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 the components of effective English language arts and reading instruction for middle and high school students.

Part 2 discusses features of high-quality, evidence-based instruction in Tiers I, II, and III.

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

Part 1—High-Quality, Evidenced-based Reading Instruction

As secondary leaders, you guide educators in providing explicit and systematic reading instruction that is high quality and evidence based. Students in the middle and high school grades are expected to have already mastered certain fundamental components of reading, such as decoding and fluency skills, and need to develop more advanced academic vocabularies and metacognitive skills in order to comprehend increasingly complex texts.

To achieve this, Action Step 3 asks you to implement evidence-based reading instruction, which is instruction 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 instructional practices (such as explicit vocabulary instruction) will pay off. Will they be effective for your students? To answer this question, leaders need a strong understanding of the fundamental components needed for literacy development. Additionally, they need to stay informed about the latest research on effective literacy instruction so they can continuously refine the campus’s literacy efforts.

Fortunately, there are resources that can guide you and your team in determining the best evidence-based practices to implement. 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. Some Tier I practices and reading intervention programs will describe the primary research conducted about their program. You and your team can review this primary research and can decide if it indicates how effective a program or practice is. If no research is referenced, it is possible that no research has been done on that particular program or practice. More information about using research-based guides in selecting instructional practices can be found in the To Learn More sections at the end of Parts 1 and 2.

In the following sections, you will learn more about the specific components of effective Tier I instruction in English language arts and reading, as well as across content areas. You will learn about the essential components of reading instruction and consider how language skills are interrelated to support literacy development.

The five components of reading instruction

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 (review Lesson SBI 3A—Reading instruction in grade levels K–5 for in-depth descriptions of each of these components).

These five instructional components are critical to reading development in the elementary grades; in secondary contexts, emphasis is on fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, as students are expected to have already mastered basic word-level skills (phonics and phonological awareness). In middle and high school, educators build on students’ fundamental reading skills, and it is important to provide students with opportunities to successfully read independently and to motivate students to engage with increasingly difficult texts. Students need fluency skills, expanded academic vocabularies, and increasingly advanced metacognitive skills to become self-directed, critical readers. Below are summaries of these three components and how they support effective reading instruction.

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


State standards emphasize knowledge and skills in reading fluency up through grade 8. As students encounter diverse and increasingly complex reading texts across content areas, they are expected to adjust their fluency as appropriate. Students who continue to struggle in reading in middle and high school may need explicit, targeted instruction to develop fluency, and previous grade-level skills may need to be revisited as part of your Tiers II and III interventions.

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.

Academic vocabulary development is emphasized across all grade levels in the ELAR TEKS. Students need continuous high-quality, evidence-based vocabulary instruction throughout grades 6–12 in order to access meaning from grade-level content and to use academic language to demonstrate their knowledge.

Vocabulary development will likely be a critical component of supplemental support for students who are struggling, particularly English learners who need explicit and systematic vocabulary instruction to advance in their English language proficiency and to comprehend academic texts.

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 middle and high school students already know how to read; however, many of these students may especially benefit from explicit strategy instruction in reading comprehension. These comprehension strategies include

  • visualizing and creating mental images;
  • making connections and using background knowledge;
  • asking and answering questions while reading;
  • summarizing and determining importance;
  • inferring and predicting information; and
  • monitoring and clarifying their understanding of texts.


Research has shown that explicit instruction of comprehension strategies is particularly effective. This means teachers tell readers the purpose behind the strategies, why and when they would use them, and how to apply the strategies.

Information about explicit instruction of comprehension strategies is described in depth in the next lesson, Lesson SBI 3.B—Reading instruction.

In-depth information about teaching fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension to secondary students can be found in the Effective Instruction for Middle School Students with Reading Difficulties: The Reading Teacher’s Sourcebook.

Interrelated language skills

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

Reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension 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, reading also requires 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.

Effective standards-based language arts and reading instruction uses texts as vehicles for teaching the skills outlined in the ELAR standards. Although teachers—and students—may love the content of what they read, it is important to keep the curricular lens on the reading and language arts skills that students practice and master as they read, discuss, and write about these beloved texts.

Finally, when it comes to struggling students, the integration of reading and writing instruction does not preclude the need to provide support that is targeted to students’ specific needs. Struggling students should receive both: instruction that integrates the four language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) as well as support in particular areas of need within any of these skills, such as reading or writing. Part 2 provides more information about addressing the needs of struggling students through Tiers II and III interventions.

Literacy across content areas

Although critical components of literacy development receive the most instructional emphasis through the English language arts and reading curriculum, students need to be taught how to comprehend texts in each content area. Content-area teachers will most likely need support in providing explicit instruction in reading disciplinary texts such as those in science, social studies, and math. The next lesson, SBI 3.B, provides more information about teaching comprehension across subject areas. Resources are also included in the To Learn More section below.

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

Academic Literacy Instruction for Adolescents: A Guidance Document from the Center on Instruction provides comprehensive recommendations for improving literacy instruction in grades 4–12. It includes sections such as explicit instruction, increasing student motivation and engagement, working with English language learners, and content-based literacy instruction.

Online Course: Bringing Literacy Strategies into Content Instruction: Professional Learning for Secondary-Level Teachers helps participants learn more about evidence-based practices for improving literacy instruction in the content areas. Module 2 focuses on general discussion of research-based vocabulary instruction, and Module 3 contains a general discussion of research-based comprehension instruction.

Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices is a practice guide developed by the Institute of Education Sciences. It presents specific and coherent evidence-based recommendations that educators can use to improve literacy levels among secondary students.

Improving Literacy Instruction in Middle and High Schools: A Guide for Principals from the Center on Instruction provides a framework for improving literacy instruction schoolwide across the content areas.

Part 2—Tier I Reading Instruction and Reading Interventions

Because reading is not a skill that is developed naturally like walking or speaking, it requires careful instruction and scaffolded support. Using evidence-based Tier I practices and targeted interventions can help you and your team ensure that all students receive the careful instruction they need.

Remember, the Texas State Literacy Plan (TSLP) focuses on developing students’ literacy skills through a response to intervention (RTI) instructional framework, so as you and your team improve standards-based instruction, you will want to use the RTI framework to optimize your efforts. That is, you will ensure students’ needs are accurately identified and instructional expectations are met across all tiers. In this part of the lesson, you will learn more about meeting the state standards in Tiers I, II, and III instruction. Keep in mind that information in this section is closely aligned with information in the Effective Instructional Framework (E) component of the TSLP, and it can be useful to review Lesson E2Tier I literacy instruction, Lesson E3—Tier II intervention, and Lesson E4—Tier III intervention.

Tier I English language arts and reading instruction is the core literacy instruction delivered to all students in their English and language arts classes; Tier I serves as the foundation for students’ literacy development as outlined in the ELAR standards. In Tier I, teachers use data to continuously identify students’ literacy needs and address them through evidence-based instructional practices. Professional development to implement standards-based Tier I literacy instruction may include the following topics:

  • Understanding the English (and Spanish) language arts and reading TEKS
  • Understanding and using evidence-based literacy instruction (such as the five components of reading, especially fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension)
  • Providing explicit instruction
  • Using supplementary materials to support evidence-based instruction


Reading interventions

Evidence-based Tier I reading instruction, when delivered effectively, should meet the needs of the majority of your students. However, a small group of students may still struggle. These students may need additional support beyond what they receive in regular English language arts 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 fluency or comprehension strategies. This intervention should be more intensive and targeted to students’ specific needs. The intervention should have more explicit instruction, more opportunities to practice, and more immediate and corrective feedback than typical classroom instruction. It should be beyond the normal small-group work provided to these students during Tier I reading instruction.

Just as in Tier I instruction, fidelity of instruction is critical to effective reading interventions. If a specific program, intervention kit, or instructional practice is used to address the needs of struggling readers, it needs to be implemented with full fidelity; that is, teachers need to implement it as it was designed to be used. Teachers will need formal training on intervention programs being used in Tiers II and III instruction.

Finally, reading interventions should incorporate targeted writing instruction as needed. As you will learn in Lesson SBI 4—Writing instruction, writing is an integral part of literacy development for middle and high school students. You may review that lesson to learn more about writing instruction, identifying students’ needs in writing, and addressing those in all tiers of instruction.

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 the native language, benefit from more explicit instruction with intentional scaffolds, in smaller groups, and closer progress monitoring. ELs may benefit from targeted English language interventions (oral language development) that may also include a focus on 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). You will want to keep all of these specific considerations for ELs in mind as you learn more about Tier II and III interventions below. Also, the To Learn More section at the end of Part 2 provides more resources on evidence-based instruction for ELs.

Tier II reading interventions

Tier II instruction 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 academic problems become more severe. Tier II interventions are intended to be targeted and relatively short term. For example, a 6th-grade student is behind grade level in reading accuracy and fluency. This student would benefit from a targeted six-week intervention. Teachers may need to revisit the ELAR knowledge and skills expected to be mastered in the earlier grades and explicitly target those skills. To evaluate whether the intervention is effective, the student’s 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 the Effective Instructional Framework module, specifically 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 or who have demonstrated a significant achievement gap. These interventions should be provided in place of Tier II interventions and in addition to Tier I English language arts instruction.

Tier III interventions should be delivered daily in very small, homogeneous groups of approximately six students for about 45–60 minutes. Although secondary students may not show rapid gains on formal assessment measures, Tier III interventionists should monitor students’ progress regularly to ensure that instruction is effective. When conducting Tier III interventions, it is extremely important for a student’s English language arts 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.

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TO LEARN MORE: For more information on providing effective reading and language arts instruction within an RTI framework, you and your team may want to consider reviewing the following resources:

The Center on Instruction has a professional development module designed to help educators with the process of choosing core reading programs for students through grade 6 and supplemental or intervention reading programs for students through grade 12.

Response to Intervention for Literacy in Secondary Schools” provides a thorough overview of important considerations when establishing secondary Tier II intervention.

Effective Instruction for Adolescent Struggling Readers – Second Edition, a professional development module from the Center on Instruction, gives a detailed description of evidence-based practices for reading intervention.

Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School, a practice guide published by the Institute of Education Sciences, gives detailed guidance about effective strategies for ELs, as well as reading interventions for ELs.

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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 ELAR curriculum and identify areas for supplementation.



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 6-12

As you complete 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 Tier I instruction 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.


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 Reading Rockets website:

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