Start-to-Finish Core Curriculum



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Start-to-Finish CORE Curriculum is a comprehensive reading program that pairs reading instruction with simplified classic works of literature. This combination helps students in grades 6-12 move beyond sight words and into foundational reading skills.

The comprehension, phonics, vocabulary and fluency skills. Scripted lessons are paired with individual book chapters and follow a consistent rhythm:

(1) The reading is anchored through a group activity.
(2) A focused purpose for reading is established. Then the class reads through shared reading or individually with technology supports.
(3) The purpose for reading is recirculated in a follow-up class discussion, and this is related to real life (Career and College-Ready activity).

Each book cycles through this process several times creating predictability and consistency for teachers and students. Additional phonics lessons help students build decoding skills.


Product Details 

Start-to-Finish® CORE Curriculum is built around the belief that students with cognitive disabilities and autism deserve to experience important works of literature while building core reading skills—just like their peers!


Who is Start-to-Finish CORE Curriculum for?

Many students in special education programs never move past sight word instruction.

They never get experience with real books. When these students hold their first Start-to-Finish book in their hands, they feel proud and respected. And teachers are often in awe how far their students can go.

CORE Curriculum was designed to respect students and teachers.


What are the benefits for teachers?

Curriculum lessons come ready “out of the box” — lesson prep takes less than 10 minutes! This means teachers can implement reading instruction with fidelity right away.

Teachers love initiating authentic reading experiences and watching their students go beyond sight words and truly engage with books while they build fluency, comprehension, vocabulary and phonics skills.


What are the benefits for students?

Reading one’s first chapter book is a rite of passage. CORE Curriculum guides students through that journey. Students feel proud to hold a chapter book and the feel supported through teacher-led discussions, professionally narrated content, and accessible computer books.

The result? Students get access to some of the most important stories of all time, like Anne Frank, Sacagawea, and The Call of the Wild just like their peers!


Where to use CORE Curriculum

Inclusion Classrooms

In inclusion classrooms, the classroom teacher uses the lessons during the shared reading time. The lessons and stories are engaging and age-appropriate for any level of reader

Co-Teaching Inclusion Settings

In co-teaching inclusion settings, the content is used in reading groups where a special education, paraprofessional or aid can easily instruct a small group of students at the most emergent reading levels.

Resource Rooms

In resource rooms, teachers or aids deliver lessons to student groups in 40-minute reading blocks.

Self-Contained Classrooms

In self-contained classrooms, each lesson is designated for one 40-minute reading block. Additional phonics lessons are designed for 20-minute reading blocks.


How CORE Works 

Each of the 15 books are expected to take three weeks (at 45 minutes a day), ending with an end of the book assessment and extending activities through the “Real Life Club”, which allows students to self-select a way to demonstrate what they have learned connecting learnings to life skills and jobs.

Pre-reading activities prepare students for the content and form connections to what they already know.



Activate Background Knowledge:

  1. Have students work as a group to create a graphic organizer describing dogs, according to their own beliefs and experiences. If the class knows about a particular dog (e.g., a companion dog), use it in this exercise.
  2. Ask students to list words and phrases that describe dogs. For example, fun, companion, loud bark, gentle with children, protection, chases a ball, likes to swim, etc.
  3. Tell students. You used what you already know about dogs to think of words and phrases that describe them. Good readers find and remember words and phrases from next to describe characters in stories.

For one chapter of the included re-written classic book, The Call of the Wild, the pre-reading task is to share what is already known about dogs. Students typically have responses like “dogs are furry, they walk on four legs, and their breath is smelly”).

Establish a purpose for reading

Purpose Statement:

Say, In this chapter, you will meet a dog named Buck. Read to find words and phrases that describe Buck. You may wish to take notes to help you remember the words and phrases that you find.

Immediately prior to reading, the lessons provide a purpose for reading. In The Call of the Wild, the purpose for reading is to listen for characteristics about the dog, Buck. The classroom teacher engages listening skills by reading aloud or “playing” the book on a smartboard with professional narration and text highlighting to engage the visual senses. Students listen for words and phrases that describe Buck.


After Reading Task:

On the board or flipchart, write the word Buck, and call on students to provide a word or phrase that describes Buck. Examples include the following:

  • big (p. 6)
  • heavy (p.6)
  • 140 pounds of muscle (p. 7)
  • lived in a big house in California (p. 6)
  • went wherever he pleased (p. 6)
  • king over everyone (pp. 6-7)
  • went swimming (p. T)
  • went hunting (p. 7)
  • a St. Bernard (p. 7)
  • wasn’t spoiled (p. 7)
  • growled when upset (p. 8)
  • owned by a Judge (p. 6)

Follow-up and Feedback:

Return to the text to confirm answers and add additional information from the text.

After reading, they return to the book and find the evidence—which is consistent with College and Career Readiness goals. They find the characteristics mentioned in the the story and the teacher writes the words or phrases on the board (i.e. big, heavy, growled, went wherever he wanted).


Phonics Lessons

Once students know most of their letters, the next step is to move into explicit phonics instruction which begins to open the world of reading.

Daily phonics lessons included in Start-to-Finish CORE Curriculum feature Dr. Patricia Cunningham’s Making Words re-written for students with complex instructional needs by Dr. Karen Erickson .


Phonics lessons in Start-to-Finish Core Curriculum



Included with Start-to-Finish Core Curriculum 

15 chapter books and accompanying computer books on CD

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Christmas Carol, Anne Frank, Cleopatra, Huckleberry Finn, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Call of the Wild, The Prince and the Pauper, Frankenstein, The Black Death, The Gift of the Magi, Romeo and Juliet, Sacagawea, The Secret of Old Mexico, The Red Badge of Courage

Instructional materials for each book containing:

  • Daily comprehension lessons
  • Student worksheets and writing lessons
  • End of book tests and practice for alternate assessments

Making Words – 160 phonics lessons with reproducibles

Curriculum Guide – to support and guide teachers with implementation

Teacher Tools and Templates Folder, that contain:

  • Fluency and writing rubrics
  • Fidelity checklists
  • Data collection tools
  • Real Life Experiences – authentic learning activities to celebrate each book

Teacher Resource CD, containing:

  • Printable PDF of each book
  • Chapter quizzes and teacher answer sheets
  • Vocabulary and idiom lists
  • Student and teacher reproducibles
  • Backup of all the lessons for each book



Resources and books included with Start-to-Finish Core Curriculum


About the Authors 

Karen Erickson, PhD

Dr. Karen Erickson is Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, focused on understanding the best ways to assess and teach reading and writing to children with the most severe disabilities. As a special education teacher, Dr. Erickson has worked to support students with a range of disabilities in a variety of classroom settings, particularly students who do not use speech as their primary means of communication.

She earned a master’s degree in reading from State University of New York, Albany and a PhD from the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill.


Karen Erickson, PhD


Patricia Cunningham, PhD

Patricia M. Cunningham, PhD, is a professor of education at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She has been an elementary school teacher, a reading specialist, and director of reading for a county school system—specializing in finding alternative ways to help struggling readers. Dr. Cunningham is author of Phonics They Use, What Really Matters in Spelling, What Really Matters in Writing, and What Really Matters in Vocabulary. She is coauthor of Classrooms That Work and Schools That Work.

She earned a master’s degree in reading from Florida State University and a PhD in reading from the University of Georgia.


Patricia Cunningham, PhD


Jerry Stemach, M.S. CCC-SLP

Jerry Stemach is a writer and Special Educator who has worked with middle and high school students and adults learning English as a second language for more than 30 years. He has served students with language and learning disabilities as a Speech and Language Pathologist, an Assistive Technology Specialist, and as a Special Education teacher.


Jerry Stemach, M.S. CCC-SLP


Carol Seibert

Carol Seibert has worked with educational software and technology for over 30 years, specializing in research, development, testing, and training users with Don Johnston Incorporated. Carol holds her degree in Elementary Education/Special Education, and is Co-Founder of the Learners for Life Resource Center (Nonprofit Learning Support Services) in Gig Harbor, Washington.


Carol Seibert




Specifications and Support 


The Start-to-Finish computer CDs are NOT compatible with Mac OS 10.7 or 10.8. If you’re running these operating systems, check out Start-to-Finish Online Accessible Library! It supports any OS including iOS (iPads) and Android.

See Don Johnston's guide to Software Requirements 



Download a sample lesson from Don Johnston 

Research report 


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Please note, customers cannot return software for a refund.  However, we do offer a store credit for the full amount if returned within 21 days. After 21 days a restocking fee may apply.

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