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Leveraging ‘The Big 5 of Reading’ in the Elementary Classroom—Part 2

Updated on
Modified on June 22, 2023
  • Elementary
  • Reading

Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is Part 2 of a discussion about “The Big 5 of Reading” components and instruction, including:

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics/Advanced Word Study
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension

Today’s blog focuses on fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension

Establishing research-based and research-validated routines is shown to help teachers and students find their way in the classroom.

With practiced, predictable instruction, teachers and students know what to expect and can build upon daily lessons toward true success. Like watching your favorite TV show, this sense of familiarity is enjoyable and effective.

As highlighted in Part 1 of this blog, author John Hattie’s work provides quantifiable insights into the value of explicit, systematic instruction, like that used in presenting “The Big 5” critical reading components—phonemic awareness, phonics/advanced word study, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Today, we continue our look at the importance of “The Big 5.”


Specifically designed to incorporate all research findings for effective fluency instruction. Teachers model appropriate reading rates and expression. Students repeatedly read passages aloud with feedback and support to improve their reading rate. Timed readings motivate and challenge students to improve their fluency while monitoring their own progress.


Research-based content and practice related to word association, structural and context clues, and multiple meanings are available. Active learning through teacher/student discussions enhances the lessons. Vocabulary instruction is addressed both directly and indirectly as the research suggests. A carefully planned sequence of word introduction is skillfully meshed with read-alouds, student passage reading, comprehension activities, and text discussions. This design allows repeated exposure to new vocabulary in a variety of contexts using oral and written language.

High-utility words are identified for instruction. These words are incorporated in read-aloud stories and discussions with students to extend the meanings of the words taught. Discussion points and questions allow students to examine new words while also connecting these words and concepts to their prior knowledge. Additionally, the newly taught words are repeated throughout the week in daily stories to allow ample practice while providing different contexts to reinforce learning and clarify word meanings.

Strategies include direct teaching of word meanings, identification of unknown words, reading target words in passages for context clues, and discussing word meanings along with passage meanings. In the upper grades, students work on specific topics like descriptive words and dictionary use. They learn prefixes, suffixes, and common roots to expand vocabulary knowledge. In each lesson, new word meanings are directly taught, practice opportunities are provided, contextual uses of the words are identified, and words are utilized in passages, allowing for integrated discussion of word and passage meanings.


Utilizes the most effective research-based comprehension instruction at all grade levels, prioritizing those skills with the largest effect size such as classroom discussion (effect size = 0.82) (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2016). Numerous opportunities exist for targeted discussion and activities related to gaining comprehension. By teaching critical strategies for understanding text, teachers give struggling readers tools they need to read grade-level texts. This focuses on the skills most struggling readers lack, teaching them with intensity and deliberation as well as providing ample practice to close the gap between struggling readers and their classmates.

The combination of read-alouds and accessible text provides an appropriate blended format for teaching comprehension instruction. Students often choral read with their teacher, and then retell the story in their own words. As students gain facility with listening comprehension and begin reading more difficult text, reading comprehension becomes the main focus. The comprehension strategies are explicitly taught in small, sequential steps and modeled by the teacher. Students then implement and practice strategies with text read by the teacher (listening comprehension) and text read by students (reading comprehension). All comprehension techniques are reviewed frequently so students receive multiple practice opportunities and retain mastery.

Whether it’s laughing at your favorite sitcom for the 100th time, sitting in the same seat at a training three days in a row, or teaching a structured program that contains “The Big 5” to your students, you are bringing peace to yourself and them.

Comprehensive Interventions for Learning Disabled Students have an effect size of .75 (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2016).

Routines, predictability, and direct/explicit instruction are the keys to leveraging “The Big 5 of Reading” in your elementary classroom.

Interested in learning more about John Hattie and his latest book, “Visible Learning for Literacy?” Register now for our EDVIEW 360 webinar, podcast, and blog series and be one of the first to listen to this special podcast.


About the Author
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Lorena Hendricks
Educational Consultant
Lorena Hendricks is an educational consultant for Voyager Sopris Learning® She is responsible for training groups of educators and administrators to enhance student learning in their schools and districts. She also provides in-class coaching and model lessons, data interpretations, training on data management systems, and creating custom trainings for national and district-level presentations. In presenting professional development, Hendricks aims to excite educators about research-based and research-validated programs. She has been a mentor for various interns and new trainers. Prior to working for Voyager Sopris Learning, she taught students from preK to adult. Her students included English language learners with IEPs and adult learners of other languages.
Learn more about Lorena Hendricks