Applying the Science of Reading Principles in Grades 6-12

As a skilled reader, you probably don't consciously process your brain's activity when reading a text, making an online purchase, or enjoying a novel. What is surprising to think about is that unlike spoken language, which is innate, humans are not born with the ability to read. Reading is a cultural phenomenon that has emerged recently. It was not until after the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s that large numbers of the population in many countries learned to read. The teaching of reading is based on scientifically proven methods, otherwise known as the science of reading. Since teaching in grades 6-12 becomes more targeted to specific content, some consider explicit reading instruction an English teacher’s job. However, reading instruction is necessary for students to interact with texts in all subjects successfully.

Several effective strategies can be employed to enhance reading comprehension and skill mastery and provide aid to those who may struggle with reading, regardless of the subject matter being studied. By implementing these proven methods, readers can improve their understanding and retention of the material, ultimately achieving greater academic and professional success.


Language is power, and words have power. Students enter the classroom with a wide range of vocabulary skills and knowledge. To successfully comprehend challenging texts, students must have abundant vocabulary knowledge. Suppose a student is not an inherent reader and does not have a breadth of vocabulary exposure prior to a lesson or a reading of a complex text. In that case, a teacher can boost vocabulary instruction by offering explicit instruction of essential vocabulary in the unit of study along with general academic vocabulary. Activities to boost vocabulary can include the following.

  • Encourage students to use and apply vocabulary words in their everyday lives.
  • Have students create a short story, write a song, or act out a skit using their learned words.
  • Strike up a Pictionary game with the words from class.
  • Create opportunities for students to conduct research and exploration regarding key vocabulary. They can look up words to find synonyms, examples, pictures, and additional information to further their understanding of the vocabulary word.
  • Get students to keep a vocabulary log where they record words and student-friendly definitions along with drawings and examples of what the word is and what the word is not.

Background Knowledge

“Anyone who’s ever scratched their head over their car manual or struggled to parse a website’s terms of service knows: It’s hard to read about a topic you don’t really understand.” - Sarah Schwartz, 2023

One's background knowledge refers to information about a particular subject. This knowledge is obtained through exposure and experiences related to a topic. To expand one's background knowledge, reading diverse genres, listening to various media sources, and engaging in discussions on multiple subjects are helpful. Having a rich background knowledge assists students of all ages and reading abilities comprehend a text thoroughly. Students' reading comprehension improves when they apply prior knowledge (Starke, 2021). Stimulate additional text comprehension by accessing background knowledge before and during reading a text. Also, provide opportunities for students to boost their background knowledge in response to a text. Encourage students to access and build background knowledge by trying the following activities.

  • Use videos, outside texts, images, and tangible objects to assist students in making connections or building new knowledge.
  • Encourage students to reflect on their personal experiences by asking open-ended questions.
  • Assess what students already know about a topic and encourage them to share their knowledge with one another.
  • Provide opportunities for research and exploring additional texts across the content.
  • Create experiences for them to explore content and ideas with scavenger hunts, online museums and tours, hearing discourse from outside people, presentations, and field trips.

Verbal Reasoning

According to Braintrust Tutors (2023), verbal reasoning refers to how our brains interpret and comprehend written text. The term "verbal" pertains to words. Our ability to reason and solve problems works together with verbal reasoning. Essentially, verbal reasoning involves using words as clues to unravel the meaning behind the written text.

When we read, we can sometimes gather hidden meanings from the words on the page. This is called making an inference, and it involves drawing conclusions based on the information we have. Inferences often require us to read between the lines. We make inferences all the time in our daily lives. For example, if someone slams a door, we might infer that they are upset about something. Similarly, if we've been inside a building all day and see someone walk in with a wet umbrella and coat, we might infer that it's raining outside. The below activities are designed to help bolster student inference-making skills in and out of the classroom.

  • Work with short videos in the classroom. Ask open-ended questions that require students to use critical thinking and inferences. Draw their attention to the process for making inferences; that they are using what they know, combined with the context clues to make conclusions.
  • Have them diagram/annotate a picture. They can draw lines to what they see and observe and explain them in the margins. Then, they can draw lines off of the visual cue explanations for what they infer or conclude based on the details of the image.
  • Show them art or photographs with people included. Have them use sticky notes to make thought bubbles to stick next to people’s heads. Have them present or explain why they wrote what they did in the thought bubble.
  • Word association games. Give students a word and have them write as many associations as possible in response to the word in a limited amount of time. Have students compare lists and see who came up with the most original individual words.

Literacy Knowledge

Literacy knowledge involves understanding how printed language conveys meaning, including print concepts, structures, and elements in various genres for different purposes. A student's literacy knowledge grows as they progress through life. To enhance their literacy skills, students must engage in various literary genres, analyze them critically, and concurrently cultivate their writing abilities. By immersing themselves in various forms of literature, students can expand their vocabulary, improve their comprehension, and gain a deeper understanding of the writing craft. By analyzing the works of other writers, students can identify literary techniques, themes, and motifs that they can apply to their own writing. Students seeing themselves as writers facilitate their developing a passion for reading and writing, fostering self-confidence, creativity, and a sense of ownership over one's literary voice.

Reach for cross-curricular texts to pair with the main text in the lesson and/or unit.

  • Oral texts include stories told verbally, skits, speeches, podcasts, and poetry reading.
  • Examples of visual texts are illustrations and photos.
  • Written text includes novels, short stories, and articles.
  • Digital texts are reading any of the above on a screen.

Understanding the concepts mentioned above is essential to promote effective reading skills for all students. As teachers, we can use the knowledge gained from the science of reading to create better dynamic strategies for comprehension and engagement for our students. Educators lean on the science of reading because it is research-based and has been proven as best practice in supporting students with difficult texts. Hence, it is crucial for teachers to have a clear understanding of the science of reading so that it can be effectively applied within the classroom.

Looking to expand your knowledge of the science of reading? Check out the Professional Development Institute (PDI) website or explore our Science of Reading course for Grades K-5 or our Applying the Science of Reading Principles in the Content Areas for grades 6-12. PDI has been offering quality online professional development courses to K-12 educators for over 27 years and provided training to over 345,000 teachers across the globe. Our courses are designed to be affordable, high-quality, and university-approved. They focus on the most relevant education topics and offer practical strategies to implement immediately in the classroom. All of our courses are taught by instructors online and are at the graduate level. Plus, we offer university credit through the University of California Division of Extended Studies. With a vast catalog of courses on critical topics for today's classrooms, PDI has got you covered.


Braintrust Tutors. (2023). Components of the Reading Rope: Verbal Reasoning. Retrieved 18 Sept. 2023 from

Schwartz, Sarah. (2023, January 30). What Is Background Knowledge and How Does It Fit Into the Science of Reading? Education Week. Retrieved 18 Sept. 2023

Starke, Katheryn. (2021, April 19). The Importance of Background Knowledge in Understanding Text. Teach Hub. Retrieved 18 Sept. 2023

Categories: science of reading, teaching strategies

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