Structured Literacy: A Lifeline for Struggling Readers

by | May 9, 2023


We have a responsibility to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed, including providing support for those struggling with reading. One of the most effective approaches to helping struggling readers is through Structured Literacy, an evidence-based method that teaches reading skills systematically and explicitly.


In this article, we will delve into the world of Structured Literacy, discuss its core components, and explore how it can benefit struggling readers. We will also provide guidance on selecting assessments, monitoring progress, and identifying whether Structured Literacy is the right approach for your students.


What is Structured Literacy?

Structured Literacy is an instructional approach that explicitly and systematically teaches essential reading skills, including phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. This method focuses on breaking down complex language concepts into smaller, manageable parts and using direct, explicit instruction to teach these skills. Structured Literacy is designed to help all students, but it is particularly beneficial for struggling readers who need additional support to develop their reading abilities.


Research Behind Structured Literacy

The efficacy of Structured Literacy has been demonstrated in numerous research studies, including the National Reading Panel’s findings in 2000. These studies have consistently shown that Structured Literacy is an effective approach for improving reading skills, particularly for students with reading difficulties, such as dyslexia. By providing a solid foundation in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, Structured Literacy helps students become proficient readers.


What Structured Literacy Is Not

It is essential to clarify that Structured Literacy is not a reading intervention program or a specific curriculum. Instead, it is an evidence-based approach that can be integrated into any reading curriculum or intervention program. Structured Literacy is also not a “one-size-fits-all” solution, as it may not be the best approach for every student. However, it has proven highly effective for many struggling readers and is a valuable tool for educators to consider.


How Structured Literacy Differs from Other Approaches

Traditional reading instruction often focuses on implicitly teaching reading skills through exposure to literature and using context clues to decipher unfamiliar words. In contrast, Structured Literacy explicitly teaches these skills, using direct instruction to ensure students understand the underlying principles of language and reading.


Core Components of Structured Literacy

Structured Literacy encompasses several core components, including:


  • Phonological awareness: Teaching students to recognize and manipulate the sounds within words.


  • Phonics: Systematic instruction in the relationship between letters and sounds, enabling students to decode words.


  • Fluency: Developing the ability to read text accurately, quickly, and with expression.


  • Vocabulary: Expanding students’ knowledge of words and their meanings to enhance reading comprehension.


  • Comprehension: Teaching strategies to help students understand and interpret the text.


Characteristics of Struggling Readers

Struggling readers may exhibit various characteristics, including difficulty with phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. They may also experience frustration, a lack of motivation, and low self-esteem due to their reading struggles. Identifying and supporting these students is crucial to prevent them from falling further behind and experiencing adverse long-term outcomes.


The Importance of Identifying Struggling Readers

Identifying struggling readers is vital for several reasons. First, early intervention increases the likelihood of success and can prevent more severe reading difficulties later on. Second, understanding a student’s specific reading challenges allows educators to provide targeted instruction and support. Finally, identifying struggling readers helps create a more inclusive learning environment where all students have the opportunity to succeed.


Selecting Assessments to Determine Skill Gaps in Reading

Selecting assessments to determine skill gaps in reading is a critical step in identifying struggling readers and providing targeted support. There are several types of assessments available, including:


  • Screening assessments: These are typically administered to all students at the beginning of the school year to identify those who may be at risk for reading difficulties.


  • Diagnostic assessments: These assessments are administered to students identified as at risk during the screening process, to pinpoint specific skill gaps and determine the most appropriate intervention.


  • Progress monitoring assessments: These assessments are used throughout the intervention process to track students’ progress and make adjustments to instruction as needed.


When selecting an assessment, consider the following:

  • Validity: The assessment should accurately measure the skills it is intended to assess.


  • Reliability: The assessment should yield consistent results over time.


  • Alignment: The assessment should align with your instructional goals and the skills you are targeting.


Which Students Benefit the Most from Structured Literacy?

While Structured Literacy can benefit all students, it is particularly effective for struggling readers who may have difficulty with phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Students with dyslexia and other language-based learning difficulties have also shown significant improvement when taught using Structured Literacy methods.


How do you know if a student is responding to a structured approach to literacy?

To determine if a student is responding to Structured Literacy, use progress monitoring assessments to track their progress in targeted reading skills. Regular data collection and analysis will help you determine whether the student is making adequate progress or if additional interventions or adjustments to instruction are needed. Additionally, look for improvements in the student’s confidence, motivation, and overall engagement in reading activities.


Evidence of Structured Literacy’s Effectiveness

Numerous research studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Structured Literacy for improving reading skills, particularly for struggling readers. This body of evidence supports the use of Structured Literacy as a valuable approach for addressing reading difficulties and promoting literacy success for all students.


Structured Literacy is a powerful, evidence-based approach to teaching reading skills that can be particularly beneficial for struggling readers. By understanding the core components of Structured Literacy and implementing this approach in the classroom allows educators to provide targeted support, helping all students succeed in reading. Educators can ensure that struggling readers receive the support they need to thrive through early identification, selecting appropriate assessments, and monitoring progress.


With the right tools and strategies in place, Structured Literacy can be a lifeline for those who need it most.


Teachers looking to learn more about Structured Literacy can access a variety of resources to expand their knowledge and improve their instructional practices. Here are some valuable resources to explore:


  • International Dyslexia Association (IDA): The IDA offers a wealth of information on Structured Literacy, including articles, webinars, and professional development opportunities. Visit their website at


  • Reading Rockets: Reading Rockets is a comprehensive website dedicated to reading instruction and offers numerous resources on Structured Literacy, including articles, videos, and research summaries. Explore their content at


  • The National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL): The NCIL provides research-based resources, tools, and guidance on various topics, including Structured Literacy. Visit their website at


  • The Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR): The FCRR offers a variety of resources related to reading research, including information on Structured Literacy. Check out their resources at


  • Louisa Moats: Louisa Moats is a prominent expert in the field of reading instruction and has written extensively on Structured Literacy. Explore her articles and resources at
  • The Dyslexia Training Institute (DTI): The DTI offers online courses and webinars on Structured Literacy and related topics, providing professional development opportunities for educators. Learn more at


  • Understood: Understood is a website that offers resources and support for educators and parents of children with learning and attention issues, including information on Structured Literacy. Visit their website at



Exploring these resources and engaging in professional development opportunities enable teachers to deepen their understanding of Structured Literacy and enhance their ability to effectively support struggling readers.



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