Level Up with Literacy: December Issue

Level Up with Literacy

December 2021 Newsletter: Structured Literacy

teacher in yellow shirt gives high five to preschool student in red shirt In this issue:

By: Heather Gaskins, SST 1 Consultant

Heather Gaskins

When we talk about multi-sensory structured literacy instruction in the preschool setting, what we are saying is that we are engaging more than one of our students’ senses which is one of the main intentions of play-based learning. This intentional way of teaching helps educators to engage the whole brain, increase access to instruction, and provide more opportunities for students to show us what they know and are able to do.

We know that even our youngest learners come to us with varied learning modalities. When we consider multi-sensory structured literacy instruction, we must intentionally plan learning experiences that will address these multiple ways of learning. One way to do that? Through the use of read-alouds. It’s important to remember that we are not teaching preschoolers to read but rather, we are teaching them those precursor literacy skills that will lead to later reading success.

What makes an effective read-aloud? Intentional planning and re-reading of the story with a focus on different components each time.
There are many tools and resources that can assist educators in planning meaningful, multi-sensory literacy lessons. One such resource is Building Early Literacy and Language Skills: A resource and activity guide for preschool and kindergarten (Paulson, Noble, Jepson & van den Pol. Sopris West, 2001). It uses a simple, multi-sensory approach to building language and literacy skills in young children. Components of each lesson in this resource include a list of materials needed, a description of the lesson, the skills of focus, adaptations for diverse learners, a family connection and target outcomes.

Let’s take a closer look at an example of a lesson from this resource that can provide us with the tools we need to meet the literacy needs of young children through read-alouds:

From Head to Toe Alive Book
Strategy Alignment to the Simple View of Reading Multi-sensory Modalities Engaged…
Read aloud From Head to Toe by Eric Carle, pointing out book and print organization features Word Recognition Students look at the pictures and the text on each page while listening to the teacher read aloud
(visual, auditory)
Re-read the story, defining for students preselected vocabulary words Language Comprehension Teachers and students tap out sounds in the new words or use manipulatives to represent syllables or phonemes
(visual, auditory, kinesthetic)
Read the book multiple times, focusing on different elements (vocabulary) Word Recognition Students act out the movements of each animal in the book as the teacher reads the book aloud, showing the pictures
(kinesthetic, visual, auditory)
Students make paper plate puppets of the characters and use them to retell the story
(tactile, kinesthetic, auditory)

Everything you need is at your fingertips for embedding multi-sensory, intentional, evidence-based literacy lessons into your daily instruction.

Resources Multisensory Emergent Literacy

Building Early Literacy Book

Building Early Literacy and Language Skills: A resource and activity guide for preschool and kindergarten (Paulson, Noble, Jepson & van den Pol. Sopris West. 2001) uses a simple, multisensory approach to building language and literacy skills in young children. Components of each lesson in this resource include a list of materials needed, a description of the lesson, the skills of focus, adaptations for diverse learners, a family connection and target outcomes. Everything you need is at your fingertips for embedding multi-sensory, intentional, evidence-based lessons into your daily instruction.

Questions? Send Heather an email or call 419.720.8999.

close up of letter magnets

“Structured Literacy is an approach to reading instruction that can be beneficial not only for students with reading disabilities,
but also for other at-risk students including English learners and struggling adolescents.”

– The Structured Literacy Brief (Baker et al., 2014; Gersten et al., 2008; Kamil et al., 2008; Vaughn et al., 2006)


Hover over the  highlighted terms  for definitions
Structured Literacy describes all of the science-based strategies, principles, and methods educators should use to teach all students how to read, spell, and write. The International Dyslexia Association coined the term to describe instructionally-sound teaching that introduces language and literacy content such as:  phonemic awareness ,  phonics ,  orthography ,  morphology ,  syntax , and  semantics  in a way that is:

  •  Teacher-led 
  •  Explicit 
  •  Systematic 
  •  Sequential 
  •  Interactive 
  •  Diagnostic 
  •  Mastery-driven 
  •  Multi-sensory 

Many well-known intervention programs and instructional methods fall under the umbrella of Structured Literacy. It’s important that educators select the evidence-based practices that are best for their students, use appropriate progress-monitoring, then respond and refine interventions as needed. For more on what Structured Literacy is (and is not), see the International Dyslexia Association’s explanation.

Learn More

An Overview of Structured Literacy with Nancy Hennessy, M.Ed., LDT-C.

close up of a children's book

“If more schools adopted features of Structured Literacy in their general education programs,
schools could help prevent or ameliorate many children’s difficulties with learning to read and write.”

– The Structured Literacy Brief (Foorman et al., 2016; NRP, 2000)

Brain research demonstrates a direct correlation between handwriting and student achievement in reading and spelling. Structured literacy benefits ALL children but is essential for students with dyslexia, struggling readers, and children with disabilities. (Spear-Swerling, L. 2018) (Brady, S. 2011)

We know that some learners learn to read very easily and some face challenges that require intensive support to read with fluency. But research shows that all learners benefit from a Structured Literacy approach. In fact, code-based, systematic, explicit instruction is essential for at least 50-65% of students, and 40% benefit from Structured Literacy practices.


the ladder of reading and writing

The Ladder of Reading was created by Nancy Young, B.A., M.Ed., an educational consultant who specializes in dyslexia, giftedness, and ADHD.  Her original Ladder of Reading was presented as a visual representation of the Structured Literacy data, designed to help educators and families understand the wide range of ease in learning to read.

UPDATE: The Ladder of Reading is now the Ladder of Reading and Writing
A new version of the Ladder of Reading was released last month to reflect that most students likely need code-based, systematic, explicit, intensive instruction, and repetition to learn to read, spell, and write. Nancy provides more information and a full explanation of her updated infographic on her website.


If you’d like to take a deeper dive into why using Structured Literacy strategies is a stronger approach to teaching reading than using Balanced Literacy, listen in as Debbie Nagel and Jackie Jacoby discussed this topic with the SST 1 Literacy Leaders Network.

Debbie also discusses why Structured Literacy should be used in reading instruction in her blog post, What is Structured Literacy and Why Should Schools Use It?

Explore Further

Literacy Leaders Network on Structured Literacy

Header Family

“Successful literacy instruction and interventions…provide a strong core of highly explicit, systematic teaching of foundational skills such as decoding and spelling skills, as well as explicit teaching of other important components of literacy such as vocabulary, comprehension, and writing.”(Fletcher et al., 2018; Gersten et al., 2008; Graham et al., 2012; Torgesen, 2004).

Structured Literacy provides an approach to reading instruction in which educators intentionally and carefully structure and sequence important literacy skills to facilitate learning as much as possible for all students.

The International Dyslexia Association identifies the following instructional principles as hallmark features of a Structured Literacy approach to reading:

  1. Instructional tasks are modeled and clearly explained, especially when first introduced or when a child is having difficulty.
  2. Highly explicit instruction is provided, not only in important foundational skills such as decoding and spelling, but also in higher-level aspects of literacy such as syntax, reading comprehension, and text composition.
  3. Important prerequisite skills are taught before students are expected to learn more advanced skills.
  4. Meaningful interactions with language occur during the lesson.
  5. Multiple opportunities are provided to practice instructional tasks.
  6. Well-targeted corrective feedback is provided after initial student responses.
  7. Student effort is encouraged.
  8. Lesson engagement during teacher-led instruction is monitored and scaffolded.
  9. Lesson engagement during independent work is monitored and facilitated.
  10. Students successfully complete activities at a high criterion level of performance before moving on to more advanced skills.


  Typical literacy practices: Replace with this Structured Literacy practice
Initial phonics approach often emphasize a larger-unit approach
(ex. “word families”)
Emphasize a phoneme-grapheme level approach.
Attention to phonemic awareness may offer limited attention to phonemic awareness Explicitly teach phonemic awareness skills such as phoneme blending and segmentation.
Coordination of decoding and spelling instruction are often not well-coordinated; may focus on memorization of whole words rather than application of phonics skills Coordinate instruction well, with beginners working on similar word patterns in decoding and spelling (ex. CVC words).
Delivery of instruction are often not centered in teacher-led, explicit instruction Prioritize teacher-led, explicit, systematic instruction.
Types of texts typically use leveled or predictable texts with words that poor decoders cannot decode Coordinate texts with the phonics program to ensure most words are decodable for learners.
Teacher feedback to children’s oral reading errors include limited teacher feedback to encourage guessing at words based on context Provide prompt feedback to encourage close attention to the print and application of decoding skills.

Chart adapted from the International Dyslexia Association

teens in medical masks complete homework together

In the Structured Literacy approach, multi-sensory learning experiences are those that engage the visual, auditory, and tactile centers of the brain. Students use manipulatives and movement to help reinforce sounds and spelling patterns. Some programs may use colored tiles, felts, paper squares, or tapping sounds to incorporate movement and foster engagement. In addition, during auditory and visual drills, students are encouraged to trace letters using their index and middle finger while saying the sounds, letter names, and looking at the letter.

This engages all three critical areas of the brain (visual, auditory, kinesthetic-tactile) while learning and reinforcing letter sounds, names, and formations. Explicit handwriting  and letter formation is embedded into instruction  This approach creates pathways in the brain for learning to read and spell resulting in fewer struggling readers.  (Welsch, 2020) (RW&C, LLC)


  • felts
  • base-10 blocks
  • puzzles
  • audio books
  • shared reading
  • songs
  • sand
  • fluffers
  • tracing
  • scratch & sniff books or stickers
  • scented markers
  • letter-shaped crackers or cereal

*This is not an inclusive list of strategies. The Assistive Technology & Accessible Educational Materials Center offers more suggestions.

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Do you have questions about using Structured Literacy with your students? Are you looking for coaching or professional learning for your staff? Help is just a call or email away! Drop us a line with your questions and requests. Our literacy consultants are happy to provide support and help you determine next steps.

View our staff directory

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Ohio Department of Education
This training module helps kindergarten – grade 5 educators implement a structured literacy approach to teaching students to read.

Watch the training video Download the viewing guide

Ohio Department of Education
Kindergarten – grade 5 educators will receive an informed framework for comprehension instruction and the critical role of vocabulary instruction.

View the presentation Download the viewing guide


Meets Monthly  |  Virtual
State Support Team 1
Gain evidence-based literacy practices and strategies to promote positive outcomes for learners following the timelines and requirements of the Ohio Dyslexia Legislation.

Register today


Meets Monthly  |  Virtual
State Support Team 1
Receive updates regarding early childhood education, ensure you are meeting federal IDEA requirements, and receive supports for the use of standards, curriculum, and assessments for all learners.

Join us January 13


Open January 10 – June 24  |  Virtual, Self-Paced
Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center
Teachers from grades Pre-K through 3rd grade are invited to build their knowledge and skills for enhancing literacy instruction through family engagement.

Register now


Begins January 21  |  Virtual
State Support Team 1
Increase your knowledge and practice of emergent literacy strategies for children with training in early phonological awareness, developing oral language, and building print awareness.

Learn more

Friday, February 25  |  9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
ESCLEW and State Support Team 1
This FREE panel discussion will give Lucas County educators an opportunity to review the new Ohio Dyslexia Handbook, hear from experts about tip-to-tip teaching for learners with dyslexia, and more!

Watch our website for more information!

Saturday, March 5  |  Virtual
International Dyslexia Association of Central Ohio
This live panel discussion covers the Science of Reading, Universal Dyslexia Screening, Early Intervention, and Teacher Training to help you navigate the shift to Structured Literacy.

Look for more information in our February issue!

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Level Up with Literacy is a bi-monthly digital publication that provides information and resources to help you ensure all learners have access to high-quality language and literacy instruction and appropriate interventions from birth through grade 12.

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