This post is published with permission from Amplify, the Core Knowledge Foundation’s publishing partner for the Core Knowledge Language Arts® (CKLA) program. The blog’s author, Stephanie Chang, highlights Byrd Avenue Primary School and their success with building knowledge with students through CKLA.


Walk through the halls of Byrd Avenue Primary School on any given day, and you’ll be surprised by some of the conversations the kindergartners are having. You might overhear them chatting about ancient civilization, or exactly how the sandwiches they ate at lunch are digested by their bodies.

“You’d think kindergartners wouldn’t be interested in Mesopotamia, but they love it,” says Debbie Jenkins, elementary curriculum and instruction supervisor of Byrd Avenue’s district, Bogalusa City Schools in Louisiana. “They’re just like little sponges, taking in all of this information and absorbing it.”

The reading and language arts program that introduced these topics to the children is Core Knowledge Language Arts®, or CKLA, which works to develop world knowledge as well as word knowledge to create successful readers.

At Byrd Avenue Primary School, which serves grades K-2, 93 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The students often have issues with comprehension because of their lack of background or world knowledge, Jenkins says. As a result, as they get to the upper grades, they often know how to read the words but don’t understand their meaning, she says.

“Other than a few charter schools, we were the only public school district in the state of Louisiana to implement CKLA. We took a leap of faith, and it totally paid off.”

Jenkins followed the work of E.D. Hirsch Jr., chief architect of CKLA, for many years before Bogalusa implemented the program last year.

“Hirsch believes that comprehension problems stem from a knowledge problem,” Jenkins says, “and we needed a program to help build world knowledge as well as foundational reading skills. Other than a few charter schools, we were the only public school district in the state of Louisiana to implement CKLA. We took a leap of faith, and it totally paid off.”

The difference the program has made in students’ language arts skills has been unbelievable, Jenkins says. The year before implementing CKLA, 88 to 89 percent of Bogalusa’s kindergartners hit the reading benchmark; after implementing it, the number jumped to 95 percent. First-grade percentages jumped from the 60s to the 80s, Jenkins says.

“Each year, the curriculum builds on what they learned the previous year. So we’re building a foundation of knowledge at the youngest age,” she says.

The state of Louisiana has since placed CKLA on its “Tier 1” list of curricular resources for ELA and literacy. As for Bogalusa, because of its success with the program in K-2 last year, the district expanded its implementation to grades 3-5 this school year.

“We are expecting wonderful results in those grades as well,” Jenkins says. “We know now that we took the right leap of faith with CKLA, and I continue to be one of E.D. Hirsch’s biggest fans.”


20 comments on “Developing Strong Readers by First Building Knowledge”

  1. 1
    Kristi Barnes on January 24, 2018

    I have found it to be true that children are interested in the world, both things that are near and familiar to them, as well as far away and strange to them. In fact, I find that there is very little that cannot be made interesting to kids. So it seems strange that as a teacher I am continually trying to find ways to make the curriculum interesting and engaging to my students. For years in my district, we were directed to teach our adopted curriculum “to fidelity.” Now that we are teaching the Common Core Standards, we can use district curriculum or any other material to help students reach the standards. This feels freeing as a classroom teacher and opens up the ability to choose rich content-based literature to teach standards. I can teach more history, geography, and science. I agree that when students have content knowledge, they will comprehend more, and be more likely to produce clear and coherent writing. The pieces that I still feel is missing in my public school is the systematic teaching of social studies and science that continues to build year to year, and the fact that the given curriculum for K-5 social studies never moves beyond the United States. For students to grow into world citizens, they should begin learning about the world outside our borders before middle school.

    1. 2
      Alyssa on March 21, 2018

      You are fortunate to be given the “go ahead” to use supplemental resources. My district requires the curriculum and has very little flexibility for us to sway from it. I also find it interesting that I am constantly looking for ways to engage my kids even if the content is truly meaningful. I make certain that I teach the exact content yet in a variety of different ways. I also agree with you regarding the lack of social studies/science content? How do you integrate this material? I often need to select texts that are unique to those topics to teach during guided reading or small groups. I would like some insight on how I can provide more purposeful instruction without these certain curriculums.

    2. 3
      Monique E Owens on March 23, 2018


      Lack of social studies content is a major problem for our school as well. Our district is still in the process of creating a curriculum that is meaningful for all students while at the same time we are frustrated with the materials we are given to teach it. As a grade level team, we review the topic and overall guiding questions the district expects students to understand after teaching and learning and we search for supplemental materials to engage students in their learning. This is not an easy task but technology has helped alleviate the constant research battle. Kahoot is a good way to have students review major social studies topics like the birth and growth of America from its founding to the many wars that shaped it and the events that made it what it is today. This is a free program that includes pre-scripted reviews and opportunities to create your own reviews based on your teaching. Another site we use is Flocabulary that helps our English language learners with specific vocabulary or tier 3 vocabulary that is associated with social studies. The students are engaged with the material that I teach for a maximum of 20 minutes and they extend their learning with meaningful activities.

    3. 4
      Kaitlyn on September 23, 2018

      I agree with you! It seems as though children are interested in the world and anything they can relate to in some way. We have just adopted a new curriculum at my school and I have the same issues as you. It does seem as though I am constantly trying to find ways to make the curriculum more interesting an engaging for my students. Although, before adopting this curriculum we were able to use many different supplemental activities and ways to teach our students. Now that we are teaching the new curriculum, we must teach this curriculum to fidelity, we must follow it in order and basically teach it word for word. In the curriculum we are using social studies and science are missing. They try to include these subjects in the read-aloud books, but there are no hands-on activities that go along with these subjects. Are you able to use supplemental activities to teach your students science and social studies?

    4. 5
      Amanda on January 27, 2019

      I agree with you! Children, especially young children are naturally curious about their world and what lies outside of their everyday world. My students love learning about science and social studies topics more than they like reading or math because the ladder subjects have a curriculum that must be taught “with fidelity”. I teach in an area where my students have a limited world experience due to their SES. We try to provide as many new experiences as we can to them, but our monetary resources are limited. If my district would allow us to pilot a CKLA program in our school, I’m sure the results from it would be amazing.

  2. 6
    Linlu on March 21, 2018

    As an Early Childhood educator or Pre-K teacher I see the fundamental importance to build a foundation of knowledge at the youngest age! Reading to children can promote early literacy and by creating a supportive learning environment that nurture language discoveries can create opportunities for children to build knowledge as well as learning about the real world. I believe young children strive in learning or print-rich environments that help them to use what they already know to make sense of new information or knowledge. Discovering the use of their minds or imagination allow them to practice skills in real-life experiences and through those everyday experiences that children gain oral language skills and ultimately emergent reading skills.
    Thanks for the insights on such an effective program!

  3. 7
    Macarena AB on March 22, 2018

    Its great to see how many schools are trying to engage students with reading. I find it fantastic! I am from Peru and here schools are very traditional… they don’t innovate much. I find the CKLA program very interesting and I will try to apply it in my workplace. I love the way in which the program combines “engaging and increasingly complex informational and literary texts, with a focus on expanding knowledge across all content areas” (Amplify Education, 2018a). I’ve always thought that content areas have to mix around grades and classes in order to engage students and make learning more meaningful for them. I also want to find rich texts across science, social studies, literatures and arts in order to promote close reading, writing and text- based discussions! Do you know where can I get them? I live in Lima, Peru. I found this implementation guide: (Core Knowledge Language Arts, 2017) but I can’t find a link here to buy complete kits!

    I think that the proven results after using CKLA are awesome! (Amplify Education, 2018b). If we compare results of comparison schools and CKLA in Kindergarten and First Graders, the results are always higher for CKLA! The most amazing was Second Grade where the fall-to-spring literacy gains of second grades using CKLA were more than double to those of their peers in control schools!

    Thanks for such great and useful information!!!

    Amplify Education (2018a). Core Knowledge Language Arts. Retrieved 21/03/2018 from

    Amplify Education (2018b). Core Knowledge Language Arts Results. Retrieved 21/03/2018 from

    Core Knowledge Language Arts (2017). Implementation Resources Guide. Retrieved 21/03/2018 from

  4. 8
    Robert on March 25, 2018

    It’s great to hear that many schools and teachers are taking this approach. While a lot of us have the best intentions with teaching our students and strengthening them as readers, I think we get lost in the process of focusing entirely on those reading skills, rather than building background knowledge in general. As we know, students learn best when they can attribute positive experiences to their education. How are we to expect that students who have no background knowledge on a topic or reading selection will have any success? Aside from that, building background knowledge seems to promote a higher level of motivation and engagement for students, based off of what this article stated about young students being excited about Mesopotamia.

    I think that even in districts where we feel that there might not be a lot of resources to access in building background knowledge, our job is to find ways to do it regardless. When we think about what we read and our purpose for reading, a lot of times it is to find out new information or build on previous knowledge. Why should reading be any different for our students? Let’s start making opportunities to provide students with background knowledge so that they can get more out of their reading curriculum and construct stronger learning experiences.

    1. 9
      Emma Grissom on September 19, 2018

      I applaud your enthusiasm and mindset that it is our job as educators to provide students with the knowledge and skills in reading and comprehension despite a lack in resources and curriculum. When we facilitate students’ learning, we can increase the understanding by modeling exemplary learning theories and research in effective learning. Developing an instructional plan that incorporates differentiation and engages students in a multitude of ways on a daily basis helps to foster and maintain appropriate learning experiences and builds effective learning environments for all students. As educators, it is imperative to understand the learning process and continually reflect and make adjustments for student understanding. Despite a lack of resources, it is our job as teacher leaders to provide effective curriculum and resources that connect all grade levels and build upon each other.

  5. 10
    Melissa on May 22, 2018

    This approach seems like a great way to potentially increase students’ foundational reading skills. I work at an international American school, where English is not the first language of the majority of students; while their sound-letter correspondence may be strong, their word comprehension is expectedly lacking as they read English texts. CKLA is a great approach to overcoming this issue by exposing young children to a wealth of vocabulary and information about the world around them.
    Since I teach a class of 2-3 year olds, reading comprehension is understandably not our focus. However, we are able to learn about various subjects that will aid my students’ understanding later when they begin reading. “Knowledge builds on knowledge, so it is essential to begin building broad academic knowledge and vocabulary in the early years” (Gosse & Hansel, 2014, p. 20).
    As I designed the Nursery curriculum for this current school year, it was important to order the units in a way that early themes would lay a foundation upon which later themes could build. Through collaboration, these units are also aligned to bridge any gaps between Nursery (2-3 year olds) and Discovery (3-4 year olds). By planning and collaborating with great intention, my colleagues and I have maximized “cross-discipline connections and [are] efficiently [building] knowledge and skills” (Gosse & Hansel, 2014, p. 20).
    Gosse, C., & Hansel, L. (2014). Preschoolers to presidents: CKLA builds knowledge step by step. American Educator, (2), 26.

  6. 11
    Laravia Jennings on May 25, 2018

    I never heard of this approach but, the more I read about it, it is a great way to implement it in the classroom. I taught Pre-K some years ago and I often thought about what is the best way to engage my students to read. The method I used to get my students engaged in reading was cooperative learning. I use small groups and different learning activities to improve their understanding and comprehension.

  7. 12
    Laravia Jennings on May 25, 2018

    Comprehension relies on mastery of decoding; children who struggle to decode find it difficult to understand and remember what has been read. Because their efforts to grasp individual words are so exhausting, they have no resources left for understanding. To prepare myself to teach these students that can’t comprehend, I will have to create mental pictures of what the text is about. And generate questions to guide the students reading that makes up literal and inferential questions.

  8. 13
    Emma Grissom on September 19, 2018

    It is imperative to develop instructional plans in relation to reading that incorporates background knowledge and facilitates student learning. By modeling the skills needed for the transfer of knowledge, students can become equipped as efficient readers. It is important to understand the learning process when developing curriculum for student understanding. Although there may be limited resources, as educators we must support our students by providing background knowledge and by engaging students in a multitude of ways to meet individual aptitudes and appropriate learning experiences that foster an effective learning environment for all students. Reading, like any other core subject area, is a process with a learning curve. It is vital to continuously reflect and adapt our instruction to meet the needs of our learners and provide effective instruction.

  9. 14
    Katina Duren on September 20, 2018

    Children that are exposed to vivid or WOW words, as my district calls them, at Primary ages will most certainly gain a heighten since of comprehension. This proves how important it is for teachers to drill and teach vocabulary. When building vocabulary in the early stages, foundation for reading is being created. Background knowledge is always the key. It triggers the schema immediately, and causes even the early learners to make connection through reading. I would love for our district to adopt this program or one similar for our emergent readers. Thanks for the article.

  10. 15
    Kimmi on September 22, 2018

    When our district implemented a new core curriculum last year, I was extremely excited for the sheer fact that it builds on itself. We now have cohesiveness among teachers from kindergarten to 5th grade. We are ensuring that all students are receiving a strong foundation of phonemic awareness and phonics skills. I hope that over the next few years of implementation we see that students are actually achieving at a higher level than before.

  11. 16
    Will on November 14, 2018

    I do not have any data collected on students who learn at earlier ages but I noticed that the more that you work with students, the more that they will learn. I would like to see the numbers on how students progress intellectually when they have their parents work with them at home versus when students are not worked with parents at home. I bet that would be very educational. Let me know your thoughts.

  12. 17
    Denise Duff on November 17, 2018

    As a Language teacher, I see the importance of developing strong readers. A strong reader is always good at comprehension and making connections with the knowledge they have. “Reading strengthens students’ understanding of the discipline being studied; understanding is enriched further when the subjects cross the discipline boundaries” (Henson, 2005). Getting students interested in the reading process at a very early age is what determines their interest in reading at a later age. I do agree and support the idea of using reading materials that contain world knowledge to develop the reading skills in kids. I think the Core Knowledge Language Arts program is an awesome program that should be adopted in schools today.

    With the fast-growing use of technology and the increased use of cellular phones, I find that our students today are not viewing reading as an important activity. Thus, they lack basic comprehension skills.

    I would definitely try this approach in my classes, even as I suggest it to the Kindergarten teachers to see if they will embrace this great way of developing strong readers in their classrooms and the school as a whole.

    Henson, K. T. (2015). Curriculum planning: Integrating multiculturalism, constructivism, and education reform (5th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

  13. 18
    Molly on January 22, 2019

    I completed an independent study course on Core Knowledge when I was in my undergraduate program at the University of Northern Iowa, and have a background in reading education. I see the absolute value in giving students the foundational concepts they need to know at a young age, and building on these skills as they grow up. I see a direct relationship between Core Knowlege at Classical Conversations (CC). CC is a program that is in a cycle of three years. Every 3 years the cycle repeats itself so that children are building on the concepts and getting a more in-depth and critical understanding of the content. There are several levels, mainly foundations, essentials, and challenge (Why Classical Conversations, n.d.) The program is cross-curricular and includes, grammar, Latin, math, science, English, history, and geography. Just like Core Knowledge, background knowledge is reinforced, and built upon each year. The exposure to heavier content at young ages is at their level, but the exposure is essential. They can build on these concepts as their brains develop.

    As a reading teacher, I see the need for eliciting and strengthening background knowledge. Students with limited exposure to events, travel, and experiences struggle to make connections. A program that is rich in building these connections leads to improved reading scores, both in fluency and comprehension. The more comfortable a student is with the content, the better they will perform on a standardized test. As an educator, it is imperative that we help to build these schemas for our students, and engage with our learners to transfer new information to them (Laureate Education, Inc., 2007). When I taught Reading Recovery, many of the students I served struggled with the concepts in our books because they did not have a personal relationship with the information.

    Core Knowlege is a good foundational curriculum that helps to lay a framework of both vocabulary and content knowledge. It seems that with the focus on testing, we are forgetting about the need for teaching a breadth of knowledge to our students. I feel that Core Knowledge could be easily incorporated into a classroom or homeschool setting. I would love to look more into bringing the concepts of Core Knowledge into our building. Although we have some of the materials, I feel we can do more with what we have. As expressed in the article, it might be worth the jump to ensure students are receiving the best education they can be.


    Laureate Education. (Producer). (2007f). Dynamic teacher leadership: Thoughts and perspectives.
    Baltimore, MD: Author

    Why Classical Conversations? (n.d.). Retrieved from

  14. 19
    Alexis Smith on March 20, 2019

    The comparison of students to sponges is very valid. They are constantly taking in information and learning from their environment. The development of the vocabulary of children in pre-school is of great importance for the later periods (CETIN,2018). Exposing them to the concepts mentioned at an early age will promote future success. The curriculum described is ideal for student achievement. It continues to build upon prior knowledge that the students have learned in previous years.

    CETIN, Ö. Ş. [email protected] co., GULHAN, M., & KATRANCI, M. (2018). A Study on the Effect of Pre-school Education on Early Literacy Skills. International Online Journal of Educational Sciences, 10(5), 201–221.

  15. 20
    Alicia Garcia on May 30, 2021

    Students are absolutely a sponge! They are constantly taking in information. Strong readers need some type of foundation. The foundation many students need is what their basic everyday ideas look like. Picture cards help students understand what different animals look like. Also, maps help students understand where specific places are. Once they are reading, they create a picture in their mind of these locations and how they make their connections. Allowing students to have an imagination creates ways for them to understand how certain ideas came about. This also allows students to have an open mind to allow new ideas to filter through. Children’s books are built on ideas using a great deal of imagination with a lot of colors so students can make connections and feelings to the books they read.

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