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Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI)

What is Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI) and how does it work? Find out more about CORI and how it helps children’s comprehension and motivation through science inquiry.

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What is CORI?

CORI stands for Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction. It is designed to teach children reading comprehension through the integration of science and reading. Its primary aim is to increase the reading comprehension of students in grades 3 to 5 by increasing their reading engagement.

Why orient reading instruction around concepts?

Gaining conceptual knowledge is a main purpose for both reading and inquiry science. Reading is a set of processes that individuals apply to text for the purpose of gaining meaning, knowledge, or experience. Similarly, inquiry science is a set of processes for operating directly on the physical environment to gain understanding and knowledge of it.

The building blocks of reading (the alphabetics — phonics and phonemic awareness; the fluency and automaticity; the vocabulary; the comprehension) must be taught explicitly. A best practice is to tie explicit teaching of reading strategies to “Big Ideas.”

Information books give kids knowledge, which increases their comprehension skills. Reading about the world around them fosters children’s long-term development.

Students who have a commitment to understand the concepts within an instructional unit are likely to get a deeper understanding of the content.

For an overview of Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction, see Overview of CORI.

How can CORI benefit students' learning?

Research that compared CORI classrooms to traditional classrooms in the same schools found large benefits in three areas:

  • Reading comprehension

    CORI students comprehended new books better.

  • Motivation

    CORI students want to read. In fact, they do choose to read more books after being in CORI (for more about CORI and reading motivation, see Promoting Reasons for Reading: Teacher Practices that Impact Motivation.

  • Scientific knowledge

    CORI students learn the concepts they study deeply, which is valuable for their general knowledge and valuable for their content learning.

What are the components of CORI that particularly benefit struggling readers?

Hands-on activities

Active learning is motivating. Concrete experiences increase text comprehension. Many kids who don’t read very well don’t realize that each book is really about life — maybe about their life, about someone else’s life, or the world around them. So for children who might not realize that, CORI tries to help them make a connection to their experience. That link becomes very powerful for them.

Information books

CORI uses information books that are interesting and accessible.

A variety of information books

CORI teachers use trade and information books to teach. Teachers match text difficulty levels to individual instruction. Books in which the print is easy, the vocabulary is not too complex, and interesting illustrations back up the text are enjoyable to less-advanced readers. From these kinds of books they can hone reading skills while learning scientific information. In the same classroom, more complex books with advanced vocabulary, charts, and text are available for those readers who can and want to tackle them. So everyone is learning (how to summarize, for example) with a text matched to them.

All students participate with the class in concept learning

While students are using different books and researching different subtopics, all readers — regardless of reading level — are learning new information about the same concept (such as weather, woodlands, animal behavior, birds of the world).

Choice of subtopics for investigation

Choice is a key part of the student motivational scheme. Choices of subtopics and text increase students’ effort, persistence, and book completion. When investigating the concept of weather, one might choose clouds, while another might choose tornadoes and yet another human influences on the weather. Kids chose a topic that essentially enables them to study and read a long time. Choice creates a commitment to the reading that fosters their learning. Teachers offer a choice in the subtopic and a choice in the text in order to keep kids motivated to read for a large amount of time.

Frequent reading

One of the best ways to become a proficient reader is by reading widely and frequently. CORI students read 30-40 books over 12 weeks in order to foster comprehension. Reading that much takes effort, persistence, and energy — therefore motivation is key in fostering comprehension development.

What are some cognitive processes for reading and science in CORI?


Students observe natural and scientific phenomena in their neighborhood (e.g., measuring and recording readings at the weather station outside school, or dissecting an owl pellet to find animal bones).


Children asking their own questions about what’s going on in their environment, and get those answers through their reading.

In-depth reading

Students delve deeply into investigating their scientific topic via books. Reading lots of books is valuable for comprehension. CORI fosters high amounts of reading in order to build comprehension.


Children collaborate with each other to understand what these books say.

Writing and communicating

Children work to understand the topics through their reading activities, and then they share their understanding with others in their class through writing and presentations.

To see CORI in action in a classroom, see the “Engaging Nonfiction Readers” portion of the Reading Rockets Reading for Meaning video.

What reading strategies are explicitly taught in CORI?

Several reading strategies taught explicitly — with modeling and scaffolding and practice for students — within a context of inquiry about a big idea. Strategies taught systematically in the CORI program include the strategies mentioned in the National Reading Panel report.

Using background knowledge

Using what you know to understand a new book. All children need to know how to activate background knowledge. All children can be taught to do this.


Questions to help you learn. Questioning refers to students asking or writing self-initiated questions about the content of the text before and during reading. It’s a very important strategy that can be taught.


Readers are purposeful; they have purposes, needs, and goals. They need to search through different portions of books in order to learn what they want to learn. Knowing how to search for information to fulfill your goals as a reader is important.


Summarizing sounds simple, but it’s hard to teach third grade students, In fact, it’s hard to teach to college students. But it’s a fundamental strategy. CORI focuses on teaching children how to form an accurate abstract representation (summary) of the text explicitly and deliberately.

Organizing graphically

When developing an understanding of informational text, it is very helpful to draw a picture or make a concept map as you read along in a book. CORI teaches children to compose these graphic representations of information.

Structuring stories

Forming a concept how a story looks and works (setting, plot, character, motives, themes, and their relationships in literature) is key to becoming a good reader. Making a map of a story is a good way to study story structure.

The CORI program teaches these strategies one at a time at the beginning, addressing one a week. In the next portion of the program (six weeks), students combine the strategies. Teachers spend time helping students integrate the strategies.

How is the program adapted for struggling readers?

In-class, daily, small-group instruction

Focused reading instruction for smaller group of those students who are struggling with one or more reading skills.

Emphasis on oral reading fluency and expressiveness

One tool for this is readers theater — where kids learn to be expressive. It is very important for this group of students to learn these skills.

Simplified strategy instruction

If you ask a struggling third grader to summarize a page in a book without scaffolding his or her efforts, that child will be frustrated. CORI aims to build bridges from text to strategy, giving a bridge for the child between a teacher’s request and the text. So, for example, CORI teachers provide a little chart to help them build a summary.

Opportunities to learn reading strategies

Text difficulty matched to reading level

Teachers match the difficulty of the book to the child’s level and help guide children to them. The CORI whole class plan is adaptive to individual children and their needs by having diverse text. Key to the CORI classroom is lots of books. There can easily be multiple levels of readers within one classroom. For example, a third grade class could easily have three different levels of readers — those reading on a first or second grade level, those reading at the third grade level, and those reading at a fourth grade level. Having many books helps teachers adapt to their children’s needs.

Is CORI like “whole language" instruction”

CORI is not the same as whole language instruction. It is distinguished from whole language in that it is not primarily oriented to literature. It is primarily oriented to concepts.

How long does it take to get CORI started?

There is no one pathway to implementation. But it probably takes a year of planning, training, and book buying to make CORI work.

CORI takes administrative support. Support within the school, and in the district, as well as a commitment of time and effort on the part of individuals to become knowledgeable CORI teachers. Administrative considerations include: principal endorsement; teaming to work with reading specialist to find books and with special education experts to tailor instruction, etc.; and the cost of books.

Professional development is also a consideration. Professional development of a teacher is very valuable for teaching comprehension — it is difficult or impossible to learn to teach comprehension by taking materials off a shelf and then reading a script. Teaching comprehension is a form of teacher practice, of teaching expertise, that teachers learn. Schools and states have to spend money to help teachers gain these skills.

What does CORI teacher training look like?

Training through the University of Maryland entails a 10-day workshop and full-days monthly thereafter for follow-up mentoring and problem solving. Training at other universities or places may look different. Workshops cover:

  • Principles of good teaching
  • How to select good books to match all students
  • How to do the strategies (e.g., many teachers haven’t drawn a concept map recently, so they do it in the training. Once teachers experience the strategies, they become much better teachers of them)
  • Actually doing the inquiry (whether it’s weather, birds, aquatic environments, animals). They do the inquiry that they’ll provide to their learners so they have experienced the same kind of teaching that they’re going to foster for kids.

For more information about CORI, visit (opens in a new window).


Adapted from the presentation of Dr. John Guthrie in the Reading Rockets telecast “Whole Class Instruction” ©2002.

You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Reading Rockets and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact [email protected].