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Curriculum and Instruction

Overview of Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI)

Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI) teaches children reading comprehension through the integration of science and reading. Learn more about how CORI aims enhances students’ reading engagement in order to increase reading ability.

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The primary aim of Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI) is to increase students’ reading comprehension in Grades 3 to 5 by increasing their reading engagement.

As shown in Table 1, the reading goals include the following comprehension strategies: understanding the main idea, making inferences, monitoring comprehension, and using fix-up strategies for information and narrative texts. We included oral reading fluency and vocabulary as enabling competencies.

Another CORI goal in Grades 3 to 5 is to increase students’ knowledge of life science in the domain of environmental science. Central concepts to this domain are listed in Table 1. CORI also includes instruction in the science processes of observation and experimentation.

CORI’s third goal is to increase students’ motivation to read, with an emphasis on intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, perceived autonomy, social interaction, and mastery goals in reading. For some studies, the CORI intervention was 12 weeks, and for others it was 36 weeks. Daily instruction for both was 60 to 90 min during the language arts period.

  Table 1: Components of Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction

GoalsMaterialsLessonsPortfoliosMotivation Support
Reading & comprehension:Class set:Fluency/science: 
Oral reading fluency; vocabulary; self-monitoring; inferencing; fix-up strategies (reread, chunk, discuss, question, visualize, connect, look-up, read ahead, read aloud, use knowledge)14 information books; 
2 novels; 
1 poetry book
On alternate days, students read poems and information books expressively or learn science content 
(10 min)
From portfolios, students complete book on communitiesRelevance, student choices, success and goal setting, collaboration, thematic units
Science knowledge & processes:Team sets:Guided reading: 
Plant-animal interactions: mutualism, commensalism, predation, amensalism20 information books; 
21 novels; 
3 story books
Whole-class mini-lesson on reading comprehension (10 min) 
Survival processes:Struggling readers:Small-group guided reading: 
locomotion, feeding, defense, communication, reproduction, niche, respiration, predation, competition, adjustment to habitat18 information booksTeacher led session with each of three groups (15 min) 
Reading motivation:Science materials:Writing: 
Intrinsic motivation, perceived autonomy, self-efficacy, social interaction, mastery goalsHorseshoe crabs; terrariumStudents complete portfolios and book club responses 
(15 min)
 Independent reading: 
 Students read book club novel and discuss journal entries 
(15 min)


For the CORI interventions, the most important materials are trade books. The 12-week intervention used class sets (one book for each student), and team sets (one for five students). The class sets used were 14 information books, 2 novels, and 1 poetry book.

For team sets, there were 20 information books, 21 novels, and 3 poetry books. The books were selected to be appropriate to the students’ reading levels. For example, in Grade 5, one third of the books were at on-grade or above-grade reading levels, one third of the books were 1 or 2 years below grade level, and one third of the books were 2 or more years below grade level.

For struggling readers, 18 easy books (Grades 2-3) were provided. Hands-on science materials such as horseshoe crabs, terrariums, charts, and posters were provided. Three to six grade-level appropriate Web sites were selected, with guides for their use. Students accessed the Web sites two to three times per week for 30 min during the last intervention phase when they were composing their own books.

Daily lessons

Each CORI lesson was structured into five segments. First, for 10 min, students performed oral reading fluency activities with poems or information books. Approximately 2 days per week, instead of oral reading fluency, students studied science concepts and/or participated in a hands-on activity (such as drawing a horseshoe crab from observation).

Second, the teacher spent 10 min giving a mini-lesson on comprehension to set the stage for organized guided reading. For the next three 15-min segments, students alternated among small-group guided reading, writing, and independent reading.

Third, the teacher provided guided reading in three small groups of four or five students for 15 min each. For guided reading, appropriate-level texts were used for modeling, scaffolding, and guided practice of the reading comprehension strategies. During the writing segment, students made entries into their portfolios based on their information books used in the comprehension lesson, or they wrote reactions to their novels that were used in small-group discussions.

During independent reading activity, students silently read their book club novels. When requested, students took notes and prepared reaction entries for their journals. These five segments totaled 65 min of instruction. Some teachers added approximately 5 min to each activity to extend the instruction to 90 min.


Students’ portfolios consisted of many writing tasks: composing background knowledge, posing questions, entering inferences, summarizing text passages, and composing brief personal narratives. Drawing upon their portfolios, students authored books on the theme of plant-animal communities with interactions and survival concepts. Books contained students’ solutions to threatened habitats and personal narratives.

Motivational support

CORI instruction was infused with motivational practices that included

  • (a) relevance (established by hands-on activities, relevant texts, and self referencing during inferencing),
  • (b) choice (i.e., student selection of subtopics for reading, specific texts on a topic, passages for inferencing, partners for oral reading fluency, book composition topics),
  • (c) collaboration (i.e., partner oral reading, team poster making, summary exchanges, and peer editing),
  • (d) self-efficacy support (i.e., helping students set realistic goals for book selection, reading passages orally, writing questions, and identifying texts at the appropriate level of difficulty for optimal comprehension development), and
  • (e) thematic units (fostered mastery goals by placing knowledge goals prominently, and assuring conceptual coherence across texts and time).

These motivation-supportive practices were prominent in the Teacher’s Guide, with two or three practices emphasized each day.

Instructional components defined relevance

We use relevance to refer to classroom practices in which the content of instruction is linked to students’ direct or recalled experience and integrated with their background knowledge. One procedure for linking reading to an immediate experience is to connect text to a hands-on activity, such as science inquiry.

For example, observational activities in science inquiry may include collecting data and sorting artifacts (bones from an owl pellet), which is intrinsically motivating. Reading books about these artifacts is motivating because the books are viewed as relevant (Guthrie et al., 2006).

In contrast, when students must read texts on three totally diverse topics such as an octopus, a slave girl, and a new planet in the same reading lesson (which occurs frequently in basal programs), the relevance of texts is nearly impossible to establish. When teachers connect classroom lessons to “real life” outside the classroom, students report that the lessons seem purposeful and interesting (Assor et al., 2002).


The instructional practice of choice refers to providing autonomy support during teaching. In autonomy supportive classrooms, control of instruction and learning is shared between the teacher and the students. Although the teacher may set broad guidelines for curricula, the students have input into topics. Although the teacher may establish major objectives for a unit, the students can contribute to selections of subtopics or the sequence of topics (Flowerday & Schraw, 2000), enabling them to perceive themselves as relatively autonomous (Skinner & Belmont, 1993).

Autonomy support refers to affording students choices about texts, topics, partners, sequences of work, and demonstrations that they understand text. Obviously, excessive choice may be threatening or confusing, and autonomy support must be adjusted constantly. The main emphasis is on teachers’ sharing control rather than micromanaging and excessively directing students’ activities (Reeve & Jang, 2006).


The instructional practice of success refers to assuring that students perform meaningful classroom tasks proficiently. Teachers facilitate students’ self-efficacy through success when they enable students to set short term and long-term goals and provide feedback on students’ progress (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1997).

This does not refer to success outside of the mainstream curriculum or success on academically trivial activities. If students gain accurate self-evaluation on reading tasks, they can select texts appropriately, identify books within their reading level, and self-construct tasks that will enable them to gain new knowledge from texts efficiently. CORI allows students to succeed by providing texts for fluency instruction that are easily repeated (i.e., poems), giving multiple opportunities to practice a reading strategy to a highly proficient level, and providing a variety of texts about a concept, such as animal defense, to secure knowledge about it.

It is self-evident that self-efficacy must be aligned with reading competence. However, teaching actions that foster success enable students to form realistic optimism regarding their reading in the next month or the next year (Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2003).

Instruction that fosters motivation by enabling students to be successful in reading includes a variety of features (Schunk, 2003). A high priority is selecting a text that is easily readable early in instruction. Teachers who foster self-efficacy by providing success assure that students can recognize more than 90% of the words in almost every text they read, especially early in an instructional course or unit.

A simple prerequisite of reading comprehension is a high degree of oral reading fluency, which can most easily be optimized by selecting decodable and readable text that is at the students’ reading level. Instruction that optimizes success permits students to set short-term goals in reading. This may include having students determine the number of pages they wish to read to explain a certain topic, or identifying the number of topics they wish to read in a given domain in a given time period. Teacher feedback is vitally important for success in attaining goals.

To increase their self-efficacy, students need frequent feedback on whether content is understood, whether reading strategies are well used, and whether self-regulatory decisions are well made.

Success-promoting teachers also encourage students to make effort attributions for either success or failure in their comprehension tasks. Teachers reward successful story comprehension with compliments for effort, as well as for a reading skill such as predicting or inferring. Teachers who build success into their instruction recognize perseverance in students’ reading activities.

After a long text is finished successfully, teachers comment on the value and benefits of sustained effort. They may prominently display products such as extensive summaries of long texts around the classroom, enabling students to perceive the value of cognitive perseverance and internalize it.


The instructional practice of collaboration refers to arranging for productive social interactions in reading activities. This practice enables students to build and internalize prosocial goals in the classroom. Collaboration includes such activities as pairing students to read aloud together, organizing literature circles (Almasi, 1995), or setting up idea circles for reading information texts in which students learn one concept by reading different textual sources and sharing them (Guthrie & McCann, 1997).

Optimal collaborative structures include team accountability (e.g., teams present a poster to other teams) as well as individual accountability for successful comprehension (e.g., individual students are graded on the excellence of their summaries of texts). When these social arrangements are successful, students perceive themselves as allies with their partners and team members. Feeling that they belong to a group enables students to undertake challenging tasks more confidently than if reading is a purely isolated endeavor (Wentzel, 2005).

Thematic units

The practice of thematic units refers to structuring the content of reading activities in organized and connected forms. For example, the pyramid structure contains an abstract theme or “big idea” at the top with major concepts supporting it and subconcepts or examples existing at the bottom. Instruction is multitiered with emphasis on how the levels are interconnected, and such thematic units have been described thoroughly (Wiske, 1998).

CORI thematic practices include announcing a content theme for instruction (animal survival, human exploration of the Earth); having a prominent guiding question for several days of instruction; having students draw concept maps to represent a page or a chapter; finding examples of concepts, such as mutualisms or defense; and writing compare-contrast charts for characters in a story or animals in a specific habitat. Thematic units contrast with fragmented instruction on discrete topics.

When content is disconnected across time, students often do not recall what they learned yesterday in the classroom. Such fragmentation is demotivating because it inhibits students’ disposition to understand text, conquer content, and succeed on tasks that show that they are learning from text. When students fail to perceive thematic structures in the classroom (perhaps because the themes are absent from instruction), they resort to local goals such as completing a homework assignment irrespective of its importance, or working to pass a quiz irrespective of deeply grasping the content. When focused on a theme, however, students experience becoming experts on a topic. It becomes apparent that reading is related to gaining or expanding expertise in any given area.

Within this context, the role of instruction in “reading strategies” must be mentioned. Obviously, reading strategies are cognitive competencies that enable a student to be an efficient comprehender. Such strategies as inferencing, asking questions during reading, summarizing, and comprehension monitoring are the tools of comprehension. In CORI, reading strategies are the means to the end of understanding information books and literature on the theme.

Strategies are taught explicitly with modeling, scaffolding, guided practice, and extended engaged reading. Instruction in these strategies is energized by teachers’ motivational practices. A teacher may directly explain to students that they are reading material that is relevant and should attempt to find connections between themselves and their texts. Students may be given choices about what to read and how to read it. Teachers should encourage effort, persistence, and careful book selection while emphasizing that these traits lead to competence.

Students should be aware that opportunities to collaborate are privileges that enable them to understand content themes and major concepts in the curriculum, but such opportunities can be removed. Being explicit about motivational practices helps students to become metacognitive about their motivation as well as their cognitive strategies.


Excerpted with author’s permission from Guthrie, J. T., McRae, A., & Klauda, S. L. (2007). Contributions of Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction to knowledge about interventions for motivations in reading. Educational Psychologist, 42, 237 - 250.

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