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Structured literacy: Start in 5 Steps

Structured Literacy

The hardest thing about implementing structured literacy to me is trying to teach every element explicitly and systematically. If you are not for sure what the elements of Structured Literacy are, I discuss each one in this post.

Let’s be real, we know how our schedules look at school and reading isn’t the only subject that we have to fit in a school day… so where do we start? How do we fit Structured Literacy into our day so that our students benefit and learn to read efficiently.

Structured Literacy Curriculum

There are curriculum programs that base their programs on the structured literacy approach, but structured literacy is not a curriculum. It is the application of the evidence (science of reading). I have went to trainings, been certified in programs, and conducted my own research so that I have the knowledge to pull from programs and resources backed by science. I highly suggest taking trainings and/or doing some research on your own so that you will know what to pick and choose from regarding the research and the tips I give below.

Structured Literacy Tip #1

Teach Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness- This is the easiest thing to implement when you are starting your journey. It takes only 10 minutes a day to be effective. It is most effective when you teach it in small groups, but can easily be taught with a whole group. In my second grade classroom, I use Heggerty Phonological and Phonemic awareness at the beginning of my small groups. The lessons are easy to follow, explicit, and includes movement making it multisensory/multimodal. In second grade I do not use pictures or manipulatives when teaching phonemic awareness, but if you teach an earlier grade, it is fine to do so as a support for students that need visuals. Keep in mind that phonemic awareness is taught without print, so do not use printed letters to make connection to sound at this point.

Structured Literacy Tip #2

Teach Phonics

Phonics: Letter -sound correspondence is when students can connect the sounds (phonemes) to the letters (graphemes). Before you can teach letter- sound correspondence, you should make sure that your students can segment phonemes. If you introduce letters before this, your students may not get how the two connect and it will be ineffective.

Having a scope and sequence is crucial. There is no right scope and sequence so if you already have a phonics curriculum, use that one. Make sure that the sequence allows the most common sounds to be taught first to allow opportunities for early blending (decoding) and spelling (encoding).

For example, teaching /a/ /t/ /m/ will allow spelling and reading of am, at, and mat.

I teach using Core Knowledge (CKLA) Skills Curriculum, so I follow their scope and sequence. I follow the explicit introduction of new phonemes/graphemes as well.

If students struggle with writing the spelling, have them use phonogram cards or letter tiles to move and manipulate sounds.

Structured Literacy Tip #3

Use Decodable Readers

This is the most painful switch yet! People hate to part ways with their leveled readers. If you start teaching phonics, you have to switch to decodable readers to allow your students the opportunity to practice the skills you taught. I use these in my small groups. I use the readers that are a part of the curriculum that I use since it aligns with the scope and sequence. Make sure that the decodable readers that you use are actually decodable for your students ( they can decode the words). This should de done after each new lesson you teach.

Structured Literacy Tip #4

Teach High Frequency Words

Teach high frequency words explicitly, just like anything else in structured literacy. You will have to move away from having students learn these words as whole words and memorizing them by sight. Introduce the phonetically spelled high frequency words with your phonics instruction because they are decodable (at, in). For irregular high frequency words, do not teach them until your students have phonemic awareness, know all of their letters and the sounds that are most commonly associated with them. When you do teach them, do it by teaching the decodable parts as decodable and have students learn only the irregular part of the word by heart.

Structured Literacy Tip #5

Teach Language Comprehension

language comprehension is more than just vocabulary. I like to think of it as semantics and syntax. Semantics is all about meaning, but it is deeper than just vocabulary. This also includes teaching words with multiple meanings, different shades or meaning, and non-literal language or figurative language. Syntax is more than just grammar. It is also about understanding sentence structure and mechanics of a language.

I teach these skills whole group, but still explicitly. I provide students opportunities to interact with vocabulary rich text through read aloud. We break apart sentences, combine sentences, or switch out one word for a different word to discuss shades of meaning. Make sure when choosing vocabulary you do not aim for every day “talk” words. Words like that do not need to be taught explicitly because students know them just by interacting everyday . Provide opportunities for students to listen, discuss and write about the text that you expose them to.

What’s Next?

I hope that you found this breakdown helpful and that it helps you move forward with structured literacy. You do not have to implement each step all at once. Take your time and make changes a little at a time.

Thank you for reading.

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