What Is Structured Literacy?

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structured literacy

In today’s post, I introduce you to the concept of Structured Literacy (SL). As explained by Louise Spear-Swerling (2022), SL is a comprehensive approach to reading interventions that caters to children with various reading difficulties. SL covers a broad spectrum of instructional strategies and is designed to support students with diverse reading challenges, not just those with specific types of difficulties.

SL is not limited to phonics instruction. It includes teaching foundational skills like phonemic awareness, phonics, and spelling, as well as advanced literacy skills such as reading comprehension and written expression. This makes SL effective for both decoding problems and comprehension issues (Louise Spear-Swerling, 2022).

In this post, I cover the definition of Structured Literacy, highlighting what SL is and how it supports a wide range of reading challenges. I also delve into the key features of SL, explaining the components and instructional strategies that make it effective. Additionally, I provide sample SL activities that you can implement in your classroom to support your students’ literacy development.

For those of you interested in delving deeper into the features and benefits of Structured Literacy, check out the references and resources at the bottom of the page.

What Is Structured Literacy?

Structured Literacy (SL) is a term used by the International Dyslexia Association to describe a collection of teaching methods and interventions designed to address various literacy challenges. SL focuses on essential literacy skills and components of oral language that are crucial for reading development and often linked to different types of reading difficulties.

Key elements of SL according to Louise Spear-Swerling (2022) include:

  • Phonemic awareness: Understanding and manipulating individual sounds in spoken words.
  • Phonics: Recognizing letter-sound relationships and using this knowledge to read unfamiliar words.
  • Orthography: Understanding common spelling patterns in English.
  • Morphology: Knowing about word parts like roots, prefixes, and suffixes.
  • Syntax: Understanding sentence structure.
  • Semantics: Comprehending meaning at the word, sentence, and text levels.

These components work together to build a strong foundation for reading and addressing literacy difficulties.


Structured Literacy

Structured Literacy Features

The importance of structured literacy is well documented in the literature (e.g., Berninger et al., 2006; Seidenberg, 2017; Spear-Swerling ; Stanovich, 2000))., Structured Literacy (SL) involves a methodical and direct approach to teaching key literacy skills. Here are some of its main features as outlined by Spear-Swerling (2022, p. 4):

  • Systematic Teaching: SL involves the explicit instruction of essential skills. Teachers model and explain these skills clearly, ensuring students understand each step.
  • Attention to Prerequisite Skills: Instruction follows a logical sequence, progressing from simple to more complex skills. For example, teachers first show students how to break down simple words into individual sounds before moving on to more complex tasks like summarization strategies for comprehension.
  • Targeted, Unambiguous, Prompt Feedback: SL takes into account the foundational skills needed for more advanced tasks. Students are taught to spell simple consonant-vowel-consonant words before tackling more complex ones. Feedback is given promptly to correct mistakes and prevent future errors.
  • Planned, Purposeful Choices of Examples, Tasks, and Texts: Teachers select examples, tasks, and texts that align with students’ current skill levels, ensuring they are neither too easy nor too confusing. For instance, when teaching new vocabulary, teachers use definitions that students can understand.
  • Consistent Application of Skills and Teaching for Transfer: Initial phonics and spelling instruction focuses on letter-sound relationships and blending rather than larger units like whole words. Activities are designed to reinforce learned skills and encourage their application to new, increasingly complex tasks.
  • Data-based Decision Making: Instruction is guided by ongoing assessment and data. Teachers adjust their methods based on student progress, ensuring that the tasks chosen help students apply and transfer their skills to different contexts.

Related: Essential Strategies for Teaching Phonemic Awareness

Structured Literacy Activities

There are several Structured Literacy (SL) activities teachers can use in the classroom to support reading development. Below are some practical suggestions highlighted in Mowyer and Johnson (2019)’s paper:

  1. Phonemic Awareness Games: Engage students in activities that help them identify and manipulate sounds in words, such as rhyming games or segmenting words into individual sounds.
  2. Explicit Phonics Instruction: Teach students the relationship between letters and sounds through direct instruction and practice, helping them decode new words accurately.
  3. Vocabulary Building: Use clear, simple definitions and context clues to teach new vocabulary words, enhancing students’ understanding and usage of new terms.
  4. Comprehension Strategies: Model and practice strategies like summarization, asking questions, and making inferences to help students understand and analyze texts.
  5. Reading and Writing Integration: Have students practice writing sentences and paragraphs using their phonics and vocabulary knowledge, reinforcing their reading skills through writing.
  6. Science Texts Engagement: Use popular science articles or adapted primary literature to teach students how to read and understand scientific texts, fostering scientific literacy.

Related: Phonological Awareness Versus Phonemic Awareness

Final thoughts

In this post, I covered the definition of Structured Literacy, its key features, and provided sample activities to help you implement these strategies in your classroom. I hope you have found these insights valuable and that it inspires you to explore and integrate Structured Literacy into your teaching practice. For those of you interested in learning more, make sure to check out the references and resources below.

References

  • Berninger, V. W., Abbott, R. D., Jones, J., Wolf, B. J., Gould, L., Anderson-Youngstrom, M., … & Apel, K. (2006). Early development of language by hand: Composing, reading, listening, and speaking connections; three letter-writing modes; and fast mapping in spelling. Developmental neuropsychology29(1), 61-92.
  • Mawyer, K. K. N., & Johnson, H. J. (2019). Eliciting Preservice Teachers’ Reading Strategies Through Structured Literacy Activities. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 30(6), 583–600. https://doi.org/10.1080/1046560X.2019.1589848
  • Spear-Swerling, L. (Ed.). (2022). An introduction to structured literacy and poor-reader Profiles. In L. Spear-Swerling (Ed.), Structured literacy interventions : teaching students with reading difficulties, grades K-6 (pp. 1-22). The Guilford Press.
  • Spear-Swerling, L. (2019). Here’s Why Schools Should Use Structured Literacy. International Dyslexia Association.
  • Stanovich, K. E. (2000). Progress in understanding reading: Scientific foundations and new frontiers. Guilford Press.

Further Readings

  • Alexander, K. L. (2024). Using Intentional Pairing and Peer Tutoring during Structured Literacy Activities in Inclusion Classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 77(6), 991–996. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.2329
  • Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2010). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. Guilford Publications.
  • Center, Y., & Freeman, L. (1997). The use of a structured literacy program to facilitate the inclusion of marginal and special education students into regular classes. Australasian Journal of Special Education21(1), 45-62.
  • Fallon, K. A., & Katz, L. A. (2020). Structured Literacy Intervention for Students with Dyslexia: Focus on Growing Morphological Skills. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 51(2), 336–344. https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_LSHSS-19-00019
  • Haynes, C. W., Smith, S. L., & Laud, L. (2019). Structured Literacy Approaches to Teaching Written Expression. Perspectives on Language and Literacy45(3), 22-28.
  • International Dyslexia Association. (2019) Structured literacy: An introductory guide. Newark,DE
  • Seidenberg, M. (2017). Language at the Speed of Sight: How we Read, Why so Many Can’t, and what can be done about it. Basic Books.
  • Spear-Swerling, L. (Ed.). (2022). Structured literacy interventions : teaching students with reading difficulties, grades K-6. The Guilford Press.
  • Phonemic Awareness Games and Activities, Educators Technology.

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