Structured Literacy

The APPLICATION of the Science of Reading into Literacy Instruction The Science of Reading (Evidence) arrow pointing to Structured Literacy (Application)

The term “Structured Literacy” was coined and trademarked by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), and refers to reading instruction and programs that are informed by, and delivered consistently with, the Science of Reading research as their foundation.

Structured Literacy: Effective Instruction for Students with Related Reading Difficulties
International Dyslexia Association article

Structured Literacy teaching stands in contrast to other approaches that are popular in many schools but that do not teach oral and written language skills in an explicit, systematic manner. Evidence is very strong that the majority of students learn to read better with structured teaching of basic language skills, but the components and methods of Structured Literacy are critical for students with reading disabilities including dyslexia.

Therefore, Structured Literacy teaching is the most effective approach for students who experience unusual difficulty learning to read and spell printed words. The term refers to both the content and methods or principles of instruction.

Structured Literacy is characterized by the provision of systematic, explicit instruction that integrates speaking, reading, and writing and emphasizes the structure of language across:

  • Speech sounds (phonology)
  • The writing system (orthography)
  • The structure of sentences (syntax)
  • The meaningful parts of words (morphology)
  • The relationship among words (semantics)
  • And the organization of spoken and written discourse


What is structured Literacy - a brief explanation.

Elements: Phonology, Sound Symbol Association, Syllable Instruction, Morphology, Syntax, Semantics Guiding Principles: Systematic and Cumulative, From basic concept to more complex concept, Explicit Instruction, Diagnostic Teaching


The GUIDING PRINCIPLES of Structured Literacy

  • Explicit & Direct Instruction: deliberate teaching of all concepts, with continuous student-teacher interaction.
  • Systematic: the organization of the lessons and accompanying materials follows the logical order of language. The sequence begins with the easiest and most basic concepts and elements, and progresses methodically to more difficult concepts and elements.
  • Cumulative: each step must be based on concepts previously learned.
  • Diagnostic & Responsive: instruction is based on careful & continuous assessment.
  • Hands-On, Engaging, & Multimodal: methods often include hands-on, multi-sensory learning.
  • Guided Practice & Independent Practice with scaffolded learning opportunities (I Do, We Do, You Do)


The ELEMENTS of Structured Literacy

Phonology (speech sounds):
Phonology is the study of the sound structures of spoken words and is a critical element of Structured Literacy instruction. Phonemic Awareness, the ability to recognize and manipulate individual phonemes (smallest speech sound) in a spoken word, has been proven to be a foundational reading skill. English as 44 phonemes.

Sound-Symbol Association:
Students must learn how to map the sounds (phonemes) to symbols or printed letters (graphemes). Students learn the alphabetic principle, and systematically learn how to decode (read) and encode (spell) words.

Syllable Instruction:
A Syllable is a unit of oral or written language with one vowel sound. Instruction includes teaching of the six basic syllable types in the English language.

Morphology (meaningful word parts):
The Structured Literacy curriculum includes the study of base words, roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Syntax (structure of sentences):
Syntax is the set of principles that dictate the sequence and function of words in a sentence in order to convey meaning. This includes grammar, sentence variation, and the mechanics of language.

Semantics (meaning):
Semantics is that aspect of language concerned with meaning. The curriculum (from the beginning) must include instruction in the comprehension of written language, including vocabulary.

VIDEO: Focus on Structured Literacy
Watch this video for an excellent introduction to Structured Literacy by one of the experts in the field of literacy, Nancy Hennessey (8 minutes).


How does Structured Literacy Compare to Typical Literacy Practices?

Structured Literacy vs Typical Approaches



PROGRAMS that Align with a Structured Literacy Approach

Structured Literacy is an Approach, not a Specific Program. Once you have in-depth knowledge about the Structured Literacy approach, including both the guiding principles and specific elements of instruction, you can evaluate more critically which programs and resources adhere to this scientifically proven method, and which programs are the best match for your students’ needs.

Literacy Programs that utilize a Structured Literacy Approach will incorporate:

  • Principles: Explicit, Systematic & Cumulative, Diagnostic & Responsive, Hands-on, Engaging, and Multi-modal
  • Explicitly & Systematically teaches word identification strategies
  • Elements: Phonology, Sound-Symbol Association, Syllables, Morphology, Syntax, Semantics, Comprehension

The Reading Institute provides a comprehensive list of reading programs that use the Structured Literacy approach.

The programs listed below also align with a Structured Literacy approach. They may be used for classroom instruction (Tier 1) in grades K-Gr 3 or for Tier 2 & 3 intervention for struggling readers, including older students.

Wilson Language

Wilson Language – Programs
*Fundations: prevention & Early Literacy Program for K-3.
*Just Words: focus on decoding and encoding for students below grade level. For students in grades 4-12 & adults
*Wilson Reading System: Intensive instruction in small groups or 1-1. For students in grades 4-12 & adults.

Wilson provides excellent teacher training and resources.

Voyager Sopris Publisher

Voyager Sopris Learning
Voyager Sopris Publishing provides proven programs, high-quality professional development, and evidence-based intervention. As well as their excellent literacy programs, they also provide assessment tools and math programs. Here are some of their well-respected literacy programs:

Voyager Passport (K-5)
-Reading Intervention program for grades K-5.
-Comprehensive, explicit, & systematic instruction in the 5 essential components of reading and includes language & writing
-Remote Ready with: online teacher center, online student center, eBooks, Fluency Practice Activities, Writing Practice Activities, etc.

*Literacy! Live.
-Developed by Louisa Moats, literacy expert
-Comprehensive Literacy intervention for struggling students in Grades 5-12.
-Blended learning models, including digital platform, so good for virtual/online learning
-Reinforces literacy foundations while strategically using authentic text to engage and accelerate them to grade-level proficiency.

-Literacy Intervention for grades 4-12
– Very comprehensive. Covers Speaking & Listening to the English Language, Phonemic Awareness & Phonics, Word Recognition & Spelling, Vocabulary & Morphology, Grammar & Usage, Listening & Rdg. Comprehension, Speaking & Writing.
-Appropriate for classroom and RTI groupings. Differentiated learning
-Blended learning modules
– PD and ongoing support

Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program (LiPS)

Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program for Reading, Spelling, and Speech (LiPS)
This evidence-based program is well regarded for providing multi-sensory instruction in phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondences, decoding/encoding. It is an effective prevention program for students in grades K-Gr. 3 and an intervention program for individuals of all ages. You will need to add other resources, such as decodable text. It does not address reading comprehension skills.

UFLI Foundations Toolbox

UFLI Foundations 

“UFLI Foundations is an explicit and systematic program that teaches students the foundational skills necessary for proficient reading. It follows a carefully developed scope and sequence designed to ensure that students systematically acquire each skill needed and learn to apply each skill with automaticity and confidence. The program is designed to be used for core instruction in the primary grades or for intervention with struggling students in any grade.”

“UFLI Foundations strikes the perfect balance between structure and responsiveness to students’ needs. The program features ample opportunities for students to practice, along with built-in gradual release. It provides teachers with detailed lesson plans, a PowerPoint slide deck to accompany each lesson, and downloadable materials for homework or center activities.”

This is a mostly free, very easy to use reading instruction program designed by the University of Florida Literacy Institute based on solid research.  It comes with a great cross-referenced list of decodable texts.


Decodable Text Series

Decodable texts follow a Structured Literacy Approach
-Books in the series follow a systematic scope and sequence of letter-sound correspondences.
-Systematically presents the 6 syllable types.
-Used with emerging readers and older struggling readers to develop & master phonology, sound-symbol association, morphology, and fluency.
-Some series are more thorough and provide accompanying teacher resources, lessons, and student activities. Others may not have lessons/teacher resources but are excellent for extended practice.

TEACHER PREPARATION in Structured Literacy:

A critical factor in maximizing the effectiveness of Structured Literacy instruction, regardless of the resources you use, is the depth of your teacher knowledge.

The identification of individuals with dyslexia and other reading difficulties, and appropriate instruction by a well-trained teacher using a structured approach to teaching reading, has been a cornerstone of IDA since its beginning. To ensure that teachers and specialists are appropriately trained, IDA reviews and accredits teacher training programs and began certifying individuals in 2016.

Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers Reading (KPS)

Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading (KPS) pdf
IDA views accreditation and certification as key strategies to change the way reading is taught in classrooms. Through accreditation and certification, IDA develops a direct line that connects teacher preparation programs to teacher competency and, in turn, to student achievement. IDA accredited programs produce highly knowledgeable and skilled teachers of reading who seek certification and positively impact reading achievement for all students.

The Center for Effective Reading Instruction (CERI)

The Center for Effective Reading Instruction requires candidates to present evidence of their having mastered the content of the KPS by earning a passing score on the Knowledge and Practice Examination of Effective Reading Instruction (K-PEERI) and for select certifications, passing scores or ratings on supervised practicum requirements.

IDA Accredited Programs

IDA Accredited Programs are listed on CERTI
Professionals graduating from an IDA Accredited Program are prepared to earn a CERI certification. CERI recognizes IDA Accredited Programs, which have undergone a rigorous vetting process designed to ensure that program graduates have mastered core KPS-aligned knowledge and practice competencies associated with preventing reading failure and remediating off track readers- including readers at-risk for, and identified with, Dyslexia.


Resources - International Dyslexia Associations

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) is the best site to start your journey into learning how to apply the Structured Literacy (SL) approach into your literacy instruction and intervention.
Helpful overviews provided by IDA:
*Structured Literacy Press Ready Infographic
*Structured Literacy – An Introductory Guide (Educator Training Initiative Brief)
*IDA Dyslexia Handbook. What Every family Should Know.

There are affiliated Dyslexia Association branches around the world, including the branch in Canada, International Dyslexia Association of Ontario.
All of the branches provide resources for both families and professionals, and ongoing professional development and training opportunities. (We list upcoming PD in our Event Calendar)

Books for Teachers


Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers 3rd Edition, 2020  by Louisa Moats

Speech to Print front cover


“For two decades, Speech to Print has been a bestselling, widely adopted textbook on explicit, high-quality literacy instruction. The highly anticipated third edition, is fully updated with ten years of new research, a complete package of supporting materials, and expanded guidance on the how of assessment and instruction in today’s classrooms.”





The Art and Science of Teaching Primary Reading  by Christopher Such

The Art & Science of Teaching Primary Reading front cover“The essential guide to the science behind reading and its practical implications for classroom teaching in primary schools.

Teaching children to read is one of the most important tasks in primary education and classroom practice needs to be underpinned by a secure foundation of knowledge. Teachers need to know what reading entails, how children learn to read and how it can be taught effectively.

This book is an essential guide for primary teachers that explores the key technical and practical aspects of how children read with strong links to theory and how to translate this into the classroom. Bite-size chapters offer accessible research-informed ideas across all major key topics including phonics, comprehension, teaching children with reading difficulties and strategies for the classroom.”


Structured Literacy Interventions
Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties, Grades K-6  Edited by Louise Spear-Swerling

book cover shows a stack of books and a thick, red one displays the title of Structured Literacy Interventions
“Comprehensive and evidence-based, Structured Literacy (SL) approaches place a high value on explicit, systematic, and sequential instruction. This book brings together leading experts on key components of literacy to help K–6 teachers design and target SL interventions for particular student profiles. Chapters identify effective features of instruction for supporting phonological awareness, basic and multisyllabic word decoding, spelling, reading fluency, vocabulary, oral and reading comprehension, and written expression, especially for at-risk readers and those with disabilities.”




Shifting the Balance
6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom  By Jan Burkins and Kari Yates

Shifting the Balance front coverYour whole classroom, from resources to posters to routines to lessons you know off by heart, are centered around a balanced literacy approach. But you’ve also noticed that not all of the children in your class are learning to read, much less fluently, and you’ve heard that Balanced Literacy is on the way out. Which approach is best then? Do you have to redo everything you’ve spent years perfecting?

Authors Jan Burkins and Kari Yates address these questions as a “critical opportunity to look closely at the research, reevaluate current practices, and embrace new possibilities” to ensure that every child learns to read.  This book is a great stepping stone on your way to a fully Structured Literacy classroom.


Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction ,2nd Edition,  by Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown and Linda Kucan

Bringing Words to Life front cover“Hundreds of thousands of teachers have used this highly practical guide to help K–12 students enlarge their vocabulary and get involved in noticing, understanding, and using new words. Grounded in research, the book explains how to select words for instruction, introduce their meanings, and create engaging learning activities that promote both word knowledge and reading comprehension. The authors are trusted experts who draw on extensive experience in diverse classrooms and schools. Sample lessons and vignettes, children’s literature suggestions, “Your Turn” learning activities, and a Study Guide for teachers enhance the book’s utility as a classroom resource, professional development tool, or course text. ”




A Fresh Look at Phonics, Grades K-2
Common Causes of Failure and 7 Ingredients for Success by Wiley Blevins

A Fresh Look at Phonics“In this amazing follow up to his renowned resource Phonics From A-Z, Wiley uses the data he has collected over two decades to share which approaches truly work, which have failed, and how teachers can fine-tune their daily instruction for success.

You will learn to focus on the seven critical ingredients of phonics teaching that produce the greatest student learning gains— readiness skills, scope and sequence, blending, dictation, word awareness, high frequency words, and reading connected texts.
In a final section, Wiley details the ten common reasons instruction fails and shows teachers how to correct these missteps regarding lesson pacing, transitions, decodable texts, writing activities, assessment and more. A Fresh Look at Phonics is the evidence-based solution you have been seeking.”


Literacy Foundations for English Learners: A Comprehensive Guide to Evidence-Based Instruction by Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan

Literacy Foundations for English Learners front cover

“Perfect for teachers who need: Evidence-backed principles, strategies, and activities for providing English learners in Pre-K–Grade 6 with explicit instruction on language and literacy fundamentals.

An essential text for courses on literacy foundations and biliteracy—and an ideal in-service professional development resource—this accessible book will give teachers the knowledge base they need to help English learners develop strong literacy skills and achieve academic success.”

“Comprehensive and well-written . . . provides many practical suggestions. All professionals who work with ELL students should read this book.”—Linda Siegel, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, University of British Columbia.


Learning Disabilities: From Identification to Intervention by FLetcher, Lyon, Fuchs and Barnes

cover of Learning Disabilities by Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs and BarnesThis second edition is the definitive source for teachers, administrators, and researchers on evidence-based practices for teaching academic skills to students with LDs. Its acclaimed authors provide a detailed, compelling, and nuanced picture of LDs and how to address their impact on students’ learning.”

“There are so many books and so little time–yet this one, I assure you, is worth your precious time. Whether your primary interest is teacher training, research, or classroom practice, this book provides the knowledge you need. Building on the exemplary first edition, the second edition features current research on all domains of LDs (math, word reading, writing, reading comprehension) and expanded practical guidance for implementing research-based practices across the grade span.”