Early Literacy

Supporting Struggling Elementary-Aged Readers using the Science of Reading

Chicago Public Library and San Francisco Public Library staff shared some great insights into the Science of Reading during Wednesday morning’s #PLA2024 session. I had heard of Decodable Books and the Science of Reading, but I didn’t really understand what the excitement was all about until today.

The five components of reading are Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension (Sound familiar? Perhaps you remember Print Motivation, Print Awareness, Vocabulary, Narrative Skills, Letter Knowledge, and Phonological Awareness as the first generation of Every Child Ready to Read!).

Reading can be simplified into Word Recognition + Language Comprehension.

Word Recognition is Phonological Awareness (hearing individual sounds within a word), then Decoding (sounding out words), and finally Sight Recognition (over time your brain recognizes words rather than having to sound them out).

Language Comprehension on the other hand is all about understanding what the words mean. It’s made up of Background Knowledge (learning about the world), Vocabulary (knowing the meaning of words), Grammar (how language is structured), Verbal Reasoning (responding out loud to what you read), and Literacy Knowledge (understanding how books work).

Chicago Public Library branded their new Science of Reading initiative as “Jump Into Reading: The Reading Rope” (to go along with researcher Scarborough’s Reading Rope).

I found it especially interesting how CPL chose to level their phonics/decodable books. They categorize and shelve them based on which of these six types of words are included:

  1. CVC: consonant-vowel-consonant words (DOG, HAT, MOP, BED, etc.)
  2. Blends and Digraphs: individual letter sounds blended (TRIP, CLAP, SENT, POST) and two letters forming one sound (SHIP, MATCH)
  3. Silent E: words that end in ‘e’ that make the inner vowel say its name (MAKE, WISE, TUBE, HOPE)
  4. R-Controlled: bossy ‘r’ takes over and makes the vowel make a new sound (CAR, FUR, BIRD, WORM, COVER)
  5. Vowel Teams/Diphthongs: vowels work together to form one sound (EACH, BOAT, COW, SAY)
  6. Multi-Syllabic: words with multiple syllables, often prefixes and suffixes (MUFFIN, SWIMMER, EATING)

I love their How to Use Decodable Books handout, especially the Decodable Book Selection Tool. Learn more about what they’re doing here.

Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Levin
Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Levin

San Francisco Public Library has a much more structured program, training tutors in a curriculum based version of the Science of Reading and the principles of Orion Gillingham, and offering free tutoring to students. They call the program FOG Readers (Free Orion Gillingham Readers). I found this system a bit more complicated and difficult to understand, but they seem to have five levels:

  1. Letter sound, blends, syllable types & patterns
  2. Vowel teams, decoding affixes
  3. Vowel teams, Latin affixes, contractions
  4. Vowel teams, root words
  5. Silent letters, fluency & comprehension

I’m definitely going to be purchasing more decodable books and phonics beginning readers for my collection when I get back home!


Jocelyn Levin, MLIS (she/her), has been the Youth and Teen Services Librarian at the Lyon Township Public Library since 2016. She has worked as a children’s and teen librarian across southeast Michigan for the past 19 years. She is excited to be presenting a session at PLA for the first time and will be sharing details about the MiLibraryQuest, an online teen scavenger hunt that librarians across Michigan created in 2020, so wish her luck on Thursday morning! When she isn’t at work, she spends time gardening and testing out new library craft projects.


This post addresses ALSC Core Competency: VII.2: Professionalism and Professional Development. Stays informed of current trends, emerging technologies, issues, and research in librarianship, child development, early and family literacy, education, and allied fields.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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