The Science of Writing: Where to Begin

So much has been researched and written on the topic of research-based strategies for reading, but writing is an area where there has not been a lot of research.There are many methods, strategies, and practices that are useful and several books have been written on the topic.  If you are looking for a place to start, I recommend picking up The Writing Revolution (Hochman and Wexler) and Writing Matters (Van Cleave) for assistance in best practices and strategies.

I know that writing is an area that was my weakest when I first started teaching 14 years ago. My first year of teaching, I dug deep into our curriculum and realized there was not a lot of information provided on how to teach the writing structures for each writing genre. Thankfully, my district provided teachers with writing rubrics. Those were SO helpful as I at least had a goal so I knew where my students were expected to be by the end of the school year.

Lined Writing Paper With Writing

If you are struggling to teach writing, I recommend checking out your school district’s rubrics if they provide them.  Below is a list of ideas that will help you get started rocking your writing instruction.

Start by reviewing the CCSS for your grade level and backwards planning from the end of year expectations.

For those of you looking for some help, here are just a few drops of information along with scaffolds and strategies to use with struggling writers.

1. First identify the writing skills along with the structure for the genre of writing your student/child needs support with. These could be two different things (i.e. capitalization, punctuation, etc. vs. introduction, details, and conclusion). These skills will need to be explicitly taught using a variety of strategies.
2. If your student/child cannot say the sentence, they will likely struggle to write the sentence. I always start off the year with having students say their sentence to myself or a partner. They LOVE sharing their ideas and it gets them very engaged in the learning.
3. Scaffold the writing process by teaching little parts at a time and do not move on with the next step until they have reached mastery.
4. Use a graphic organizer to help students plan and organize their thoughts and ideas.
5. Provide thoughtful feedback through questioning strategies to help guide students/children through the process.
Lined Writing Paper With Words

Writing is a BIG process with many parts. It takes time to create competent writers so be patient and trust the process.

Using Blending Lines in a Structured Literacy Classroom

This year I was blessed to receive some rather intensive training through my school district based in the Science of Reading (Structured Literacy).  It has been life-changing and has helped me make some very positive changes in the delivery of my instruction as well as in my instructional strategies.  One of the great activities I have used for awhile now are blending lines. After receiving this training this year, I learned new and valuable ways in which I could use blending lines with my students.

Blending lines are a strategic and systematic way for students to attend to and practice a newly introduced phonics skill before they begin reading a decodable passage or story with the same skill. I have used blending lines for a few years now and can tell you I have seen my students personally benefit from using them.

But aren’t blending lines just reading a list of words? No! They are much more than just reading a list of words. Their purpose is to have students practice applying their newly learned phonics pattern in isolation and then in text. Not only does this strategy align with CCSS, but it is also a systematic and strategic way for students to practice phonics skills.

Science of Reading Blending Lines

I created these blending lines to align with a logical scope and sequence and hope you will find them very useful in your classroom.

These blending lines are structured in the following way:

Line 1: Minimal pairs. Words move from known word skills to new word skills.

Line 2: New initial sound (new onset/ same rime)

Line 3: New ending sound ( same onset / new rime)

Line 4: Mixed target skill (new skill in various positions)

Lines 5 and 6: Review words

Line 7: Challenge words (word endings and / or compound words)

Lines 8 and 9: Decodable sentences (text)- new skill applied to sentences.

This format allows students to have a scaffold when using word attack strategies with the newly learned phonics skill.

If you are interested in learning more about phonics and research-based strategies, I recommend reading Phonics From A to Z from Wiley Blevins.  There are some AMAZING word lists inside this book that will help you if you need to create or develop anything for your own classroom use.


The Science of Reading and Literacy Centers, Part 3: Leveled Readers

What to Do With Leveled Readers and Other Books

Welcome to my third post about The Science of Reading and Literacy Centers!  If you have questions about what kinds of activities you might have your students complete during center time, you are in the right place.  After you read this post, you will find out why you should not throw out those leveled readers when implementing the Science of Reading in your classroom.

One of the biggest questions you might have is what to do with leveled readers and other books during center time in your classroom.  How can you put these kinds of books to good use?

The first thing I will say is when it comes to books, there is no such thing as a bad book!  The students in my classroom have access to leveled readers, easy readers, beginning chapter books, chapter books, and picture books. I organize my leveled readers by level, my picture books by genre, by topic, and even by author.  The chapter books are also relegated to a special section of my classroom library.  Leveled readers, easy readers, and picture and chapter books are all GREAT ways to provide enrichment and differentiate for all the learners in your classroom. I have never had a class yet who has not benefited from independent reading.
Science of Reading Chapter Books
It’s very important for students to have access to all kinds of books, whether they are picture books, easy readers, or leveled readers.

What to Do With Leveled Readers

Leveled readers do have a structure and text complexity that becomes more advanced as the levels increase. They are somewhat reliable in that students who have developed foundational skills and high-frequency word knowledge can be successful with them. Although leveled readers do not align with The Science of Reading, they can be useful in providing students with practicing fluent reading, reading comprehension, and reading for pleasure.
At the beginning of the year, I recommend assessing students on their foundational reading skills and then following up with progress monitoring throughout the year.  This is a very important step and is what will help you in identifying students in need of support.
Foundational reading skills include:

  • Knowledge of letter names and sounds
  • Ability to segment sounds in words and blend sounds to read words fluently ( move from b-a-t to bat without struggling to think of sounds)
  • Ability to read a variety of high-frequency words (Fry and Dolch are popular lists, but you might also use the lists that come with your curriculum)
  • More advanced readers might have the ability to read beginning and ending blends, vowel teams, digraphs, diphthongs etc.

I use leveled readers in my classroom as a “May Do” activity.  This means that students will read on their own. It’s important to provide books to students that they will be successful with, without any support.  If you do not assess their foundational skills and then use that data to provide appropriate books to your students, they may become frustrated and may not be successful at reading books independently. Always review the books before assigning them to students to ensure they will match the skills each student has.
The Science of Reading and Leveled Readers

When students complete their “Must Do” activities they may choose to read independently.  I allow students to choose 10 books at a time and place them in their book baskets. For students who can blend and segment sounds, read words fluently, and have sufficient high-frequency word knowledge, I provide them with specific levels that they may choose from.

If a student is a struggling reader, I recommend providing those students with your curriculum decodables and other decodables (as needed), like Bob Books, instead of providing leveled readers to students.  You can set up a special basket just for those students with alphabet books or other books that you have already worked on together with students.


All students are permitted to choose books from the picture book section but I save my chapter books for my highest readers who are very fluent, have good comprehension skills, and excellent high-frequency word knowledge.

The Science of Reading and Picture Books

Each group of students has a shopping day, where they may go to the class library and shop for books. Because I have my library organized, I teach the students where to find the books and how to put them away when it is time to trade books out on their next shopping day.

The Importance of Teaching Reading Strategies

It’s important to remember, even with leveled texts, students should be putting to use research-based decoding skills. Just because a student has a leveled reader in their hands, it doesn’t mean they are going to use ineffective strategies. Students will use the strategies you teach them, provided you give them explicit, direct instruction.

Students should not be relying on pictures for clues or guessing what the words might be. Students should be using strategies like:

  • Look at the letters in the word from left to right.
  • Blend the sounds together.
  • Look for parts you know (i.e. letter sounds, vowel teams, digraphs, blends, short vowels, etc.)
  • Break the word into syllables.
  • Cover part of the word. Read this part (i.e. “card” cover the c and the d. Look at the ar. What sound does ar make together? Now, let’s go back and read the first sound. What sound does this letter make?  And so on. Blend the sounds together and then read the whole word).
  • Ask for help.

Additional Activities for Leveled Readers, Easy Readers, and Picture Books

Even if you choose to not have students read books independently, you might choose some of these other activities with leveled readers instead:

  • Find words in the book with the sound-spelling pattern for the week and write those words in a journal.  Draw a picture to go with each word.
  • Use the pictures in the book to write your own story.
  • Use one picture in the book and write a sentence about what you see happening in the picture.
  • Tell a story to a partner about what the book might be about.
  • Read and write one sentence from the book. Create a new story based off of one sentence.

One Final Thought...

This might be more of a reminder than a thought. Make sure when you are providing books for your students or placing your students in groups that you progress monitor. Remember that groups are fluid and skills-based. Students may, and should, move groups when they acquire the necessary skills to move on.


Thanks for joining me! Next up will be some of the Must Do activities I assign to students. Stay tuned!