Reading Teacher

Science of Reading for English-Language Learners: Where Are We Today?

Science of Reading for English-Language Learners: Where Are We Today?

Time to pick some apples: this week, we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week 2022. In honor of their efforts, we’re highlighting the commitment of teachers to a specific group of young readers: students who are learning English as a second language. Teachers face the dual challenge of crafting reading lessons that incorporate the science of reading and the unique needs of English-Language Learners students (ELLs), also called English Learners/ Emergent Bilingual (EL/EB) students. Today, we question whether - and how - the science of reading can work for ELLs and consider how schools and educators can best support them.

science of reading for english learner

Science of Reading for ELL Students


As of 2022, at least 17 states now encode the science of reading into law. While this is a positive step toward reading success for all students, many of these laws fail to address how revised literacy curricula will support ELL students. Partially in response to these legislative changes, the National Committee for Effective Literacy (NCEL) was formed in February 2022 to answer a pressing question: where do English learners need more tailored reading support relative to native English speakers?


A foundational 2006 report by the National Reading Panel indicated that the five essential components of reading - phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension - were useful for a majority of students and had “clear benefits” for ELL students. Relative to native English speakers, ELLs are likely to need more opportunities to speak English, listen to other English speakers, and practice their vocabulary and syntax. Language researchers emphasize the need to discuss the meanings of words with all students, but especially those learning English. English is a notoriously tricky language, and words with multiple meanings - “run,” “park,” “date,” and “play,” just to name a few - will need to be reviewed frequently with ELL students in both reading and speaking formats.

reading books

Reading Strategies and Resources for ELL Students


In an idealized classroom, early reading instruction would combine the five essential components of reading with additional support from trained bilingual intervention teachers. In consideration of budget and staff constraints, however, this scenario is not possible in many elementary classrooms. Despite the barriers faced by both students and educators, our three takeaways highlight the advocacy, reading materials, and overall mindset that teachers can adopt to provide high-quality reading instruction to EL/EB students.


  1. Support dual-language programs. Research suggests that teaching students to read in their first language can actually enhance their English reading skills and their sociocultural development. In terms of their accessibility and curricula, many dual-language programs are still in their infancy; nevertheless, the rise of bilingual programs creates more opportunity for students to thrive as readers and writers in their native, non-English language(s).
  2. Recognize that literacy is not just about phonics. Holistically, reading and writing empower students to express themselves and understand their environments and peers more deeply. As they learn to express themselves and understand others through creative collaboration and conversation, a student’s world can expand through the acquisition of vocabulary and overall confidence.
  3. The Internet is a resource. While your school may not offer or be a part of a dual-language program, this does not mean that EL/EB students are left behind. The digital NCEL publication dives deep into effective literacy education for English Learners. NCEL and other online ELL resources offer strategies to support ELLs in the mainstream classroom, with a continual emphasis on comprehension: both on the page and in verbal communication with peers and teachers.
science of reading for elementary students

To our reading teachers: we wish you a happy Teacher Appreciation Week 2022, and another year of guiding all students - English learners included! - to reach their reading goals.

To our reading teachers: we wish you a happy Teacher Appreciation Week 2022, and another year of guiding all students - English learners included! - to reach their reading goals.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

What Teachers Should Know About the Science of Reading

What Teachers Should Know About the Science of Reading

science of reading

Over 25 million children in the US cannot read proficiently. Reading difficulties are most common in children with ADHD and dyslexia. Learning to read is a complex process, and structured literacy is a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction that is effective for all students but essential for students with dyslexia. Structured literacy is based on the science of reading.


Here, we cover in detail the science of reading, structured literacy, and how they support children with learning differences.


Before getting into the benefits of using decodable books in kindergarten and first grade, we will first explain how they work.

What Is the Science of Reading?

The science of reading is the research that reading experts, especially cognitive scientists and psychologists, have conducted to demonstrate the methods that best help children to learn to read.

The science of reading helps us understand the cognitive processes that are essential for fluent reading.

The science of reading answers many questions, including:

  • What are the skills involved in reading?
  • How do children learn to read fluently?
  • Why do some children struggle with reading?

How is reading related to spelling and writing?

How Is Phonics Involved in the Science of Reading?

how to read

Phonics is an essential part of the science of reading approach. But, the science of reading is not limited to the idea of phonics. Phonics is a teaching method that involves the relationship between sounds and their spellings. It’s an essential part of teaching struggling readers how to read because it helps them map sounds onto spelling.

Research shows that developing a strong understanding of phonics enhances reading ability as they help children hear and use different sounds to distinguish one word from another. The understanding of phonics complements the other aspects involved in the science of reading. But, as we discussed earlier, there’s much more to the science behind reading than just phonics. The other essential facets include phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.

What Is Structured Literacy?

Structured literacy is a comprehensive approach to teaching oral and written language. Research has shown that it’s effective for all children but is essential for dyslexic children. It’s an umbrella term used by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).


Structured literacy merges decoding, encoding, sight words, phonological awareness, fluency, and comprehension. It also teaches children letter knowledge, types of syllables, spelling rules, and meaningful parts of words. Unlike balanced literacy, skills with a structured literacy approach are taught in a direct way.


You can think of structured reading as a research-based method of instruction that helps children that struggle to read. With structured reading, teachers introduce children to new skills in a logical manner.


It doesn’t involve one particular method.


The structured literacy components include:

  • Phonology – the understanding of sound patterns and their meanings
  • Sound-Symbol Association–the understanding of mapping sounds to letters
  • Syllable Instruction – knowing how to divide words into syllables
  • Syntax – understanding grammatical orders
  • Semantics – understanding the meaning of words
  • Morphology – the study of the internal structures of the words

What Is the Difference Between Structured and Balanced Literacy?

The balanced literacy approach is characterized by the use of authentic texts. It focuses on shared and guided reading. On the other hand, structured reading teaches the structure of language through explicitsystematic, diagnostic, and cumulative instruction in phonological awareness, phonics, syllable instruction, morphology, semantics, and syntax.

Balanced literacy teachers teach students the important components of reading through:

  • Read aloud
  • Shared reading
  • Guided reading
  • Independent reading

Final Words

Structured reading is based on the science of reading that allows teachers to incorporate essential components to an effective reading program into their daily lessons. It’s important because it helps people understand the cognitive processes that are imperative for successful reading acquisition.

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Learn More about Reading Teacher:

Reading Teacher access includes 100 animated, interactive stories across 25 different levels. Each story introduces or reviews a new phoneme, new words, and special (high frequency) words.


Each new word throughout the program is then repeated at least five times in the book in which it first appears, and then five more times in the next ten books. Prior to starting each story, children are prompted to select the ‘Listen’ or ‘Read’ option which allows for multiple exposures, experiences, and allows for additional reinforcements of growing skills. Over the course of our program, children will learn over 337 decodable words and gain confidence in their reading abilities. Reading Teacher aligns with the science of reading through a tailored, sequenced approach. Our reading program blends the 5 components of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension into a simple, straightforward program. Each of the 25 levels of our programs is specifically crafted to build on the previous level's skills to lay the foundation in helping children with various reading abilities meet their unique needs through scaffolding and differentiation.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

How to Choose the Best Decodable Readers for Your Students

How to Choose the Best Decodable Readers for Your Students

In a classroom of varied reading levels, decodable readers are the smartest choice any educator can make. Yet in light of the “literacy crisis” recently coined by the New York Times, it can be difficult to decide when - and how - to introduce decodables to young readers. This crisis did not start with the pandemic, with experts pointing to a long-term shortage of teachers trained in phonics and phonemic awareness. Noting these early literacy foundations, we list the qualities of the best decodable readers that reinforce the science of reading - and the value of students seeing themselves in their own reading material.


  • Decodable readers reinforce the science of reading.

Decoding is an essential skill for early reading comprehension. In a classroom guided by the science of reading, decodable readers increase exposure to the pillars of decoding: phonics (letter-sound combinations), the blending of words and sounds, and those irregular words known as tricky words! Written in a systematic and structured fashion, decodable books empower students to practice the skills taught during explicit phonics instruction. While this instructional lingo may not sound as exciting, these flagships of early literacy instruction are crucial for reading teachers to understand. By implementing decodables early and regularly in a classroom, students have a better chance of reaching automaticity: the point at which a child learns to decode, increasing access to reading material guided by their personal interests as opposed to reading challenge areas.


  • Decodables can - and should - reflect a range of identities and cultures.

For students to become lifelong readers, they must first learn to decode and comprehend what they’re reading. From there, the joy of reading is found in reading material that reflects their curiosities, identities, and the world around them. The Read in Color program is committed to this belief, considering that less than 25% of children’s books depict non-white characters. In addition to instilling foundational phonics skills, instructors and parents also have an opportunity to expose students to diverse narratives with the thoughtful introduction of decodable readers and other guided reading level texts.


  • Decodables are FUN!

At Reading Teacher, we understand the relationship between learning to read and fun. While learning to decode texts takes time, patience, and dedication, it also represents an opportunity for educators and parents to connect with their students - and foster more opportunities for relationship-building and play in the classroom and beyond. When introducing decodable readers into a child’s daily reading routine, consider taking a trip to the local library, where librarians work tirelessly as literacy first-responders and provide equitable solutions to long-standing reading gaps. Emphasize engaging content - don’t shy away from silliness! - and when age-appropriate, implement writing lessons to make the texts more interesting while encouraging students to add their own creative twists.


Decodable readers are crucial tools in an early literacy classroom. With these tips and the support of our science-backed program, your students will soar from elementary decoders to dedicated readers.



  • Decodable readers are essential in a growing toolkit to help reading teachers combat the effects of COVID-19- induced reading loss.
  • The best decodable readers reinforce skills learned during explicit phonics instruction, explore diverse stories and identities, and contain engaging content that encourages creative lessons in the classroom - and ultimately, a lifelong love for reading.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

Science of Reading in Action: 3 Impacts of Early Literacy Funding in a CA Elementary School

Science of Reading in Action: 3 Impacts of Early Literacy Funding in a CA Elementary School

National reading assessments continue to show the toll of COVID-19 learning loss, with some suggesting almost 4 months of reading learning loss as of July 2021. At Nystrom Elementary, a Bay Area School in CA, new funding from the Early Literacy Support Block Grant is working to remedy these losses, with a focus on preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps among historically disadvantaged students. Today, we explore 3 positive impacts of early literacy funding at Nystrom Elementary, which serves as a model for other schools.

science of reading
  • Bridges the achievement gap for historically marginalized groups of students

At Nystrom, many students are learning to read and learning English at the same time. Others struggle with learning disabilities or poverty, further limiting opportunities for reading success. For these students, explicit phonics instruction - and enough phonics instruction, at least 30 minutes a day - is crucial to a strong reading foundation. To meet all of their students’ needs, Nystrom has introduced EL Education and the Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words program (SIPPS), both of which are phonics-heavy and grounded in the science of reading. Increasingly, schools are recognizing that learning to read is not natural like learning to talk or walk: a reality that is especially resonant for English language learners, students of color, and all other students who face barriers to literacy.


Nystrom's newest reading material is designed to reflect the cultural makeup of California students, acknowledging the prior lack of culturally reflective reading material. In any school district, literacy funds can be used to introduce age-appropriate books that address diversity, equity, and inclusion themes, helping students make real-life connections and grow cultural appreciation.

  • Encourages more intentional use of reading assessments.

To measure the success of its literacy curricula changes, Nystrom tested its students at the beginning and middle of the year using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), which predicts whether students’ reading skills will develop on track during the year or if they need additional support. While Nystrom’s fall assessment showed that 61% of all students did not have grade-specific reading skills, there was significant improvement among first and fourth graders based on the mid-year assessment. Across all grades, oral fluency rose sharply, meaning that students could better comprehend and read texts out loud. The use of DIBELS to measure incremental success of a new reading curriculum - better yet, one based on the science of reading - shows that when reading assessments are used strategically, their data can offer encouragement and guidance for both educators and students.


  • Paves the pathway to personal and professional fulfillment.

Nystrom’s use of its early literacy funding ultimately reflects its belief in - and commitment to - its students. Nystrom teachers are united by a belief that all of their kids can read: they just need a reading curriculum that honors their needs and incorporates the science of reading, combined with appropriate testing to identify challenges. Since switching from Units of Study for Teaching Reading English/Language Arts to the phonics-heavy curricula, more Nystrom students expected to end the year on track, increasing their confidence, likelihood of educational and professional success, and overall well-being.


While adopting a science-based reading curriculum seems like an obvious choice, it’s also an expensive one. Textbook changes can cost more than $1 million, pushing the already strained budgets of many school districts. In light of these expenses, the small yet promising changes at Nystrom illustrate that by devoting proper time, attention, and funds to early literacy, the long-term benefits for students are likely to justify the upfront investment.

learning child


  • New funding for early literacy programs in the West Contra Costa Unified school district in CA prompted a reading curriculum overhaul at Nystrom Elementary, driven by the science of reading and the unique needs of its student population.
  • Students’ mid-year DIBELS scores show significant improvements in students’ grade-level reading skills, oral fluency, and phonemic awareness.
  • These small-yet-significant changes show the need for more early literacy funding to bridge reading gaps between historically disadvantaged students, encourage more strategic reading assessments, and ultimately give children the confidence to succeed as students and adults.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

Saying “Goodbye” to Bin Learning: New Cross-Curricular Reading Program Takes an Equity-Minded Approach

Saying “Goodbye” to Bin Learning: New Cross-Curricular Reading Program

As part of ongoing efforts to reshape elementary instruction based on the science of reading, more schools are adopting curricula that support a whole-child and equity-minded approach. In this week’s newsletter, we dive into the science of cross-curricular reading education, focusing on the latest curriculum changes at Nebraska public schools through an equity lens.


In a December op-ed, psychology researchers wrote on the value of a whole-child approach to reading, wherein teachers stop teaching in “bins” – for instance, reading from 10:15-10:45 a.m. – and instead create lessons that honor the overlap between math and reading skills. Based on recent psychology research, early language ability is the single best predictor of both reading and math scores, and reading and math abilities depend on the same broad network of cognitive skills: memory, attention (executive function), language, and general knowledge. Teachers can design integrated lessons that draw from a range of topics in reading, math, and social skills, and that cater to a child’s or classroom’s unique interests: whether it’s favorite recipes, dinosaurs, or big cats. According to the authors, the best integrative lessons encourage peer collaboration and allow students to build on ideas from previous classes; they are active, engaging, meaningful to students’ lives, and, above all, joyful.

New Cross-Curricular Reading Program Takes an Equity-Minded Approach

Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA), the new elementary reading and English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum at Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska, models this integrative and cross-curricular approach to literacy. Amplify CKLA lessons, which will be officially implemented in the 2023-24 school year after piloting next year in select schools, are based on the vast, interdisciplinary body of research known as the science of reading. The K-2 portion of the curriculum is divided into two strands: foundational skills such as phonics and position words, and a knowledge component that pushes students to expand their knowledge and vocabulary in a specific, equity-conscious topic.


Under the new curriculum, elementary schoolers grades K-5 will draw connections between social studies, history and science, said Lisa Oltman, the district’s K-6 language arts curriculum specialist. Among many other topics, kindergartners will learn about indigenous cultures, nursery rhymes, and fables; second graders will read Greek myths and study slavery and the Civil War, and fifth grade students will read Don Quixote and learn about the Renaissance. High-quality reading material will help students dive into these topics, and culturally relevant topics such as climate change will be threaded throughout grade levels to help students draw connections as they progress through school.

Reading Program Takes an Equity-Minded Approach

Driven by the belief that word recognition and language comprehension ultimately lead to reading comprehension, Amplify CKLA combines reading and writing under one curriculum, with a special emphasis on narrative, opinion writing, research, and discussion. Says Oltman: "We have a variety of students, lots of students with lots of different backgrounds, and so one thing that was important to us was that students get to see themselves, but they also get to learn about others through this curriculum.”


To formally implement Amplify CKLA, 80 LPS staff members participated in an elementary reading committee to study the science of reading and learn the CKLA materials. It has been a lengthy and expensive process, but educators believe it is a necessary investment to support all students, regardless of reading ability or socioeconomic background. By investing in equitable education and faculty training on the science of reading, school districts ultimately service both students and teachers, whose understanding of reading science will empower them to build lessons that are cross-curricular, culturally relevant, and meaningful for students.

Reading Program


  • Psychology researchers and educational leaders continue to voice the value of teaching literacy through a cross-curricular and equity-minded lens, contrary to the traditional “binning” of reading, math, and other subjects.
  • This research adds to our growing understanding of the science of reading, which serves as the foundation for the Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) curriculum that will soon replace current literacy education in the Lincoln Public School District, Nebraska.
  • Amplify CKLA encourages students to make connections across subjects and exposes them to a wide array of topics, cultures, and narratives, while training teachers to integrate subjects and design lessons based on student’s developmental needs and unique interests.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

Looking for a New Reading Program? 3 Red-Flag Catchwords for Parents & Educators to Understand & Avoid

Looking for a New Reading Program? 3 Red-Flag Catchwords for Parents & Educators to Understand & Avoid

While we know that foundational literacy skills such as phonics and spelling are best learned from explicit instruction, seasoned reading teachers can run into trouble when a reading program sprinkles “red-flag” catchwords amid mentions of phonemic awareness, lifelong reading, and other honorable goals. To make it easier for you, we’re unpacking 3 red-flag words for teachers and parents to identify and avoid, based on the wisdom of psychologists, cognitive scientists, and other experts on the science of reading.

3 Red-Flag Catchwords for Parents

1) Whole Language Methodology

Many popular reading programs describe their methodologies as “whole language”: a widely debunked approach that encourages rote memorization and guessing words from images, among other pitfalls. Other programs use the related term “whole-class” to describe their curricula, which might convey images of students collaborating to achieve reading success: surely, any teacher’s dream. Although the vision behind whole language programs might be a noble one, the research depicts a different reality. Many of these programs minimize teacher involvement and encourage kids to memorize words, guess words from pictures, or simply skip words they can’t read. In an effort to move the whole class forward, many students – particularly those vulnerable to reading challenges, such as children of low socioeconomic status, children of color, and students with learning disabilities – are left behind.

2) Guided Reading

When used without explicit instruction in phonics and spelling, guided reading is another phrase that should raise the hairs of any reading teacher. Also called leveled reading, guided reading involves the separation of students into groups based on their reading levels and facilitating reading within these groups. While this practice continues in many classrooms, there is very little evidence that it actually works. At its core, guided reading minimizes teacher instruction while giving kids in lower reading groups a steady diet of less challenging texts, denying opportunities to stretch themselves – and expand their love for reading – by reading texts above their instructional levels with active teacher support.

3 Red-Flag Catchwords for Parents & Educators to Understand & Avoid

3) Leveled Texts

Related to the concept of guided or leveled reading, teachers and parents are encouraged to steer clear of reading programs that emphasize leveled texts with no use of decodable readers. Although some leveled reading work is appropriate for reading texts independently, classroom reading teachers are advised to focus on decodable texts for early readers whose foundational skills are still developing. Decoding is a critical process that creates brain words: stored representations preserved in long-term memory and used for fluent reading and writing. Explicit lessons in decoding and spelling are brain-changers for literacy, writes educational psychologist J. Richard Gentry: he encourages teachers to “think of the third-grader who in one weekly spelling book lesson on single-syllable homophones can learn the meanings and spellings of sell, cell, sail, great, and grate and commit them to long-term memory.” This lesson increases the child’s brain words, which can be accessed for the rest of their life: the direct result of explicit instruction.

New reading program

At Reading Teacher, we are heartened by a growing movement led by educators, cognitive scientists, psychologists, and parents to improve the “architecture” of both reading programs and the literate brain. We believe our step-by-step program is a meaningful part of this movement, and look forward to providing more tools and news to help you teach the science of reading in your classroom – so stay tuned!


  • Popular reading programs use various buzzwords to describe their curricula: yet many of these programs are ineffective and even detrimental to students’ reading performance.
  • As alternatives to whole-language methodology, guided reading, and leveled reading, cognitive scientists and educational psychologists recommend systematic and explicit instruction in both decoding and spelling for young readers.
  • High-quality reading programs recognize the importance of long-term memory and utilize decodable readers and strong spelling instruction to develop the “architecture” of a literate brain.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.