Scarborough's Reading Rope

Scarborough's Reading Rope Sight recognition Decoding Alphabetic principal  Spelling-sound correspondences  Phonological awareness Background knowledge Vocabulary  Language Structures Verbal Reasoning Knowledge

What is Scarborough's Reading Rope

In 2001, Dr.  Hollis Scarborough created the Reading Rope using pipe cleaners to convey how the different “strands” of reading are all interconnected yet independent of one and another. For many students, learning to read is a challenge. Scarborough's Rope captures the complexity of learning to read. 

Scarborough's Reading Rope is made up of lower and upper strands. When all of these component parts intertwine it results in skilled reading with accuracy, fluency, and strong comprehension. 

The lower strands include:

  • Sight recognition
  • Decoding
    • Alphabetic principal 
    • Spelling-sound correspondences
  •  Phonological awareness

The upper strands include:

  • Background knowledge
  • Vocabulary 
  • Language Structures
  • Verbal Reasoning Knowledge

The Lower Strands

Sight Recognition

It is our sight word memory is also referred to as our Orthpgraphic Lexicon. It is all the words we can read accurately and effortlessly. Literate adults have a sight word memory of 30,000 to 70,000 words. Starting in 3rd grade, it is estimated that “skilled orthographic mappers” anchor 10-15 new words a day into their sight word memories. That’s a new word every 90 minutes! Sight word recognition is foundational to fluent reading. 


Decoding is the ability to apply knowledge of letter-sound relationships (Phonics) To correctly pronounce written words. Did you know that In 2019, only 35% of fourth-graders were at or above (NAEP) proficient level on the reading assessment? 

Phonological Awareness

It's a skill set that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language – parts such as words, syllables, onsets, and rimes. Did you know that you can improve your students’ ability to read unfamiliar words without showing them a single printed letter?


The Upper Strands

Background knowledge

Background knowledge is an essential component in learning because it helps us make sense of new ideas and experiences. Readers rely on background knowledge to attend to and make sense of what they are reading. This is especially important for readers who are still relying heavily on word decoding rather than rapid word recognition. The more knowledge they have about a variety of subjects, topics and ideas, the more likely they will be able to make sense of what they are reading, and the more likely they will add to their body of knowledge.


An extensive and rich vocabulary enables readers to make sense of what they are reading.The richer a reader’s listening and spoken vocabulary, the easier they will find it to read through texts that contain words they have not seen before. If the student can use their growing decoding skills and match their result with a word they already know the meaning of, they will be more confident with their abilities and spend less overall effort on reading a text. 

Language Structures (syntax, semantics…)

Syntax - is the arrangement of words in a phrase or sentence. The English language has patterns and rules to the way we order our words. It also has some flexibility and variety in acceptable patterns, and even then, speakers and writers are allowed some leeway with these patterns.

Semantics - In linguistics, it is the study of meanings of morphemes, words, phrases, and sentences. Knowledge of the meaning of a text is essential to reading. 

Verbal Reasoning (inference, metaphor…)

Inference -

Metaphor - 

Literary Knowledge (print concepts, stories…)

Print Concepts -

Variety of Stories and Literature - 

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