Episode 50 - How to… Integrate Background Knowledge and Writing into Reading Instruction with Sonia Cabell, PhD


About Sonia Cabell, PhD

Dr. Sonia Cabell, PhD, is an associate professor of reading education in the School of Teacher Education and the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University. She has also worked as a second grade teacher and literacy coach in Oklahoma and Virginia. Dr. Cabell’s research focuses on early literacy instruction, with a particular interest in the prevention of reading difficulties. She has authored over 60 publications and has been an advisor for a variety of national organizations and state departments of education.  

Episode Summary

Sonia Cabell, PhD, joins the READ Podcast for the 50th episode! In this conversation, Dr. Cabell and Danielle discuss the integrated and interdependent nature of reading, oral language, background knowledge, and writing. Dr. Cabell cites her research on content-rich instruction and offers numerous effective practices for classroom instruction. Educators, bring a pen and your plan book as Dr. Cabell offers insights and resources for immediate classroom application. 

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Dr. Danielle Gomez identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”

1. Integrated Literacy and Content Instruction 
Listen to 11:34 – 16:23 to learn more. 

Dr. Cabell discusses the integrated and interdependent nature between reading, language, and writing development. For example, language skills are important for both decoding and comprehension.  

“When I think about the contribution of oral language, I think about how foundational it is for reading in general.” 

2. The Role of Content-rich Instruction and Background Knowledge 
Listen to 19:12 – 22:03 to learn more. 

Background knowledge has been a popular topic in current discourse. In the classroom, integrating background knowledge includes 

  • Understanding and acknowledging the existing background knowledge that students bring from prior experiences. 
  • Intentionally activating and building knowledge through content-rich texts and supporting instruction. 

“I think we have to understand that children are bringing background knowledge into the classroom. Some of their knowledge might be more valued or relevant while some of it might be less valued or relevant in school.” 

3. Effective practices for Integrated Literacy and Content Instruction 
Listen to 23:04 – 40:52 to learn more. 

Dr. Cabell and her colleagues recently conducted a meta-analysis of K-5 instructional approaches to effective content-rich literacy instruction. 

Their analysis points to the effectiveness of integrated approaches in reading, oral language and content knowledge development, and writing. 

Features of effective instruction included 

  1. Planned ELA units around science and social studies topics 
  2. Instructional simultaneity (Duke, 2023) between skills and content driven  
  3. Coherent text sets 
  4. Interactive read alouds 
  5. Discussion and writing focused on building knowledge 
  6. Intentionality building vocabulary 

“There's been a lot of great research about how interactive read alouds matter for children's language learning. It's not just the content of the book that they're hearing, it's the ways in which they're engaged with the book in conversation.” 

Dr. Cabell also emphasizes the importance of rich classroom discussion to promote oral language and writing development. 

“[Teacher] questions are things that you want to have planned in advance and be thinking about the conversations and how those might unfold for you and how you might support students to help them grow in their language.” 


Dr. Sonia Cabell at FCRR


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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Gomez.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.

Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.