Why Does Core Knowledge Science Offer Student Readers?

Current research suggests that teaching reading strategies has value in helping students recognize the purpose of reading and may lead to a slight boost in reading comprehension scores, but not the sustained improvement that would be indicative of true literacy. Something is still missing. What’s missing is background knowledge. “Most of us think about reading in a way that is fundamentally incorrect,” observes University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham. “We think of it as transferable, meaning that once you acquire the ability to read, you can read anything… In order to understand what you’re reading, you need to know something about the subject matter. And that doesn’t just mean that you need to know the vocabulary—you need to have the right knowledge of the world,”

E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
Core Knowledge Sequence: Content and Skill Guidelines for K–8


Over the last few decades, science pedagogy has undergone a significant shift. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a culmination of research indicating that young students should experience the world around them. Students should observe natural phenomena and make sense of these phenomena by doing science.

This shift in the recommended pedagogy means that young students learn about the world in the same way that an experienced scientist does. They conceive and carry out investigations, engineer devices to collect data and analyze it, and form conclusions. Even in the earliest grades, students build science understanding by engaging in these science practices.

The new Core Knowledge Science program (CKSci) program embraces the concept of engagement in the processes of science and engineering design.

But one of the unique aspects of CKSci is that it fosters learning in two fundamental and inseparable ways: 1) mastering the doing of science and 2) the presentation of direct background knowledge.

The second tenet of CKSci, affording students direct background knowledge, is often overlooked in contemporary science programs.  However, it serves a crucial role in meeting the goals and expectations of the NGSS.

Here is an example from Grade 3 Unit 4 Weather and Climate.

Our Teacher Guide supports student’s engagement with direct, background knowledge reading by presenting reading strategies directly tied to the student Reader. Extensive support is given to teachers in areas such as vocabulary, meeting standards, and background information on science.

Our student Readers, full color and engagingly written, help students learn by presenting factual knowledge and emphasizing reading in the content areas—a pathway to better reading skills across multiple disciplines.


Think about it: For students to develop solutions to protect against lightning or earthquakes, they need to know about these natural phenomena.  If students are expected to develop solutions to overcome friction, they need to know about friction as a force. We believe that students—in fact, most students at the elementary level—must have access to factual knowledge. This is a hallmark of Core Knowledge learning.  Our student Readers, written to grade-level specifications, clearly communicate knowledge that facilitates student comprehension of the core ideas in science. Student Readers in science can also be used for reading in the classroom. Reading in a content area helps students develop the skills needed in our modern world.

Click here to watch a video Teaching Content is Teaching Reading

The CKSci Readers present clear text and outstanding images to complement a phenomenon and process-based learning. They anchor students in the facts and language of the real world; thus, making those investigations more meaningful. Such advanced content may be difficult to comprehend solely by a student-designed investigation. 

Here is an example from Grade 5 Unit 2 Energy and Matter in Ecosystems.

Teaching a complex phenomenon, such as energy flow within an ecosystem, can be achieved through student experimental design and engaging in the various science processes. But consider the enormous benefit of direct learning that complements that pedagogy. Above is an example of this from Grade 5 Unit 2 Energy and Matter in Ecosystems.

The CKSci Reader goes beyond the presentation of direct information. It also provides guidance to the student with point-of-use emphasis to assist in reading.

Big Questions center the student on the main idea of each chapter. Before they read, the Big Question feature keeps the student focused as they enter the chapter.

Vocabulary is found at point-of-use. The Vocabulary box is a quick reference to the definition of a Core Vocabulary word.

Words to Know alert students to vocabulary used in special context. The Words to Know box provides additional background information for reading accuracy.


The student Reader plays another important function in preparing the young science student. Reading in the sciences is of paramount importance for many, if not most, adult careers. Here is what the National Academy of Sciences says about reading in the sciences.

“Being a critical consumer of science and the products of engineering, whether as a lay citizen or a practicing scientist or an engineer, also requires the ability to read or view reports about science in the press or on the Internet and to recognize the salient science, identify sources of error and methodological flaws, and distinguish observation from inferences, arguments from explanations, and claims from evidence. All of these are constructs learned from engaging in a critical discourse around texts.”

from A Framework for K-12 Science Education. National Academy of Sciences


By leveraging the background knowledge and domain-specific vocabulary afforded by the Readers, students can more easily navigate the processes of science, such as experimental design, data collection, and presenting scientific arguments. This type of scaffolding plays an integral part in the CKSci program, and likewise is invaluable in any BALANCED and fully modern science education program.


Check out other unique features to our readers that reinforce direct knowledge.

3 comments on “The Importance of Student Reading in the Sciences”

  1. 1
    Susan Toth on March 3, 2020

    I think that traditional education did not provide background knowledge. I was in school in the late 40s and early 50s. It seemed to me that our teachers were working with traditional tenets while trying to incorporate progressivist practices. I felt the need for something to connect “details” of what was taught in math, science, and language in order to make the content whole. At that time I could not express my thoughts. The “connection”, of course, is background knowledge because it joins the separate “parts” and makes them meaningful.

  2. 2
    Krystal on March 11, 2020

    I have a question: I have a 5-year-old daughter that will be going into Kindergarten in August.
    Do you have any material that is focused on that age group?

    1. 3
      Jamie Talbot on March 11, 2020

      Yes! We are well underway with writing and publishing Core Knowledge Science (CKSci) for grades Kindergarten through Second Grade.

      We anticipate that all 13 units for these grades will be completed and available for free download and purchase later this summer. Each unit consists of a Student Book (a read-aloud) and a comprehensive Teacher Guide. We will begin posting unit 1 of K, 1, and 2 early this summer, then unit 2, unit 3, etc. That way no one grade level is published before another.
      All units are based on our new Core Knowledge Science Sequence. Each grade level, in K–5 CKSci, consists of units in life, earth and space, and physical science.
      The best way to receive announcements regarding CKSci is to complete the brief “Stay in the Know” form, located here: https://www.coreknowledge.org/stay-in-the-know/ Once you complete this form, you will be on our “email list” and will automatically be notified about any Core Knowledge related news.

      Also, don’t forget to look into the other components of the Core Knowledge Curriculum Series: Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) and Core Knowledge History and Geography (CKHG). The full curriculum is intended to support multiple subject areas, including the sciences. Please read more by visiting:
      https://www.coreknowledge.org/curriculum/

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