Action Step and Orientation

SBI 3A. Provide evidence-based reading instruction.

Action Step SBI 3 calls for you and your team to ensure that all students have access to engaging and evidence-based reading instruction.

Part 1 discusses evidence-based reading instruction and the five components of reading.

Part 2 discusses effective core reading programs and reading interventions for struggling students.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—Evidence-based Reading Instruction

What does it mean for reading instruction to be evidence based? The terms evidence based, research based, and scientifically based are often used by educators and publishers. They all have slightly different meanings. Evidence-based reading instruction is instruction that is based on rigorous experimental research that is repeatedly conducted in actual classrooms.

As educators, you and your team want to know if your investments in a particular product (such as a core reading program) or practice (such as explicit vocabulary instruction) will pay off. Will it be effective for your students? Answering this question can be difficult, however. How do you and your team determine the practices that are evidence based and those that are not?

There are many resources that can guide you and your team in answering this question. For example, the What Works Clearinghouse provides publications on various literacy topics. The site also includes a tool to “Find What Works” on many educational topics. Also, many core reading programs will describe the primary research conducted about their program. You and your team can review this primary research. When doing so, you can decide if the research indicates how effective the core reading program is. If no research is referenced, it is possible that no research has been done on that particular core reading program. More information about reviewing and evaluating core reading programs and instructional practices can be found in the To Learn More section at the end of Part 2.

The five components of reading instruction

Regardless of the program your campus uses, evidence-based reading instruction includes explicit teaching of these five critical components: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. These five components are interrelated. Instruction in one area builds on others, supporting students’ abilities to read. Phonological awareness and phonics instruction support students’ ability to decode, or sound out, new words. Knowing what words mean (vocabulary) is necessary for comprehension, the ultimate goal of reading. Decoding and comprehension are linked together through fluency, the ability to read with ease. The connections among these five components are seen in the puzzle graphic below.

TSLP graphic

(Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, 2013b)

Next, you will find a summary of each of these five components of reading instruction.

Phonological awareness (PA) means having an understanding of each of the skills on this continuum, from simple to complex:

TSLP graphic

(Adapted from Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, 2007)

Phonological awareness includes the understanding that spoken language is divided into smaller parts. It is also the knowledge of how those pieces can be manipulated. For example, sentences can be broken into words, words into syllables, and syllables into phonemes (sounds).

Because letters represent sounds (phonemes), phonological awareness creates a foundation for decoding skills. Sometimes phonological awareness is confused with phonics, but the important thing to remember is that phonological awareness is an oral skill.

Students should master phonological awareness by the end of first grade. However, students in grade 2 and above who are struggling with reading might benefit from targeted intervention instruction in phonological awareness skills. It is critical to use data to determine what specific skills students need to work on. More information about phonological awareness instruction, including specific strategies for phonological awareness instruction in kindergarten through grade 5, can be found on the Phonological Awareness component card, one of five cards from Effective Reading Instruction (Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, 2013a). The others are linked below as well.

Phonics instruction enables students to understand the relationships between written letters (graphemes) and sounds (phonemes). Sometimes educators refer to knowledge about phonics as graphophonemic knowledge. While phonological awareness is an oral skill, understanding phonics relates to reading written language.

With systematic and explicit phonics instruction, students learn to use sound-letter relationships to recognize words quickly and accurately. As this process becomes automatic, students experience less difficulty with reading comprehension. In other words, being able to automatically recognize words allows students to focus their cognitive energy on comprehension.

Phonics instruction also supports writing skills. A strong understanding of phonics supports students’ spelling and their ability to write with ease. More information about phonics instruction, including specific strategies for instruction, can be found on the Phonics component card.

It is also important to consider the differences between English and the native languages of English learners. For example, Spanish words have a one-to-one phonetic correspondence. In other words, most Spanish sounds have one graphophonemic, or spelling, representation. On the other hand, most sounds in English are represented by several graphophonemic representations. In different words, for example, the /f/ sound is represented by the letter f or groups of letters such as ph or gh in English. English learners need to learn how the English language works, including the sound and spelling systems. It is helpful for teachers to be knowledgeable about the languages students speak at home to be able to point out similarities and differences between English and their students’ native languages.

Oral reading fluency is the ability to read text with ease, accuracy, and proper expression and intonation. Fluency develops with repeated practice reading and the modeling of fluent reading. When students read with fluency, they can focus their attention on comprehending text rather than on decoding. Increased fluency also assists students in reading increasingly longer texts. It is important to remember that fluency is not mutually exclusive of other reading skills. Fluency is a skill that develops over time as a result and synthesis of multiple related skills.

The basic components of fluency

  • Accuracy – being able to decode words correctly
  • Rate – how quickly a student can read words
  • Prosody – reading with correct intonation and expression
  • Chunking – being able to break text into meaningful phrases or statements

More information about fluency instruction, including specific strategies for phonics instruction, can be found on the Fluency component card.

Vocabulary knowledge refers to understanding the meaning and use of words in speaking, listening, and print. Print vocabulary knowledge enables students to understand the meaning of words they read.

Academic vocabulary refers to the key concepts and words used in academic discussions, both written and spoken. A firm grasp of academic vocabulary is necessary to acquire deeper understandings of content. In turn, academic vocabulary enables students to communicate these understandings to others. Because of this, vocabulary instruction should go beyond providing students with definitions of words (Gottlieb, Carnuccio, Ernst-Slavit, Katz, & Snow, 2006). Academic vocabulary instruction should help students understand the complexities of words and how to use them in various situations.

Academic vocabulary

“It gives students the empowerment they need to be successful in academic settings. With academic language instruction, students will more likely succeed and go on to higher education.” (Reading Rockets, n.d.)

More information about effective academic vocabulary instruction can be found in Lesson SBI 2—Teaching academic language and on the Vocabulary component card.

Comprehension is reading text and understanding what is read. Vocabulary knowledge is essential for comprehension, as is fluency. Reading comprehension can be developed through a variety of activities including explicit instruction in comprehension strategies. It is common to assume that upper elementary students already know how to read; however, many of these students may especially benefit from comprehension instruction. More information about comprehension instruction, along with specific strategies for students in kindergarten through grade 5, can be found on the Comprehension component card.

Teaching students how to read with comprehension and fluency is not an easy task. However, it is one of the most important skills that students obtain in school. Increasingly, we live in a society that requires its members to be effective readers. Today, reading skills are an essential part of almost all jobs. Your staff can empower students by teaching them evidence-based comprehension strategies and developing their reading skills.

Interrelated language skills

“Nobody but a reader ever became a writer.” – Richard Peck

The five components of reading instruction also connect to students’ writing, speaking, and listening skills. Effective readers are more likely to be effective writers, speakers, and listeners. Each of these skills requires knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure. In academic tasks, they also require reasoning, critical thinking, and drawing on background knowledge. Finally, each of these sets of skills draws on the effective use of strategies that are outlined in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and should be explicitly taught and purposefully practiced in class. Because these skills are interconnected, there are powerful advantages to integrating instruction in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

The integration of reading and writing instruction does not, however, preclude the need to provide struggling students with support that is targeted to their specific needs. These students should receive both instruction that integrates the four language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and support in particular areas of need within any of those skills, such as reading or writing.

icon for Learning more

TO LEARN MORE: To learn more about the five components of evidence-based reading instruction, you and your staff may find these resources helpful:

The “Red Book Series” is comprised of foundational information about reading instruction. You can download each book:

Red Book Series, Book 1: Beginning Reading Instruction

Red Book Series, Book 2: Comprehension Instruction

Red Book Series, Book 3: Guidelines for Examining Phonics & Word Recognition

Red Book Series, Book 4: Research-Based Content Area Reading Instruction

Red Book Series, Book 5: Promoting Vocabulary Development

The report “A Focus on Fluency” also contains a detailed explanation of the five components of effective reading instruction

Part 2—Core Reading Programs and Reading Interventions

Teaching reading is a complex endeavor! Because reading is not a skill that is developed naturally like walking or speaking, it requires careful instruction and scaffolded support. Using an evidence-based core reading program can help you and your team ensure that all students receive the careful instruction they need.

A core reading program is the primary reading curriculum teachers use for reading instruction. Sometimes this program is referred to as the basal reader. Often a core reading program is purchased as a package by the school district.

An effective core reading program includes

  • explicit teaching of the five components of reading instruction (as discussed in Part 1), breaking them down into smaller components as necessary;
  • at least 90 minutes daily of uninterrupted instruction;
  • differentiated instruction to ensure that all students’ needs are met;
  • flexible grouping strategies, including small-group instruction, to help enhance differentiation and intensity of instruction;
  • extensive opportunities for practice and discussion both with and without teacher support and feedback; and
  • monitoring and response to students’ progress to ensure that all students master critical skills and content.

An evidence-based core reading program will integrate these elements of reading instruction and provide the structure, materials, and guidance on sequence and pacing so that students receive explicit instruction in the five components of effective reading instruction at the appropriate time in their development and with time to practice those reading skills on a daily basis. Rigorous research shows that 90 minutes of daily, uninterrupted reading instruction provides adequate time for explicit instruction, multiple opportunities to practice, and immediate and corrective feedback. It is difficult to provide the effective reading instruction that students need in less than 90 minutes per day.

The Texas State Literacy Plan (TSLP) calls on schools to evaluate their core reading program to ensure it is evidence based and the state standards are fully met. You will find some resources to help with this in the To Learn More section at the end of Part 2. The goal of evaluating the core reading program is to identify where supplementation is needed to provide evidence-based reading instruction and meet the state standards. Supplementary materials should also be evaluated for alignment with research.

Evidence-based reading programs need to be used with fidelity, meaning they should be implemented the way they were designed to be used. All teachers should participate in training on the use of their reading programs; such training may be available through the publisher. Teachers may need professional development in other areas to successfully implement standards-based literacy instruction. Here are some areas in which your staff may need support:

  • Understanding and using evidence-based literacy instruction (such as the five components of reading)
  • Understanding the English (and Spanish) Language Arts and Reading TEKS
  • Providing explicit instruction
  • Using supplementary materials to support evidence-based instruction

Reading interventions

On your campus, explicit evidence-based literacy instruction using an effective core reading program should lead to reading success for most students. However, a small group of students may still struggle. These students may need additional support beyond what they receive in regular classroom instruction.

For these students, more intensive and targeted instruction delivered in small groups can be effective. This may mean that a classroom teacher provides a small group of struggling students an intervention on phonological awareness. This intervention should have more explicit instruction, more opportunities to practice, and more immediate and corrective feedback than typical classroom instruction, and it should be beyond the normal small-group work provided to these students during core reading instruction.

Within the response to intervention (RTI) model, the core reading instruction discussed so far is Tier I instruction, the foundational instruction provided to all students. When core reading instruction is of the highest quality, few students need intervention. Intervention is not the solution to a lack of effective core (Tier I) instruction.

The struggling students mentioned above need more than what was provided in Tier I, not just a repeat of Tier I instruction. Below are summaries of the key factors to consider when looking at the Tier II and Tier III reading interventions provided at your campus. More detailed information about this topic can be found in Lesson E1—Data to inform instruction and Lesson E2—Tier I literacy instruction module.

Tier II reading interventions

Tier II instruction is supplemental and is provided in addition to core reading instruction (Tier I) rather than in place of it. Evidence-based Tier II interventions provide more opportunities for modeling, scaffolding, practice, and feedback than typical classroom instruction. The classroom teacher or a specialist typically provides small groups of 5–8 students with Tier II intervention instruction by pulling them from classes (McInerney & Elledge, 2013).

The specific number of students in each group and the amount of time spent in intervention can be flexible. What is most important is that students receive more intensive explicit instruction in their areas of need with a low student-to-teacher ratio. Lower student-to-teacher ratios enable teachers to provide students more individualized and immediate feedback.

Tier II interventions are important as they give you and your staff a powerful way to intervene early, before reading problems become severe. Tier II interventions are intended to be targeted and relatively short term. For example, a first-grade student may begin falling behind her peers in phonological awareness. This student would benefit from a targeted six-week intervention on phonological awareness (e.g., sentence segmentation, syllables, onsets, and rimes). To evaluate whether the intervention is effective, her progress can be monitored every few weeks.

When implemented effectively, most students will respond well to the intervention and catch up with their peers. In these cases, students can discontinue participation in Tier II interventions. More information about Tier II interventions can be found in Lesson E3—Tier II intervention.

Tier III reading interventions

At times, frequent and strategic small-group interventions (Tier II) do not meet students' needs. These students may need interventions that are even more targeted, intensive, and individualized. Tier III interventions are highly specialized and intensive interventions for students who have not responded to Tier II interventions. These interventions should be provided in place of Tier II interventions and in addition to core reading instruction (Tier I).

Tier III interventions should be delivered daily in very small, homogeneous groups of 1–3 students for about 45–60 minutes. Students’ progress should be monitored weekly. Monitoring progress closely will help determine how and when to provide more intensive intervention (McInerney & Elledge, 2013). When conducting Tier III interventions, it is extremely important for a student’s core classroom teacher and interventionist to communicate about the alignment of content and the student’s progress. For more information on Tier III reading interventions, please refer to Lesson E4—Tier III intervention.

Interventions for English learners

The specific skills students need to master to become effective readers are similar for native English speakers and for English learners (ELs). Struggling readers, no matter their native language, benefit from more explicit instruction with intentional scaffolds, in smaller groups, and closer progress monitoring. Language interventions for ELs can include targeted skills such as phonological awareness, letter-sound recognition, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. When making decisions about the intervention needs of ELs, remember to review native language literacy data whenever possible. Skills developed in a native language may not need intensive intervention; rather, ELs can benefit from explicit instruction in how their native language is similar to and different from English (Kamps et al., 2007; Gersten & Geva, 2003). For more information about reading and intervention instruction for English learners, see the series of briefs in the To Learn More section below.

icon for Learning more

TO LEARN MORE: For more information on reviewing and evaluating a core reading program, you and your team may want to consider reviewing the following resources:

The Center on Instruction has a professional development module designed to guide educators through the process of reviewing a core reading program and evaluating its alignment to evidence-based practices.

The Center on Teaching and Learning at the University of Oregon has an excellent guide on the same topic: Consumer's Guide to Evaluating a Core Reading Program Grades K–3: A Critical Elements Analysis.

The following briefs were developed by Cohort 5 of the Model Demonstration Coordination Center and focus on implementing effective multitiered instructional frameworks for ELs:

Brief 1: Meeting the Needs of English Learners Through a Multitiered Instructional Framework

Brief 2: Assessment and Data-Based Decision-Making

Brief 3: Core and Supplemental English as a Second Language Literacy Instruction for English Learners

Brief 4: Core and Supplemental Biliteracy Instruction for English Learners

Brief 5: Professional Development to Support a Multitiered Instructional Framework

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on the progress of your campus in providing evidence-based reading instruction, you may want to consider the following next steps:

  • Identify and evaluate existing reading practices on your campus, including interventions.
  • Assess staff needs and develop a professional development plan to support evidence-based reading practices.
  • Review the existing core reading program and identify areas for supplementation.
  • Incorporate follow-up support into your professional development plan.


SBI 3. Provide evidence-based reading instruction.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step SBI 3 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings K–5

In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:

  • Refer to Part 1 for information about evidence-based reading instruction, including the five components of reading.
  • Refer to Part 2 for a review of the components of effective core reading programs and of interventions for struggling readers.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.


Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. (2007). Phonemic awareness instruction. Houston, TX: Author.

Gersten, R., & Geva, E. (2003). Teaching reading to early language learners. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 44–49.

Gottlieb, M., Carnuccio, L., Ernst-Slavit, G., Katz, A., & Snow, M. (2006). PreK–12 English language proficiency standards. Chicago, IL: United Graphics Incorporated.

Kamps, D., Abbott, M., Greenwood, C., Arreaga-Mayer, C., Wills, H., Longstaff, J., . . . Walton, C. (2007). Use of evidence-based, small-group reading instruction for English language learners in elementary grades: Secondary-tier intervention. Learning Disability Quarterly, 30, 153–168.

McInerney, M., & Elledge, A. (2013). Using a response to intervention framework to improve student learning. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research, Center on Response to Intervention.

Reading Rockets (Interviewer) & Scarcella, R. (Interviewee). (n.d.). Transcript from an interview with Dr. Robin Scarcella [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from

Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. (2013a). Effective reading instruction. Austin, TX: Author.

Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. (2013b). Phonological awareness. Austin, TX: Author.