Multisensory, structured language education is the most commonly endorsed and research-based approach for literacy education for students who struggle with reading. It includes methodologies like Orton-Gillingham instruction as well as programs based on those methodologies. Several years ago, the International Dyslexia Associated formally adopted the name “Structured Literacy™™” as an umbrella term to describe all programs that use a structured, systematic, and multisensory approach to reading (International Dyslexia Association). 

While the term Structured Literacy™ may be new, the approach to teaching reading is not. Samuel Orton conducted groundbreaking research in the 1920s on multisensory, systematic instruction and documented its success in teaching students with reading difficulties. An extensive and growing body of research demonstrates that the Structured Literacy™ approach is effective in reading intervention for students with  reading difficulties (Birsh, 2005). In addition, newer research shows that Structured Literacy™ is a more effective approach than whole language for all students, including those with typical reading abilities (Lorimor-Easley & Reed, 2019). 

Although the principles behind Structured Literacy™ and the methodology themselves are not new, it is also not well-known within the general education community. In fact, many schools still use leveled readers with heavy picture clues to teach reading in both whole and small groups. Phonics has become more mainstream yet is often not explicit and systematic. Teachers and educators have the best interest of their students at heart, yet do not always have the professional knowledge and resources to deliver the most effective instruction. 

In order to effectively remediate reading issues and teach reading, it is important to understand what Structured Literacy™ is and how it can be effective. First and foremost, Structured Literacy™ is structured. It is systematic and emphasizes phonological awareness, phonics, decoding and spelling along with morphology, fluency, and comprehension. Phonics follows a logical scope and sequence that explicitly teaches each spelling pattern. 

Using the Structured Literacy™ approach, students are encouraged to use decoding skills and phonics patterns to sound out words, rather than guessing at words based on context or pictures. The logic behind this strategy is two-fold. First and foremost, even in early readers, the pictures are not always a reliable way to figure out a word. For example, if there is a picture of a duck in water with the sentences “The duck swims,” a student could come up with a  variety of words that would make sense based on the pictures. Anything from “The duck splashes” to “The duck eats” could make sense depending on the illustration, but neither are correct. If students are taught proper decoding, they can read the word swim rather than guess at reasonable alternatives. A second reason that using the pictures is ineffective is that eventually the text becomes too complex to be encapsulated in an illustration. As students get older and text complexity increases, those who cannot decode often have few strategies to rely on and their reading level tends to not keep up with that of their peers who are able to use decoding strategies (Birsch, 2005). 

As a reading clinician, I can tell you that the “check the picture” strategy is very rarely effective, even when texts have significant picture clues. I have had students make wild guesses that often do not even start with the same initial sound as the word they are attempting to “read.” For example, in a book I was recently reading with a student, the text said “They sat…” the student read the words “They ate…” which based on the picture, made sense however it was not the correct word and did not even have the same initial sound.

The Structured Literacy™ approach is also multisensory. This is a buzz word that tends to get thrown around a lot without full understanding of what it entails. In the Structured Literacy™ approach, multisensory means that it engages the visual, auditory, and tactile centers of the brain, often simultaneously. Students are encouraged to use manipulatives and movement to help reinforce sounds and spelling patterns. Some programs may use colored tiles or tapping sounds to incorporate movement. 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 while learning and reinforcing letter sounds, names, and formations. 

Another way the Structured Literacy™ methodology incorporates multi-sensory activities is by emphasizing handwriting and correct letter formation during instruction. Often students with reading issues as well as writing issues struggle to form letters. This extra load on their processing centers makes writing nearly impossible. By teaching explicit handwriting skills the load on a student’s working memory is decreased and they can focus on the content they need to write, rather than the writing process. 

The Structured Literacy™ framework is also cumulative, meaning that skills are constantly reviewed and spiraled in so that students have adequate practice time. Once a student learns a skill, that skill is not dropped from explicit instruction until it has been fully mastered. For example, if a student is working on silent e words, once that lesson is over the reading clinician does not move on and stop practicing. The skill is spiraled into reading and spelling so that the student can review and internalize it in multiple forms and at both low and high levels of complexity.

A final key component (for the purposes of this blog at least) is that Structured Literacy™ is delivered by a highly trained professional. Effective Structured Literacy™ instruction requires more than an 8-hour professional development where you look through the curriculum. Our reading clinicians all have credentials that align with International Dyslexia Association standards for working with students with reading difficulties. They attend professional development and engage in reading and discussing current reading research. In short, they are experts in the field of reading intervention. 

If you are looking for a high quality, one-on-one Structured Literacy™ program for a student or your own child, RW&C’s program may be the right fit for you. We offer reading, writing, and spelling remediation services. Our online program is flexible and built to fit your needs. Contact us today for more information.

Becky Welsch

Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.
Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. 


Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, Judith Birsch 2005

“Structured Literacy: A New Term to Unify Us,” International Dyslexia Association 

“An Explanation of Structured Literacy, and a Comparison to Balanced Literacy,” Nina Lorimor-Easley and Deborah Reed 2019

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When we think of reading issues like dyslexia, we often only consider how to help students be successful in their language arts classes. However, many learning issues that are related to dyslexia  can impact a student’s performance in other academic areas as well.  Students with reading difficulties need to have the appropriate accommodations and scaffolds in place so they can truly thrive in all environments. 

Math: For many students, accommodations needed to be successful in math classes can be overlooked because we often do not think of dyslexia as impacting performance in math. This could not be further from the truth. Many students who struggle with reading also struggle with rote memory issues. This can make memorizing math facts very challenging and hinder their ability to complete higher-level problems. Often, these students  can perform more complex mathematical calculations but their inability to memorize multiplication facts makes it nearly impossible for them to do so in an efficient manner. One way to support dyslexic students in math classes is to give them references for math facts. This may include multiplication charts, number lines, or even calculators to aid in solving memory-based math problems. 

Another simple and easy to implement math accommodation is to allow students to use graph paper. Often students who struggle with reading and writing will have trouble lining up problems and organizing their work. Graph paper provides a way for them to line up their numbers so that they can solve problems correctly. If you are a teacher who wants to try graph paper with your students, make sure to teach them how to use it correctly. Like any other math tool, it is only effective if students know how to use it to help them organize their work. 

You may also notice that many students have trouble with word problems. You can accommodate them by allowing the problems to be read to them. You can also teach them critical reading skills as they relate to math. Things like finding key information and coding problems using boxes and circling key words can help students with reading difficulties be more successful in solving word problems. If you are a teacher using this strategy, teach students how to find, code, and use essential information in word problems. It takes time to teach a consistent system, but it is extremely helpful for all students, especially those who struggle with reading. 

Social Studies:  As children get older, this content area becomes very reading intensive. Make sure that all teachers are following reading goals and accommodations for all students. These may include extra time on assignments or having audio options for grade-level text. Teachers can also re-write complex passages to an easier reading level but still include all key information. 

If you are a teacher and want to try re-writing text to make it more accessible to students who are not reading at grade-level, this can often seem like a daunting task. To make it more manageable, first decide on the main idea. Ask yourself “What do I want students to take away from this text?” If you are teaching the revolutionary war it might be something like “There were many important battles in the American Revolution.” If this is the case, you are going to type out this sentence somewhere in the beginning of the text. Make the main idea obvious for students who struggle. Then you will add in details from textbook or other text that you are using for reference. Break down complex sentences. Rather than  stating “The battles of Lexington and Concord were crucial battles that showed the British that the Americans were a force to be reckoned with,” you can make this same idea two simple sentences. “The battles of Lexington and Concord were critical battles. They showed the British that the Americans were able to fight.” The important thing here is not to create a literary masterpiece but to make the text more accessible to student who struggle with reading. Once you finish, you can turn on readability in your word processor and it will give you an approximate grade level of the final text. 

This may seem like a daunting task, but the more you practice the easier it will become. Additionally, with 1 of every 5 students having dyslexia, I guarantee you will have more students in the future who have trouble with grade-level reading. You can use these resources for years to come and share with colleagues. The benefits to students are immense as it allows them access the content without their reading abilities hindering them. 

Another accommodation that can help students who need reading intervention is to allow them use graphic organizers to sequence key events. A hallmark of dyslexia is difficulty sequencing so using a graphic organizer consistently can help them understand and internalize the content more efficiently. 

Science: Like Social Studies, this subject can be quite reading intensive and difficult for students who are not reading at grade-level. One way to help students with dyslexia be more successful in science is to pre-teach all content specific vocabulary using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic processes before asking them to read it in text. Teachers may even consider having them make their own dictionary of science related words with pictures and drawings to help them remember the vocabulary. 

Another way to make science more accessible to students with reading difficulties is to break down directions for experiments into multiple parts. Children with dyslexia often have issues with sequencing multi-step directions. Breaking directions down into simpler steps can help them be more successful. 

Science teachers may also try using graphic organizers for them to categorize, classify, or sequence what they are reading. Having a consistent way to organize information can help them when they need to recall facts or when they are completing a reading assignment. 

Another way to help students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties in a science class is to find audio books of their text. Often, science text is complex and above the reading level of even proficient readers. Having audio options available can help ensure that students with reading issues are still able to access the content. If you teach science, you may also want to re-write some of your textbook at a lower reading level. Check out the directions in the social studies section for some tips on how to do this. 

Although we may traditionally think of dyslexia as primarily a reading issue, it can and does often affect all academic areas. By pushing for accommodations in other areas, you can help your child be more successful. As a teacher, you can help your students achieve in your classroom by mitigating the role of their reading difficulty and providing them access to the curriculum. 

If you have academic performance concerns about your child or a student, Structured Literacy Intervention (also known as the Orton-Gillingham approach) can help with reading success. Contact us today for more information for yourself or to pass along to parents. 

Our online program is effective reading intervention that fits your schedule. 

Becky Welsch

Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.
Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. 

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