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Ultimate guide to the Scarborough Rope model for reading

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The Scarborough Rope is the perfect model to turn your child into a proficient reader. Here’s all you need to know about it.

Being literate means much more than just the ability to read out what’s written on a piece of paper. For someone to be considered a skilled reader, it’s key for them to both know words as well as their meaning. And to accomplish this, they have to mix and match vocabulary, language structure, and verbal reasoning.

All this is possible through the Scarborough Rope model, which is one of the most popular methods teachers and educators use to bring about skilled readers. Therefore, allow us to introduce you to this model in the following text.

What is Scarborough's reading Rope model and is it useful in language comprehension for children

It’s been more than 20 years now since Dr. Hollis Scarborough’s reading model was published in the Handbook of Early Literacy Research. And during all these years, more and more reading teachers would use and utilize it to provide literacy instructions to parents and for teaching reading to their kids. In many ways, it’s a standard today, and for good reasons.

The Scarborough Rope consists of the lower strand (word recognition) and the upper strand (language comprehension). Both strands of the reading rope contain other sections. And when intertwined together, all of them create a literacy rope of skilled reading. Nevertheless, each of these components is its own entity, even if connected. And if left uncared for, it can affect the whole rope.

Understanding the different strands in the language comprehension rope

Word recognition skills alone don't make readers fluent. Learners aren't actually reading if they don't understand the meaning of the words. Hence, the following:

  • Background knowledge: This strand entails setting reading selections in context for teachers. Use reading as a component of a bigger lesson on any subject, regardless of age. Kids will gain a deeper understanding while developing their literacy abilities.
  • Vocabulary: Kids who develop a strong vocabulary can read a larger range of books and enjoy them. You're more inclined to stop reading quickly if you have to pause every few words to do some reading research for a word and explicit instructions on how to use it.
  • Language structure: Syntax (word order) and semantics are typically meant when we discuss language structure (the meaning of the text). When it comes to word patterns and order, or syntax, English has several rules. Semantics examines in depth how words and phrases work together to create meaning, and how the words an author chooses might change that meaning.
  • Verbal reasoning: Verbal reasoning in Scarborough's Rope refers to knowing when and how words are being used literally and figuratively. Metaphors, analogies, idioms, and other figurative language are all part of it. Some of these skills are acquired as children mature, but school education can also be beneficial.
  • Literacy knowledge: By being exposed to a variety of genres and styles, children develop their literacy skills. Because of this, a solid curriculum includes all types of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In general, a child's literacy skills develop more with different types of reading they encounter along their reading journey.

Understanding the different strands in the word recognition rope

At its root, the Scarborough Rope is focused on the word recognition strand, which includes:

  • Phonological awareness: Next up, we have phonological awareness. Namely, this part of the rope considers understanding that words consist of sounds. The finest example of this is how kids learn to speak before learning to read. They recognize sounds, put them together, and form words. As such, phonological awareness is a foundational skill that sets the stage for all others.
  • Decoding: Beginning readers are what come to mind when we think of decoding: young children sounding out words letter by letter. It covers phonics, letter blends, silent letters, and other topics. Even if they don't know what the words on a page mean, children who are proficient at decoding can sound out every word they see.
  • Sight words: It makes more sense to train children to recognize certain words at first sight because they are used so frequently. This is the basic idea behind sight recognition. Therefore, today, virtually every early primary classroom uses this approach, which is a highly spread method across the country.

Breaking down the science of reading

The science of reading includes language comprehension, phonics instruction, phonemic awareness, teaching reading, and other reading-related tasks. Its primary objective is to give adequate, research-based data and information on how humans develop reading and writing skills.

It also looks into factors like dyslexia that may contribute to reading difficulties in some people. Focusing on reading issues necessitates the search for better and more efficient methods of detecting and diagnosing issues that impede word identification and decoding, make it challenging to follow reading instructions, and restrict general reading fluency.

Using tech tools for additional support to create proficient readers
Needless to say, the Scarborough Rope’s word recognition and language comprehension strands aren’t the only ones that can up a person’s literacy skills. Nowadays, we can rely on assistive technology and other methods too.

Assistive tech tools

Assistive technology comes in many forms. Yet, it’s the best example, in this case, is text to speech tech. TTS apps and tools such as Speechify fully utilize AI, machine learning, and optical character recognition to transcribe any written content into speech.

TTS can help people with reading difficulties enjoy books, school material, and any other written notes just like the rest do. And the best part—it ups reading comprehension if a person reads and listens simultaneously with the AI voice.

Reading pens

Reading or scanning pens are also a form of assistive technology, like TTS apps. Nevertheless, they come in the form of pens that you slide across a line of text, and it reads the text aloud. Some of these pens come with pre-built dictionaries, making them perfect for understanding what words mean and how to pronounce them properly.


Another popular way to increase someone’s reading skills is to use audiobooks. You can train all components of reading while listening to an audio novel, history book, or any other genre out there. And if you want to combine it with the first option on this list—text to speech tech—you can find thousands of popular titles at Speechify, as it’s also an audiobook provider.

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.