Dyslexia Evidence Based (DEB) website was created to share information about dyslexia, this page has been created to help members with the understanding of what Structured Literacy is for dyslexic students defined by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).

Who named Structured Literacy (SL)?

“The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Board of Directors made a landmark decision designed to help market our approach to reading instruction. The board chose a name that would encompass all approaches to reading instruction that conform to IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards. That name is “Structured Literacy. (SL)”
In New Zealand, we have been using the term a Structured Literacy approach. We have some amazing New Zealand providers training teachers to implement a Structured Literacy approach in their schools around New Zealand.

Why name the term?

The reason I believe we need to have the single-term Structured Literacy (SL) approach is, that it provides a common practice, that can be adhered to if you wish to create your own Structured Literacy (SL) approach to teach. It allows us to use the same terminology when we advocate for change for dyslexic students. This term was created to support dyslexic students and any other students who struggle to learn to read. It is important we don’t lose sight of this when we are reading new research. It is important to understood (SL) at all three tier levels not just tier 1 in the classroom and in research.
From the IDA

Structured literacy (SL) 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. It means the same kind of instruction as the terms multisensory structured language education and structured language and literacy.
Structured literacy teaching stands in contrast with approaches that are popular in many schools but that do not teach oral and written language skills in an explicit, systematic manner. Evidence is strong that the majority of students learn to read better with structured teaching of basic language skills, and that the components and methods of Structured Literacy are critical for students with reading disabilities including dyslexia.

A Structured Literacy (SL) Approach recommended by the IDA for dyslexic students.

Content of Structured Literacy (SL) Instruction: Language (WHAT)
Dyslexia and most reading disorders originate with language processing weaknesses. Consequently, the content of instruction is analysis and production of language at all levels: sounds, spellings for sounds and syllables, patterns and conventions of the writing system, meaningful parts of words, sentences, paragraphs, and discourse within longer texts.

Phoneme awareness. Becoming consciously aware of the individual speech sounds (phonemes) that make up words is a critical foundation for learning to read and spell. A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech that can change the meaning of a word. For example, the different vowel phonemes in mist, mast, must, and most create different words. Although linguists do not agree on the list of phonemes in English, it has approximately 43 phonemes–25 consonants and 18 vowels.

In preschool and early kindergarten, (Year 1 NZ) children typically learn the underpinnings for phoneme awareness, including rhyming, counting spoken syllables, and reciting phrases beginning with the same sound. By the end of kindergarten, children should identify each speech sound by ear and be able to take apart and say the separate sounds of simple words with two and three sounds.
More advanced phoneme awareness skills, especially important for spelling and reading fluency, include rapidly and accurately taking apart the sounds in spoken words (segmentation), putting together (blending) speech sound sequences, and leaving out (deleting) or substituting one sound for another to make a new word. These exercises are done orally, without print, and should be part of instruction until students are proficient readers. A large proportion of individuals with dyslexia has difficulty with this level of language analysis and needs prolonged practice to grasp it.
Phoneme awareness is an essential foundation for reading and writing with an alphabet. In an alphabetic writing system like English, letters and letter combinations represent phonemes. Decoding print is possible only if the reader can map print to speech efficiently; therefore, the elements of speech must be clearly and consciously identified in the reader’s mind.

Sound-Symbol (phoneme-grapheme) correspondences. An alphabetic writing system like English represents phonemes with graphemes. Graphemes are letters (a, s, t, etc.) and letter combinations (th, ng, oa, ew, igh, etc.) that represent phonemes in print. The basic code for written words is the system of correspondences between phonemes and graphemes. This system is often referred to as the phonics code, the alphabetic code, or the written symbol system.

The correspondences between letters and speech sounds in English are more complex and variable than some languages such as Spanish or Italian. Nevertheless, the correspondences can be explained and taught through systematic, explicit, cumulative instruction that may take several years to complete.

Patterns and conventions of print (orthography). Through explicit instruction and practice, students with dyslexia can be taught to understand and remember patterns of letter use in the writing system. For example, some spellings for consonant sounds, such as –ck, –tch, and –dge, are used only after short vowels. Some letters, like v and j, cannot be used at the ends of words. Only some letters are doubled. Some letters work to signal the sounds of other letters. These conventions can all be taught as part of the print system or orthography.

Print patterns and conventions exist as well for representing the vowel sounds in written syllables. It is a convention that almost every written syllable in English has a vowel grapheme. Structured Literacy programs usually teach six basic types of written syllables: closed (com, mand), open (me, no), vowel-consonant-e (take, plete), vowel team (vow, mean), vowel-r combinations (car, port), and the final consonant-le pattern (lit-tle, hum-ble). Recognizing written syllable patterns helps a reader divide longer words into readable chunks, and helps in understanding spelling conventions such as doubling of consonant letters (little vs. title).

Morphology. A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in a language. Morphemes include prefixes, roots, base words, and suffixes. These meaningful units are often spelled consistently even though pronunciation changes as they are combined into words (define, definition; nation, national; restore, restoration). Recognizing morphemes helps students figure out and remember the meanings of new words. In addition, knowledge of morphology is an aid for remembering spellings such as at-tract-ive and ex-press-ion.

Syntax. Syntax is the system for ordering words in sentences so that meaning can be communicated. The study of syntax includes understanding parts of speech and conventions of grammar and word use in sentences. Lessons include interpretation and formulation of simple, compound, and complex sentences, and work with both phrases and clauses in sentence construction.

Semantics. Semantics is the aspect of language concerned with meaning. Meaning is conveyed both by single words and by phrases and sentences. Comprehension of both oral and written language is developed by teaching word meanings (vocabulary), interpretation of phrases and sentences, and understanding of text organization.
Reading comprehension is a product of both word recognition and language comprehension. Throughout structured literacy instruction, students should be supported as they work with many kinds of texts—stories, informational text, poetry, drama, and so forth, even if that text is read aloud to students who cannot yet read it independently. Reading worthwhile texts that stimulate deep thinking is a critical component of Structured Literacy.

Principles and Methods of Structured Literacy (SL) Instruction (HOW)

Explicit. In SL instruction, the teacher explains each concept directly and clearly, providing guided practice. Lessons embody instructional routines, for example, quick practice drills to build fluency, or the use of fingers to tap out sounds before spelling words. The student applies each new concept to reading and writing words and text, under direct supervision of the teacher who gives immediate feedback and guidance. Students are not expected to discover or intuit language concepts simply from exposure to language or reading.

Systematic and cumulative. In an SL approach, the teacher teaches language concepts systematically, explaining how each element fits into the whole. Instruction follows a planned scope and sequence of skills that progresses from easier to more difficult. One concept builds on another. The goal of systematic teaching is automatic and fluent application of language knowledge to reading for meaning.

Hands-on, engaging, and multimodal. Methods often include hands-on learning such as moving tiles into sound boxes as words are analyzed, using hand gestures to support memory for associations, building words with letter tiles, assembling sentences with words on cards, color-coding sentences in paragraphs, and so forth. Listening, speaking, reading, and writing are often paired with one another to foster multimodal language learning.

Diagnostic and responsive. The teacher uses student response patterns to adjust pacing, presentation, and amount of practice given within the lesson framework. The teacher monitors progress through observation and brief quizzes that measure retention of what has been taught.


Oral Language
I also want to highlight the important role that oral language plays in Structured Literacy. Oral language lays the foundation for the reading and writing skills children will develop as they start and progress through school. Having a solid foundation in oral language will help children become successful readers and strong communicators as well as build their confidence and overall sense of well-being. Oral language is the system through which we use spoken words to express knowledge, ideas and feelings. Developing oral language means developing the skills and knowledge that go into listening (receptive) and speaking (expressive). A Structured Literacy lesson does incorporate oral language. To read more about oral language and its role in Structured Literacy go to ‘What is Oral Language?

This image from “What does a Structured Literacy lesson look like” helps show that oral language is at the heart of Structured Literacy.

What is the difference between a Structured Literacy approach and a Structured Literacy programme?

The definition of approach – Noun: approach; plural noun: approaches a way of dealing with a situation or problem.
The definition of programme Verb: “arrange according to a plan or schedule”

An approach is about changing and adjusting when a situation or problem arises. With a structured literacy approach, your training has provided you with the knowledge of how to provide scaffolding for a problem that may present with a student and help you understand why the problem has happened and what your next step is for that student.
A programme has been written to be followed each day using a step-by-step process. It does not provide the background knowledge or flexibility to adapt to a student’s needs, which is only gained by training in the approach.

A structured literacy programme will have pre-planned lessons to follow each day and week and you continue until you finish the programme. This is why most computer programmes fail children and why they are able to complete them without being able to read at the end of it. Please don’t get me wrong, programmes have a place, especially for parents.

A structured Literacy Approach is about the training and having the ability to create your lesson plans for the child in front of you which is vital for dyslexic students.
The reason I am explaining the difference is, professionals should always be trained in the approach so they have the knowledge if they choose to be able to select and use any material or resource that will benefit the student/s in front of them. They must understand the steps that need to precede a skill or gap in knowledge and the steps that follow.


Structured Literacy: Effective Instruction for Students with Dyslexia and Related Reading Difficulties by IDA
IDA Info Map –SL Grounded SoR SOR V18 10-25-23.pdf | Powered by Box

What is Oral Language?  -DEB website
Learning MATTERS Chit Chats with Mary Wennersten, M.Ed. | International Dyslexia Association – YouTube

This document was updated on the 12 January 2024 by Sharon Scurr