Transform Your Science of Reading Approach with Concept-Based Instruction


concept-based instruction and literacy elements
Students learn rich vocabulary words for science and social studies.

Last week, I talked about the 5 components of “science of reading” you might not be aware of. This week I want to share with you a problem I had, and how concept-based instruction helped me with this problem.  So let’s start with concept-based instruction.

What is concept based instruction?

You may be asking, “What is concept based instruction?” It is when a large percentage of your classroom curriculum is connected by a certain theme or deeper concept. Your vocabulary, reading, and writing are centered around your theme, and when your theme is one of your science or social studies concepts, you get magic! I dabbled in this a bit in my earlier teaching. We had cute themes like teddy bears and the circus,  but it was when my themes and vocabulary words came from our content area units that I saw a real difference.

Concept-based instruction provides your students with countless benefits. Here are just a few. Your students will: (Inspirational Teaching Using Limited Resources)

  • Have fun
  • Be more actively involved
  • Develop learning skills more quickly, as each one is connected to and reinforced by the other
  • Be more confident and better motivated
  • Present fewer discipline problems.

Think about it, you introduce your theme and your students know exactly what they will be learning for that time frame. Imagine asking your students “what are we learning class?” and every single one responds, “citizenship!” or whatever you happen to be learning.

teacher questioning literacy elementsHow would I teach all 5 literacy elements?

So How Does Concept-Based Instruction Connect to Science of Reading?

That’s an amazing question! and the same question I was asking myself. I wanted to know how I could make sure that my students were getting all 5 literacy elements in the Science of Reading framework.

Let’s review what the the literacy elements of science of reading are:

  1. Phonics: Phonics is the relationship between the letters (or letter combinations) in written language and the individual sounds in spoken language. Phonics instruction teaches students how to use these relationships to read and spell words.
  2. Phonemic Awareness: Phonemes are the smallest units making up spoken language, combined to form syllables and words. Phonemic awareness refers to the student’s ability to focus on and manipulate these phonemes in spoken syllables and words.
  3. Vocabulary: Vocabulary development is closely connected to comprehension and refers to words we need to know to communicate with others. The larger the reader’s vocabulary, the easier it is to make sense of the text.
  4. Fluency: Fluency is the ability to read as well as we speak and to make sense of the text without having to stop and decode each word. Fluent readers are able to read orally with appropriate speed, accuracy, and proper expression.
  5. Comprehension: Comprehension is understanding what is read. It is connecting what has been read to what the reader already knows . The process of comprehension is both interactive and strategic. Rather than passively reading text, readers must analyze it, internalize it and make it their own.

How is this educator going to get all these literacy elements in a daily lesson and not spend hours doing it?

What is the best recipe to create successful readers and thinkers year after year in my classroom? Concept-Based Instruction! It has been the key to my success and one of the pillars inside our framework to reach all the different learning styles our students have!

Want to experience this literacy magic for yourself? CLICK HERE to choose your theme and get started!

literacy elements with student reading
Concept-based instruction has helped my students to be successful readers and thinkers.

Vocabulary is the Most Essential Ingredient for Student Fluency

Many kindergarten and first grade teachers do not think about the importance of vocabulary because they are focused on phonics, and rightly so! How many programs out there tell you phonics first? But, with the time crunches we experience as teachers, it can sometimes feel like phonics only.

I know I was one of those teachers, until I realized how many of my English as a Second Language Learners did not know this relevant vocabulary, as well as some of my emergent readers. You can read my story here. I needed vocabulary teaching strategies.

English language learners who experience slow vocabulary development are less able to comprehend text at grade-level than their English-only peers. Such students are likely to perform poorly on assessments in these areas and at risk of being diagnosed as learning disabled(Critical Role of Vocabulary Development). 

Yikes! None of us want that. Concept-Based instruction gave me the idea of putting relatable, sense-oriented words together in a thematic approach. When I say sense-oriented, I mean can they see, feel, touch, taste, or hear it? Or have multiple sensory connections!

I introduced a theme that we were studying in science or social studies at the beginning of the week and the words for vocabulary that go with it. Students discussed these words daily in our morning meeting.

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness That Make Sense To Your Learners

Phonics is the relationship between the letters (or letter combinations) in written language and the individual sounds in spoken language. Phonemic awareness refers to the student’s ability to focus on and manipulate phonemes in spoken syllables and words.

I actually do this every day when we break down the parts of our words, and clap the syllables in morning meeting. This isn’t my complete phonics instruction by any means.  It is just a quick way I like to get some extra practice in. My students always love it because I call them my word detectives or word scientists as they analyze words each day!

kid being word detective for concept-based instruction
My students have so much fun being word detectives when we break words into word features.

When students develop phonemic awareness, it greatly enhances their reading fluency which is a reading “superpower” allowing students to read with speed, accuracy and expression. Reading fluency greatly enhances students’ ability to read with intonation and energy that translates into expressive writing skills. (

My students learn to read the vocabulary words accurately because we read them every day in activities for morning meeting and they look at the word features in these words that they are learning daily. They also use these words in their daily writing, so they get the reading, writing connection.

Because accuracy is a fundamental component of fluency, teachers who work with beginning readers must focus significant amounts of instructional time on basic word recognition and word analysis skills (Pikulski and Chard, 2005). To do this effectively, teachers should provide instruction that presents daily opportunities for students to learn to read words accurately.(readingrockets) 

Guaranteed Reading with Comprehension When You Make This Simple Shift

Reading with comprehension dramatically increased for my students when I started using concept-based instruction for ideas for morning meeting! They had opportunities to discuss our vocabulary and we sang and played morning meeting games using the words. When learning songs that they recite over and over, the words in those songs become the building blocks of students’ vocabulary. They’re engaged by the music, which opens up their brains to receive the information. Think about your favorite jingle…I’m willing to bet it’s been years since you heard it, but you can still sing every word! Now imagine harnessing that power for your science and social studies vocabulary. Amazing.

students holding vocabulary cards
Students are engaged in learning when they are singing and playing vocabulary games.

Why is Music so Magical?

There are so many studies on how music just enters the mind differently. It not only enters, but molds the mind. There is a natural rhythm to everything we say and music is essential to teaching students that internal rhythm.

Children hum and sing constantly, sometimes before they can even talk. Throughout the day children can be heard singing while they work. Teachers are often looking for useful pedagogy that resonates with children and encourages their students to continue to apply what they have learned. Instruction with music brings joy and motivation to learn. Through song they learn to express themselves, learn literacy skills, and about the world around them. While singing, students concentrate, develop listening and speech skills, retain information, visualize, and build their imaginations. (capstone)

When we tap into the benefits of music in our classrooms, our students get even greater enrichment of their learning experiences. More than that, when we use music, not just to entertain but to teach, it greatly increases our students’ ability to learn and to retain essential skills.
Using songs to teach vocabulary, several conditions for teaching stated by Thornbury are met. In lyrics, words usually appear in context, the sound of new words is easily remembered along with the melody of the song and by listening to the song, students are exposed to the new words many times (

Building concept-based instruction into my morning meeting activities has made such a difference, not only in my students, but in my teaching. Having a theme for each week makes it so easy to plan and it ensures a greater impact on my students’ learning. This method of instruction has improved all 5 literacy elements in my classroom, and has done more to strengthen my students’ literacy and language than anything I’ve tried before.

Want to experience this literacy magic for yourself? CLICK HERE to choose your theme and get started!


Have a great week!

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