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Thank You for Your Interest in our Free Guide –

The Science of Reading

A Guide to Research on How the Brain Reads

Do You Know How Reading Works?


3 Skills

That You Might Not Know Are Important to Reading
(and How to Build Them)


Cross-Out List
Avoid these Debunked Common 
Classroom Practices

The science of reading is the interdisciplinary body of research on the cognitive, biological, linguistic, and social-emotional processes involved in how reading works. Take this quiz to see how much of the basics of the science of reading you already know.

Working Memory

Slow readers often reread passages because by the time they reach the end, they’ve forgotten what the previous paragraph said.

Working memory is different from simple memorization. When children memorize sight words, as well as the sounds for letters and letter combinations, they use one of the most primitive and, from an evolutionary perspective, oldest parts of the brain: the hippocampus. The hippocampus stores memories and acts like a file clerk accessing different brain regions to retrieve them.

When children learn phonics, on the other hand, they exercise their working memory, which is a higher-order skill. Working memory involves the pre-frontal cortex, which is a later-maturing, higher-level region in the brain that involves executive functions allowing children to develop memory strategies and systems. Phonological working memory, specifically, is essential for phonics and decoding.

Auditory Processing

Slow auditory processing, or when the brain can’t process sounds quickly, can make phonemic awareness difficult.

Phonics is based on the ability to distinguish the internal details of words, to be able to figure out the letters that go along with the phonemes (sounds) heard. For some children, this task is especially difficult when they struggle with auditory processing. Students who cannot decipher small changes in sound will inevitably struggle to learn phonics.

Most reading instruction assumes auditory processing has been fully developed when educators begin to teach phonics. However, this assumption can be wrong; frequent ear infections or auditory processing disorders can impact a child’s ability to process sounds. English language learners also struggle to distinguish similar-sounding phonemes when their native language has not wired their brains to process such sounds.

Background Knowledge

Background knowledge isn’t supplemental to reading achievement—it is required.