Science of Reading Classroom Observation Checklist

Free Resource for Elementary Education Leaders


Aligning Curriculum and Instruction to Best Practices

Mastering foundational reading skills in the early grades is essential for students’ future achievement, and the Science of Reading shows how to best help students learn those skills. But not all teachers have been thoroughly trained on the Science of Reading, and not all curricula implement these principles.

That’s why it’s important for education leaders to check in on the quality of the curriculum and instruction through direct observation. With our Science of Reading Classroom Observation Checklist, you can start to understand how well the curriculum and instruction in your school is aligned with the Science of Reading—which can help students become successful readers and ultimately increase student achievement.

Complete the brief form on this page to access your free copy of the Classroom Observation Checklist, or keep reading to learn more about the Science of Reading in K-2 classrooms.

Classroom Observation & the Science of Reading

Which Science of Reading elements should you look for when you’re observing a classroom? Here’s an overview of the key indicators included on the Science of Reading Classroom Observation Checklist for Grades K-2.

Systematic Skills Instruction

It’s well-known among educators that a student’s ability to read proficiently by the end of third grade is an indicator of whether or not that student will be successful in subsequent grades. That’s why the materials you choose for reading instruction in those early years are critical.

Check that these foundational literacy skills are being taught, including:

Print Concepts: Key concepts include sentences and words, authors and illustrators, and the parts of a book.

Phonological Awareness: Phonological and phonemic awareness are critical skills for young learners to develop in order to be successful readers. Therefore, instruction should cover both larger units (such as syllables and rhymes) and individual phonemes (including blends).

Phonics: Teaching the rules of phonics is crucial to early reading instruction because it gives children the tools they need to be able to sound out, or decode, words, making them more confident, successful readers. Make sure letter-sound correspondences are explicitly taught, and students learn to segment and blend letter-sounds during decoding and encoding practice.

Fluency: Ensure fluency is practiced both at the word and the text level, with a focus on accuracy rather than overall rate.

Explicit Early Reading Instruction

The Science of Reading indicates that students need explicit instruction in critical foundational skills to be successful readers. By teaching these skills explicitly, educators can get students reading quickly—by the end of kindergarten, children should be able to read connected text and short sentences.

Examples of explicit instructional techniques include:

  • At the beginning of a lesson, clearly telling children which skill(s) they will be learning.
  • Modeling each skill for students. Every skill should be modeled more than once.
  • Breaking broad concepts (such as phonics) down into specific, discrete skills (such as the letters “s” and “h” together making the /sh/ sound).
  • Leading students through guided practice with the skill before asking children to practice the skill independently or in small groups.
  • Providing immediate corrective feedback if students display difficulty with the skill (it is essential that feedback is not delayed to another time or day).

Multisensory Instruction

Variety not only makes lessons more fun and engaging, but can also help students better remember the skills they are learning and practicing. Combining visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning can activate different parts of the brain and stimulate growth. Look for lessons that direct students to learn and practice skills using two or more senses.

  • Speak: Students should have ample opportunity to practice speaking sounds and words, especially as part of daily phonological awareness practice and review.
  • Hear: Specific sounds and words should be modeled aloud for students to listen to, either by the teacher or via an audio recording.
  • Write: Students should practice writing letters and words in conjunction with learning their sounds. Writing practice is especially important when students are learning high-frequency words that are not decodable.
  • Read: Students should practice phonics skills and high-fluency words using decodable texts. Texts may include short books, reading passages in worksheets, or interactive digital texts.
  • Touch: The reading curriculum should provide high-quality manipulatives for teachers and students. Manipulatives (such as cut-outs, letter blocks, or letter cards) allow children to physically represent sounds and letters as they form syllables and words. Manipulatives can also be digital, such as click-and-drag activities on a computer or tablet.


The reading curriculum should provide high-quality assessments specifically designed to assess the skill(s) being taught. Assessments should provide teachers with information they can use to inform and guide instruction. Teachers should interpret assessment results in conjunction with students’ classroom work and the teacher’s classroom observations.

  • Formative Assessments: Frequent formative assessments should be embedded within lesson activities to monitor student progress. 
  • Summative Assessments: Summative assessments should be used at the end of units or modules to measure student mastery.

Practices to Avoid

Some common practices aren’t aligned with the Science of Reading and should be avoided. During your classroom observation, confirm these techniques are not present in the classroom:

  • Employing the "three-cueing system" to teach reading, such as asking students, "What word would make sense in this sentence?" (Students should decode words first. The word may be one students know, but simply have not seen in writing before.)
  • Using rote memorization to teach decodable “sight words.” (Students should be learning how to decode and encode words as part of phonics instruction.)
  • Practicing fluency skills primarily via silent reading. (Students should have ample opportunity to practice fluency by reading aloud.)
  • Using leveled readers for decoding practice. (Decodable texts should be used instead. All students should have the opportunity to work with engaging, grade-level text.)

By making sure your curriculum and instruction is aligned to the Science of Reading, you can help ensure students are getting the best start in their academic journey. By mastering essential foundational reading skills in the early grades, students will be better prepared to succeed in future grades.

Do you have the right reading curriculum for your school?

If your classroom observations identify any areas that need support or reinforcement, it may be time to add a supplemental reading program to teach foundational reading skills or fill any gaps in your existing core curriculum.

We recommend Savvas Essentials™: Foundational Reading, a blended, K-2 supplemental curriculum aligned to the Science of Reading. This program offers two flexible pathways, allowing teachers to teach all foundational reading skills in sequence or to pull content from specific strands as needed to support and enhance core literacy instruction.

The simple, step-by-step lesson plans in Foundational Reading make it easy for teachers to implement research-based instruction in the classroom and help all students gain the essential skills they need to become successful readers. Request your online demo of Savvas Essentials: Foundational Reading.

Banner to sign take an interactive tour of Savvas Essentials: Foundational Reading.

Be sure to complete the form at the top of this page to get your free
copy of the Science of Reading Classroom Observation Checklist.

Teaching Tools and Resources

Blog Series

Acclaimed author and researcher Dr. Sharon Vaughn puts the Science of Reading in simple, straightforward terms in this blog series.

Research Brief

What does research tell us about how children learn how to read? Learn how the Science of Reading can help strengthen literacy instruction.


What are some common misconceptions about the Science of Reading? Listen to this podcast for answers to frequently asked questions.