How To

Explicit Instruction in Reading Using The Gradual Release Model

Written by Marisa Curtis. Marisa Curtis is the Reading Academy Comprehensive Cohort Leader for Crandall ISD in Texas where she works on staff development, coaching and curriculum. She is a 2 time teacher of the year who brings 20 years of education experience, a Masters in Curriculum & Instruction, and a passion for growing great readers to the school.

The use of the gradual release model isn’t a new concept to educators. You’ve likely heard “I Do, We Do, You Do” throughout teaching. However, the implementation of the Science of Reading has brought renewed focus to ensuring that when new concepts are introduced to students, the delivery is explicit and helps lead students toward mastery of the skill.

But what exactly is meant by explicit instruction? Providing direct, clear, and detailed information when a concept is new or unknown decreases the opportunity for confusion or misconceptions. Teachers scaffold this direct instruction with the goal of guiding students toward independence. The gradual release model is an instructional framework where the teacher gradually shifts responsibility for learning from themselves to the students, building both competence and confidence. This is accomplished by introducing the skill, modeling, guided practice, and opportunities for independent practice with affirming and corrective feedback.  

An explicit approach to instruction is certainly not limited to reading. Whether you are introducing a new math concept, explaining a new social studies concept, or setting up a classroom procedure, explicit instruction utilizing the gradual release model allows students the greatest opportunity for success. 

Activate Prior Knowledge or Connect to Prior Learning

When students build on what they already know and connections are made to new learning, students are more likely to retain the introduced information. This helps move concepts to a student’s long-term memory. 

Example: Teacher – “Last week in our phonics lessons, we learned each of the five short vowel sounds. They are /a/,/e/,/i/, /o/, and /u/.”

Communicate The Objective or Expected Outcome

Whether an objective is posted, stated, or both, it provides clarity for what students will be able to do by the end of the lesson. This allows students to monitor their own progress toward the learning goal.

Example: Teacher – “This week we will identify the vowel phoneme in words.”

Explain or Teach The Skill

During the explicit teach, the teacher provides a direct explanation of the skill or concept. This may include student-friendly language of the objective or step-by-step instructions.  

Example: Teacher – “When we identify the vowel phoneme, we are naming the vowel sound that we hear. In today’s words, the vowel phoneme will be in the middle. First, we will say each sound in a word. Then, identify or say the vowel phoneme that we hear in the middle. ”

Model Example(s)

During the modeling portion of the lesson, teachers demonstrate the skill exactly as they want students to replicate. Teachers use think alouds to verbalize the process and steps to complete the objective. Student interaction during the model is limited to observing and listening.  

Example: Teacher – “Let me show you an example. The first word is bug. The phonemes are /b/u/g/. The vowel phoneme I hear in the middle is /u/. Let me give you another example…”

Guided Practice

The guided practice portion of the lesson invites students to replicate the skill the same way that the teacher has modeled but includes teacher support. Both the students and the teacher share responsibility during guided practice.  

Example: Teacher – “Let’s try one together. The word is cat.” Teacher & Students – “The phonemes are /c/a/t/.” Teacher – “What is the vowel phoneme you hear in the middle?” Students: /a/. Teacher – “Yes, the vowel phoneme in cat is /a/.” 

Independent Practice

During independent practice, students have the opportunity to try it on their own. The responsibility is released to the student. 

Example: Teacher – “Now, you are going to practice identifying the vowel phoneme in words on your own.”

Provide Ongoing Feedback

Feedback is provided to students during guided and independent practice. It can be either corrective or affirming. Feedback that is specific lets students know exactly what they did correctly or incorrectly. This helps them monitor how they are progressing with the objective or skill.

Example: Teacher – “That’s not quite right. You identified the beginning phoneme. Let’s try again and listen for the middle vowel phoneme.” or “Yes, the vowel phoneme in cat is /a/.”

This structured approach to instruction is the “how” to explicit lesson delivery. It provides active engagement, understanding, and skill development by ensuring that students receive direct scaffolded support to achieve mastery of targeted learning outcomes. Explicit instruction is effective regardless of content, grade level, or learner and teacher experience. 

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