The Science of Reading: How to Get Started

In this post, I share information about the Science of Reading (SoR) and structured literacy. I define and explain commonly used Science of Reading terms. Then I leave you with a FREE resource that provides you an entry point into the Science of Reading research and offers you actionable steps for bringing Science of Reading-aligned instruction into your classroom.

The science of reading refers to a body of scientifically-based research about reading instruction. This research has been conducted over the last five decades and provides us with valuable information about best practices for reading and writing instruction.

Unfortunately, teachers have not always had full access to this important information. There are new terms and instructional strategies that we were NOT taught about in our pre-service training.  It is a lot and can quickly become overwhelming.  

To help ease this burden, I recently shared a phonics terms cheat sheet and created a blog post explaining the most common phonics spelling rules.  Today I want to continue to help you better understand the Science of Reading and structured literacy by defining and explaining commonly used SoR terms for you. 

Finally, I leave you with a FREE resource that provides you an entry point into the Science of Reading research and offers you actionable steps for bringing Science of Reading-aligned instruction into your classroom.

Science of Reading Terms and Definitions 

There are plenty of new terms and phrases you will encounter when learning about and discussing the science of reading.  To start, let’s first define the Science of Reading and Structured Literacy. 

What is the Science of Reading (SoR)?  

The Science of Reading (SoR) is a body of research that examines how we learn to read and what methods best help children learn to read.  It is not a curriculum.  It is a summary of the findings of research from disciplines that include developmental psychology, educational psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience.  The science of reading has been documented around the world, in all languages and cultures.

What is Structured Literacy? 

Structured literacy is an instructional approach that focuses on systematic, explicit instruction in all parts of reading. There is a heavy focus on decoding skills and teaching students the rules of English so they can apply them when reading independently.   Learn more about structured literacy here

When teachers say they are aligning their instruction with the science of reading or getting started with structured literacy, there are certain literacy resources and activities they often refer to.  Let’s take a closer look at what some of those resources, activities, and terms mean….

Science of Reading Terms

What is a Sound Wall? 

A sound wall is a way to organize and display the different sounds (or phonemes) we hear in speech.  Similar to a word wall, a sound wall is a place for students to reference when they are spelling and reading words.  But UNLIKE a traditional A-Z word wall, spelling patterns on a sound wall are grouped by their sounds.  A sound wall helps students connect their phonemic awareness skills to print.  

You will often see two walls in a classroom. One wall for consonants and one for vowels.   The vowel sound wall (referred to as a vowel valley), is formed in the shape of a V. This is to mimic the change in position of our mouths and shift in our jaw when producing the vowel sounds.


When you see a sound wall you will often find pictures of mouths next to each sound.  They are referred to as mouth articulation pictures. They help students better understand what their teeth, tongue, lips and mouth are doing when they produce a sound.   Mouth pictures are a great support to help students connect the sounds they hear with the print that represents them.

Take a look at this post to learn more about sound walls.  


What is Orthographic Mapping? 

Orthographic mapping is the mental process we use to permanently store words for immediate retrieval and become fluent readers. Word mapping is an activity that helps to encourage, or promote the process of orthographic mapping. Word Mapping is a physical way to represent the relationship between phonemes and graphemes.  It is an activity that allows students to physically connect or match the letters with the sounds they represent.  Word Mapping helps build word recognition and decoding skills that improve fluency in both reading and writing.  

Take a look at this post to learn more about phoneme-grapheme mapping and this orthographic mapping post to learn more. 

What are Heart Words? 

Heart words are high-frequency words that contain letter or letter combinations that do not follow common letter-sound correspondences.  They are irregularly spelled high-frequency words.  Some words are permanently irregular, but some are temporarily irregular. It is temporarily irregular if students have not yet learned the letter-sound correspondence in that word. 


The Heart Word method teaches students to decode the part of the letters and sounds that follow traditional phonics rules and learn the tricky part by heart rather than relying on rote memorization methods! Students will encounter these words often so they need to be able to read and spell them with automaticity. Examples of Heart Words include said, are, do, and where.

Learn more about Heart Words and download a FREE Heart Words Scope and Sequence in this blog post

What are Decodable Texts? 

A decodable text is a text you use in beginning reading instruction.  It is a text that is controlled based on the phonics skills you have taught your students up to that point in your scope and sequence.  There is often a heavy focus on the target phonics skills for a specific week of instruction.  For example, if you are teaching long a spelled ai and ay, your students might read a passage called Lunch Time.


The majority of the words in a decodable text can be sounded out based on the sound-spelling relationships students have been taught.  Decodable texts also include some high-frequency words students have learned.   

Decodable texts DO give students practice applying the skills that you have taught to real reading experiences. This connection is essential for building a faster foundation in early reading.  As studies have shown, students who use decodable controlled text in their early reading instruction get off to a stronger start in their reading instruction.  

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is the knowledge that spoken language is made up of sound units or phonemes. Students with strong phonemic awareness can notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words,

Phonemic awareness contributes to the development of strong word recognition through decoding and strengthens reading comprehension. Research shows that difficulty with phoneme awareness and other phonological skills is a predictor of poor reading and spelling development. 

Phonemic awareness lessons are quick (about 6 minutes) and can include these three components:

1. Phoneme Segmenting: students practice breaking apart each word and identifying each phoneme

2. Phoneme Blending: students hear a sequence of phonemes and put them together to identify the word

3. Connecting Graphemes to Phonemes: students practice connecting the phonemes in a spoken word to the letters (graphemes) that represent those sounds

Head to this blog post to learn more about how to teach phonemic awareness.

What are the Syllable Types? 

Every word has at least one vowel and every syllable has one vowel sound. Single-syllable words, like she and fine, each have one vowel sound. Multisyllabic words have one vowel sound for each syllable. For example, de-fine, pro-gram, chil-dren

There are six different syllable types in the English Language.  The type of syllable depends on the sound the vowel makes. Words with more than one syllable can have the same syllable type or different syllable types.   


When students have knowledge of syllables it supports them in decoding. It helps them to read more fluently (which supports comprehension!) and helps them to pronounce and spell words correctly.

When a student is trying to read a word, they need a clear strategy to figure out what sound the vowel in the word is making. When they know the sound the vowel makes, they can then correctly blend the sounds in the word, decode it and pronounce it correctly.   Learning the different syllable types or patterns is a systematic way of helping them do all of this!

FREE Science of Reading Resources

Are you ready to learn more about the Science of Reading and begin to implement structured literacy in your classroom?  If so, check out my new free resource which outlines 6 shifts you can make to bring structured literacy into your classroom.


The resource includes information on Sound Walls, Word Mapping, Heart Words, Decodable Text, Phonemic Awareness, and Syllable Types. For each strategy, you will get information on what it is and why it is important to teach. You will also get links to free resources that will help you implement that shift in your classroom.

It can be overwhelming to implement all of these strategies at once. Instead, choose one of these shifts to learn about and bring into your classroom over the next few weeks. When you feel comfortable incorporating that shift, return to the resource and choose the next shift you want to make. Over time your SoR knowledge and instruction will grow and improve!

Drop your email below to instantly receive this free guide:

*please consider using a personal email address as strong school filters often block emails

I hope the information and resources I have shared today help to build your knowledge and allow you to lead with confidence as you embark on your Science of Reading journey!

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