What is Structured Literacy?

what is structured literacy?

Structured literacy is an approach to teaching reading that focuses on the explicit instruction of language mechanics. Research shows that this approach significantly helps students with Dyslexia, but is also an effective approach for all students.

Some other popular reading programs use ‘Balanced Literacy’ or ‘Guided Reading,’ to anchor students’ development in reading. Programs like these focus on the development of comprehension skills and teach reading within the context of real books. They teach students strategies for guessing unknown words, like using context clues, or using a picture to determine a word. These are part of what is known as a ‘whole language’ approach to reading. They can be an effective component of a larger reading curriculum. But when a student learns to read using this approach alone, many students fall through the cracks. And research has proven that students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities rarely learn how to read this way.

That’s where Structured Literacy comes in. There are six elements of a Structured Literacy program, each one equal in importance. And there are three principles that guide how these elements are taught.

The Six Elements of Structured Literacy (What to Teach)

1. Phonology

Phonology refers to the study of spoken words and the patterns within them. Phonological skills involve hearing how words are structured, identifying rhymes and word families, and counting syllables in words. Phonological and phonemic awareness are both critical components of phonology.

2. Sound-Symbols

Sound-symbol association is where students begin to recognize that written symbols represent spoken sounds and that the same symbol will represent the same sound in many different contexts. It is crucial that students can identify the sound associated with a symbol (reading) and identify the symbol associated with a sound (spelling). 

3. Syllables

Once students have mastered phonological and phonemic awareness and sound-symbol relationships, they learn syllable types. Students learn that syllables follow patterns that can help them with their reading and spelling. There are six major syllable types, and once students learn them, they are much better able to subdivide long multisyllabic words. This is because knowing the syllable types will help them determine what the vowel sound should be in each syllable.

4. Morphology

Morphology is the study of individual units of sound and how they interact with one another. A morpheme is the smallest unit of sound that contains meaning on its own. Morphemes can be as short as a single letter (like the word ‘a’)  or as long as the word ‘crocodile,’ which cannot be split up into smaller units of meaning.  However, a multisyllabic word containing root words, prefixes, and suffixes would have multiple morphemes. Take the word ‘notwithstanding.’ This word contains four separate morphemes, not/with/stand/ing. Once students have a solid understanding of this concept, not only are they better able to decode, but they are also better able to determine word meaning. 

5. Syntax

An important part of structured literacy teaches sentence structure, grammar, and the specific function of each word in a sentence. These principles are called syntax, and help students to be cognizant of word order and the mechanics of language.

6. Semantics

This is the critical component that addresses comprehension. While students cannot read without learning how to decode, which the first four principles address, their ability to decode means very little without skills that help them comprehend fully and deeply.  Semantics refers to how written language conveys overall meaning.

The Three Guiding Principles (How to Teach It)

Systematic and Cumulative

In order to implement a Structured Literacy curriculum effectively, the skills and lessons are taught in sequential order. They begin with the most basic concepts and skills and progress up to the most complex. Lessons are also cumulative. They build on one another as students progress.

Explicit Instruction

When a teacher uses a Structured Literacy approach, they teach the skills explicitly. This means that teachers are upfront and clear in their instruction and never assume students will develop skills on their own. Teachers also model these skills explicitly and given plenty of opportunity for practice.

Diagnostic Teaching

Finally, teachers continuously evaluate student progress through formal and informal assessment. This helps them to identify opportunities for individualized instruction, differentiation, and reinforcement of specific skills and concepts.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get updates to new articles, promotions and more!