10 Science of Reading Strategies for Reading Instruction

8 Min Read
WF1559159 Shaped 2022 Blog Post Science of Reading Strategies Hero

Reading Teaching Strategies Using the Science of Reading

Louisa Moats famously said, “Teaching reading is rocket science,” which leaves us educators wondering how and where do we begin? Educators across the United States are asking the same questions with one goal in mind: How do we create lifelong readers? In this article, I’ll be using my experience as a first-grade teacher to shed light on the Five Pillars of Reading and my top 10 instructional strategies for reading that help support my daily science of reading journey in the classroom.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify sounds that make up our words. By understanding how spoken language works, students will be able to transfer the knowledge to phonics, word work activities, encoding, and decoding in text. Phonemes are all about the sounds—rhyming, isolating phonemes, blending, and manipulating sounds are all great ways to incorporate phonemic awareness with students.

Strategy 1: Word Play

Word play activities can range from rhyming to manipulating phonemes and can be done in just 5 to 10 minutes!

Why Do It: Students understand how spoken language works and can make connections between words and their parts. Spending a short 5 to 10 minutes on word play daily has been a small but mighty change for me.

Steps to Implement:

  1. Hand movement to accompany phoneme manipulation can play a big part in understanding how spoken language works.
  2. Begin by holding out both hands and say a word. Pull one hand back while saying the phoneme to change, then move the hand back out.
  3. With both hands in front of you: “The word is bat.”
  4. Moving one hand toward you, then in front of you again: “Change the /b/ to /m/.”
  5. With both hands in front of you: “What is our new word?”

Strategy 2: Blend Phonemes

Orally blending sounds to form words.

Why Do It: Students are encouraged to listen (hear) each sound in words, which will transfer over to their decoding skills while learning to read.

Steps to Implement:

Start with the teacher saying phrases like “Follow my directions. /j/ /u/ /m/ /p/ 3 times, /s/ /p/ /i/ /n/ 2 times,” and “Follow my directions /s/ /i/ /t/ quietly at the carpet.” This game provides students with a brain break with learning attached to it: a win-win in my book!


Phonics is a key component for teaching children to read. After understanding that all words have phonemes (sounds), it’s time to connect those sounds with symbols, in our case, letters. The two strategies listed are two of my must-do practices to implement in the classroom!

Strategy 3: Vowel Valley Activity

A vowel valley activity involves explicitly teaching vowel sounds and mouth formations.

Why Do It: The biggest game-changer I have noticed over the last three years in my science of reading journey is the shift from a typical word wall to a sound wall. Instead of listing words like all and about under the letter A on a board, now we’ve shifted to focusing on the true sounds of each symbol and including words that match the sound. Now we see words like apple and at under the Short A vowel card. Students can identify the letter that goes with each sound correctly, making their encoding and decoding much stronger. Grab a handheld mirror to allow students to hear, feel, and see the vowel sounds.

Steps to Implement:

  1. Create a vowel valley. Vowels are placed on the wall in strategic placement based on mouth formations.
  2. Plan explicit teaching for each vowel sound. Say each sound, and use the sound in target words. Emphasize the shape of your mouth and the placement of the teeth and/or tongue.
  3. Have students echo the sound and watch their mouths move in a mirror.
  4. Place targeted words underneath the vowel for students to reference.
Image source: HMH Into Reading

Strategy 4: Decoding Using Sound-by-Sound Blending

This strategy helps teach students to sound out words by each phoneme, moving left to right.

Why Do It: Take the guesswork and three cueing out of reading. Encourage and explicitly teach students how to say each sound of the word and assume they have sufficient phonemic awareness knowledge to blend the sounds together. Over time, you can rely on this strategy less and less as students learn to decode independently.

Steps to Implement:

  1. In the text, or when working with targeted words, guide students to point to the first sound.
  2. Guide students to say each sound, then blend the sounds together. Be sure to focus on the sounds, not the letters. For example, if the word is chip, the digraph ch needs to be said as one sound.

Every time teachers read aloud to students, they are modeling fluency. Students are enjoying the story, but that’s probably due to the way teachers use inflections and prosody throughout the book. Students need explicit instruction so that they will be able to read fluently, too. In the primary grades, we are setting a true foundation for our students to thrive. The two strategies I’ve listed are quick to implement yet so effective in helping students develop oral reading fluency!

Strategy 5: Oral Cloze Read

This fluency strategy supports fluent, accurate reading with continued readings.

Why Do It: This strategy models appropriate rate, pronunciation, and prosody, focusing on targeted phonetic patterns or vocabulary words.

Steps to Implement:

  1. Pre-read a text and select words to leave out. These could be targeted phonics pattern words or vocabulary words.
  2. Give each student the text, or have it projected. Begin reading, and model fluency.
  3. Stop at pre-selected words. Give students a clue as to what it might be, then reveal the word and have students read it together.

Strategy 6: Timed Fluent Reading

This strategy encourages students to read quickly but also to comprehend.

Why Do It: This strategy specifically aims to improve students’ reading rate, accuracy, and comprehension.

Steps to Implement:

  1. Choose a text students can read with 95% accuracy.
  2. Set a timer for 1 minute and have students read. Track students’ accuracy, marking any mistakes made. Graph students’ accuracy.
  3. Using the same text, set another timer for a minute and have students reread it 3–5 times, tracking progress each time. Celebrate student growth, and keep encouraging fluent reading!
Image source: Renae Kuhn

Kids are like sponges; they can absorb so much! Having a wide range of vocabulary plays a direct role in student comprehension. Two strategies I’m including can happen naturally across content areas but ultimately support vocabulary expansion.

Strategy 7: Generative Vocabulary

Generative vocabulary focuses on the morphology of words that allows students to unlock word opportunities. These lessons will support students’ speaking, listening, and reading vocabularies across content areas.

Why Do It: We cannot teach students every word they may come across in the English language, but we can teach them to understand word parts such as roots, prefixes, and/or suffixes.

Steps to Implement:

  1. Preview a text, and choose words with clear morphemes to focus on. For example, if you are reading a text with the word ignite, consider using this as a generative vocabulary opportunity to relate the word ignite with the word igneous.
  2. Create a word map to continue making connections between words through their morphemes.
  3. Choose a vocabulary word with a prefix or suffix. With students, identify the base word and discuss how the prefix or suffix changes the word’s meaning. Brainstorm other words with the same prefix or suffix, and apply the ‘generative’ meaning of the new word due to knowledge of morphemes.
Image source: HMH Into Reading

Strategy 8: Knowledge Maps

Build background knowledge on topics. Encourage the use of vocabulary words as more topic information is learned.

Why Do It: Introducing a knowledge map at the beginning of a unit can allow for learning to happen right from the start. Use the knowledge map for students to expand on what they know already and help them communicate their knowledge about the topic.

Steps to Implement:

  1. Pick out key vocabulary words that are critical for student success. Students are not expected to know much about these words yet, so in a sense, this is backward in planning a unit of study.
  2. Create a knowledge map with students to sort words into categories and have a ‘Want to Know More About’ spot on your map.
  3. As the unit unfolds, refer to the knowledge map and add other words or new categories to solidify student learning and application of vocabulary words.
Image source: HMH Into Reading

The goal we want our students to reach is to comprehend and enjoy the stories they read and listen to. By working their way through the pillars, students will journey from learning to read to reading to learn. All year long, we teach students reading strategies. Below are my two favorite reading comprehension strategies to implement regularly in the classroom.

Strategy 9: Making Connections

Build and make connections to text based on student background knowledge.

Why Do It: This strategy guides students to make connections to self, text, and world while reading to ensure they can fully understand and relate to the text.

Steps to Implement:

  1. Preview a text with students. Have them begin thinking about any connections they can make either to themselves, another story, or their community or world.
  2. Read the text, pausing occasionally to allow students to process the events in the story and reflect on their own experiences or other familiar texts.
  3. After the story, consider having students put into writing their connections, or use a turn-and-talk routine to allow students to discuss. For younger learners, give sentence frames such as This reminds me of when I…, This is like the book that I read about…, or This is like what happened when… to help get them started.
Image source: HMH Into Reading

Strategy 10: Synthesizing

Help students gather important information from the story, make connections or inferences, and paraphrase to complete their understanding of a text. This is a critical skill for full comprehension of a text.

Why Do It: Use this strategy to allow students to put together parts of the text to see the author’s ideas in a new way. Students will need to apply other strategies to effectively synthesize the text.

Steps to Implement:

  1. Read a text with students. Guide students in identifying the most important parts in the text and have them reflect on the question, What does this all mean to me?
  2. Explain to students that we all bring our own thoughts, perspectives, and experiences to a text. When we synthesize information, we can understand the author’s ideas in new ways.
  3. After reading, allow students to write or discuss what the text means to them based on their own experiences and background knowledge.
    Image source: HMH Into Reading

Teaching Reading with Science of Reading Strategies

Whether you’re already on your science of reading journey or if it’s brand new to you, we can all agree that when we know better, we can do better. As educators, we won’t stop until every child reads. Over the last few years in my first-grade classroom, I’ve made little changes that have added up to have big results! I encourage you to begin thinking about the small changes you can make in your classroom with reading teaching strategies that will have big impacts on student learning. Consider the resources listed above, and know that it’s never too late to begin a science of reading instruction. Keep the pillars of reading in mind and teach on!

Quick View Takeaways: 10 Strategies to Use and Embark on Your Science of Reading Journey

Phonemic Awareness





  • Word Play
  • Blend Phonemes
  • Articulation Guide with a Vowel Valley
  • Sound-by-Sound Blending
  • Oral Cloze Read
  • Time Fluent Reading
  • Generative Vocabulary
  • Knowledge Maps
  • Make Connections
  • Synthesize

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


HMH core, intervention, and supplemental programs are rooted in the science of reading. Find out more about our evidence-based approach to teaching a child to read.

Get our free Science of Reading eBook today.

Related Reading

WF1932000 hero

Mary Dean

Shaped Contributor

Activities to prevent math summer slide hero

Richard Blankman

Shaped Executive Editor