Ensure Your Science of Reading Instruction Is Explicit

Part 1 of the Science of Reading Instruction Series

Is your instruction explicit? We can help you determine that. In this blog series, Savvas author and literacy expert Dr. Lee Wright breaks down the four main components of science of reading-aligned instruction, providing teachers actionable insights into what explicit, systematic, integrated, and engaging instruction look like in the classroom. In this post, we focus on explicit instruction.

Savvas Insights Team

Is Your Instruction Aligned to the Science of Reading?


Science of Reading research has established that when foundational skills are delivered in an explicit manner, the result is greater reading proficiency. Since reading proficiency is the ultimate goal of reading instruction, it’s important for teachers to check to make sure they’re teaching those foundational skills in an explicit manner. But how can they know their teaching is explicit?

Savvas - Is Your Instruction Aligned to the Science of Reading?Savvas author and literacy expert Dr. Lee Wright says that explicit instruction can be broken down into the following areas: articulating the skill, telling students why they’re learning the skill, applying the skill, scaffolding lessons in the gradual release model, providing feedback, and checking for understanding.

“Together, all of these elements help make sure that our instruction is explicit,” Lee said. “And thus that it will likely be highly aligned to what the science of reading says is important to include in reading lessons.”

Lee walks us through these areas of good explicit instruction and provides some examples of what they sound and look like in a classroom setting. Teachers can use this as a guide to ensure they’re teaching in a way that 40 years of research recommends as the best way to teach students to read.

Articulating the Skills to Students

Reading lessons are designed around the teaching of the foundational skills that students need to develop in order to read proficiently. But it’s important to note that the lessons should also be aligned to the skills that district goals and state standards identify as most important for each grade level so that when students are formally assessed at the end of the year, they meet the expectations set by those goals and standards.

“In order to deliver explicit instruction well, teachers must be familiar with their curriculum, … standards, and with what children are expected to learn in our classroom … at the end of the year,” said Lee. He explains that knowing those standards and goals that are expected will help teachers make informed decisions about which skills to design their reading lessons around.

teacher reading aloud to class

Once teachers can be sure that their lessons are aligned to the standards their students are expected to meet, Lee suggests that teachers clearly articulate those skills to students so they understand what’s expected of them.

For example, if a teacher chooses predictions as the skill to focus on in a lesson, they can start out by explicitly stating to students, “Today we're going to learn about how to make predictions. Making predictions means thinking really carefully about what's going to happen next. While we're reading, I'm going to show you how I make predictions and I'm going to give you opportunities to make predictions on your own.”

“Using student-friendly language to articulate the skill at the opening of the lesson is part and parcel with explicit instruction, which is in line with the science of reading,” said Lee.

Tell Students Why They’re Learning The Skill

Part of articulating skills to students should also include a clear, student-friendly (i.e. explicit) explanation of why they’re being taught the skill. Help them grasp the big picture of how learning this one skill will help them be better readers overall.

For example, teachers can say, “We're going to be learning about predictions today because all good readers make predictions. It helps us better understand what we're reading.” Tell them in language they can understand that this is an important skill that will help them achieve the goal of being a really, really good reader.

“Tell children why they are learning this skill so that they don't sit there and just think, ‘Well, we're learning something because a teacher says so.’ Or, ‘This is what we're supposed to do,’” said Lee. “They need to know why what we're learning about is important to them.”

To hear directly from Lee about explicit instruction, watch the video below.


Modeling and Applying the Skills

As teachers move through the lesson, it’s important to check that they’re not only explaining to children why a skill is important and what the skill is, but that they’re also showing them how to apply the skill through demonstrations or modeling using real-world examples.

For example, during a read-aloud, the teacher might stop on a tricky word and say, “Hmm. I don’t know how to pronounce this word. Let me sound out the word parts to figure it out.” Now, the teacher has modeled how to apply phonics skills during reading that students can practice when reading on their own.

“So we're just not talking, we're showing them,” said Lee.

Scaffold Lessons in the Gradual Release Method

Explicit instruction is designed to always be working toward helping a student read independently, which is why lessons should be scaffolded using the gradual release method, sometimes described as the “I do. We do. You do.” method.

In order to incorporate the gradual release method into instruction, the lessons will be designed so that the teacher will be doing most of the talking and most of the demonstrating in the beginning, but as the lesson goes on, there will be more and more time worked in for students to be sharing in the talking and demonstrating as well.

“By the end of the lesson, children are doing the majority of the talking and the majority of the application of the lesson,” said Lee.

Tips to Ensure Your  Instruction Is Explicit


Checking for Understanding and Providing Feedback

Part of any good instruction, and certainly explicit instruction, is checking to make sure that students understand the skill you’ve just taught and practiced with them. This kind of formative assessment can provide valuable information that will inform next teaching moves, especially if the student did not understand the lesson.

For example, if a teacher finds that a student did not understand a skill, he or she can design a review activity to reinforce it, or use a different instructional strategy to reteach it.

“Checking for understanding and providing feedback need to be threaded throughout every one of our reading lessons,” said Lee.

If teachers are using all of these elements together then they will know their instruction is explicit and therefore aligned to what the science of reading says is needed to provide effective reading instruction.


Explore Research-Based Literacy Solutions

About The Author

Lee Wright, Ph.D.

Dr. Wright began his career as a kindergarten teacher in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. For over two decades, he spent time as a literacy coach, Texas statewide staff developer, and professor of education. Today, he trains educators on topics that focus on the importance of effective classroom management, small-group instruction, and early literacy. He is a coauthor of Three Cheers for Pre-K and myView Literacy from Savvas Learning Company.