K-6, including intervention and gifted students. I am here to help other educators make differentiated instruction easy to manage and effective in reaching EVERY student in their classes.

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