Literacy researcher Hollis Scarborough created a metaphor for explaining the complex processes involved in reading. She described reading by comparing it to the “strands of a rope.” This awesome infographic visually shows the rope’s different parts and how they work together when one is reading. All of the components, or “strands,” together form what Scarborough calls “skilled reading.” Skilled reading happens when students are able to read text fluently while simultaneously comprehending it. In other words, the different parts of the rope work in tandem when a person is able to accurately and automatically read a text and understand it fully. There are two main strands, Language Comprehension and Word Recognition, that are woven together. Each main strand consists of smaller strands that represent reading skills, as outlined below.
These strands work together to promote fluency, accuracy, and speed as children are becoming competent readers:
Phonological awareness refers to the ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken sounds in sentences and individual words. It includes creating and identifying rhyming words, counting syllables, noticing alliteration, and finally, phonemic awareness, or the specific ability to recognize and manipulate the smallest units of sound (phonemes) in spoken words.
Decoding is what we do when we use the letters in a word to determine what the word says. Decoding includes readers’ knowledge of the alphabetic principle, which states that sounds are represented by written letters/symbols, and that those letters/symbols are associated with specific sounds. A child’s ability to decode also requires that they have an understanding of sound-symbol correspondence.
When a child begins to recognize words by sight, it means they no longer have to work to decode the word whenever they come across it. Once a child has seen a word enough times, they begin to store the word visually in long-term memory. This means they can recall it automatically when they come to it.
These strands build off of and interact with one another as children practice making meaning of text:
This refers to what students already know about a topic before they begin reading about it. Background knowledge plays an important role in contextualizing facts in nonfiction and subject matter in a fiction story. When students have background knowledge of a topic, they are better able to make connections and gain a deeper understanding.
Students should have an age-appropriate bank of vocabulary knowledge in order to be able to make sense of text. The best way to increase vocabulary is to read books with some unfamiliar words. But when students come across too many words they can’t define, this can leave them feeling frustrated and sap their motivation. Therefore, it’s important to target important vocabulary words periodically.
Language structure refers to the syntax and semantics an author uses in a text. Students should understand basic sentence structure in order to make sense of the order of words in a given sentence. This is called syntax, and it’s an important piece of language structure. Students should also have an age-appropriate understanding of semantics, or the often complex and nuanced meaning different combinations of words can have.
This refers to one’s ability to understand what one reads by using logic and reasoning. This is an important skill in that it helps students think deeply about a text, considering not just what it says explicitly, but also what is implied.
This last strand is all about a student’s knowledge of print concepts, such as a book’s layout. This includes everything from pre-reading skills like turning pages, to more advanced skills like navigating the text features of a nonfiction book in order to efficiently find information. It also includes concepts like genre and author’s purpose.
Many educators used to believe that teaching reading skills happened in a particular order; they thought students learned to read by first learning how to decode, then learning comprehension skills and strategies. One of the most important points of the rope metaphor is for parents and educators to understand that these skills are not sequential. They should be addressed concurrently in order for students to become the best readers they can be.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the Scarborough’s rope important?
The Scarborough’s rope is important because it provides a framework for understanding the different skills that are necessary for reading comprehension. It also highlights the importance of teaching these skills concurrently, rather than in a sequential order.
What are the different strands of the rope?
The strands of the rope are decoding, sight recognition, language comprehension, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge.
What are the two major components in the reading rope?
The two major components of the reading rope are decoding and comprehension. Decoding is the process of translating written words into spoken language, while comprehension is the ability to understand and make sense of what has been read.
What is literacy knowledge in the reading rope?
Literacy knowledge is the ability to understand and use print concepts, such as a book’s layout. This includes everything from pre-reading skills like turning pages, to more advanced skills like navigating the text features of a nonfiction book in order to efficiently find information. It also includes concepts like genre and author’s purpose.
Which are potential types of reading disabilities?
There are a variety of potential reading disabilities that can impede someone’s ability to read. These include dyslexia, which is difficulty with decoding; ADHD, which can make it difficult to focus and pay attention; and auditory processing disorder, which can make it difficult to understand spoken language.
How can the reading rope help students with disabilities?
The reading rope can help students with disabilities by providing a framework for understanding the different skills that are necessary for reading comprehension. It can also help to identify which specific skills a student may be struggling with, so that targeted interventions can be put in place.