What does a Structured Literacy Lesson Actually Look Like?

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If you’ve been around with us for awhile you know how passionate we are about Structured Literacy. But don’t feel bad if you’re still wondering:

What is Structured Literacy?

It’s actually a rather new term that’s taking over what’s been more popularly known as:

Orton-Gillingham or (OG) Reading Instruction

So if you haven’t heard the term Structured Literacy, don’t worry - you are not alone.

A few questions pop up when we start going on some sort of rant about how important structured literacy is and what it looks like!

1.Why the change in “buzz words” from Orton-Gillingham to Structured Literacy?

Well, Orton-Gillingham has been well known as a research-based practice for supporting students with specific learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia. And for good reason - it works. The problem is that Orton-Gillingham traditionally was heavily focused on phonics instruction only. We know that phonics instruction is critical to supporting students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities but the problem is - it’s NOT ENOUGH.

Researchers and clinicians started realizing that we were missing the boat on language development and the role that Semantics (comprehension and meaning) plays in developing strong neural connections for reading.

So…we realized we had to take all the amazing things about Orton-Gillingham based instruction (following a sequence, being systematic and sequential in our instruction, taking data and using that data to inform instruction) and expand it beyond the phonics component.

2. What does “Structured Literacy” Mean?

It means that we are teaching rules, concepts, and patterns explicitly. We aren’t using a whole-language approach in which students are simply exposed to literature and then expected to master the content. But it also means that we aren’t incidentally teaching phonics (teaching a phonics concept as it shows up). We are being strategic in how we are teaching all the core components of literacy including:

Phonological Awareness


Vocabulary Development

Reading Fluency


So that brings us to the final question:

3. What does a Structured Literacy Lesson Actually Look Like?

A structured literacy is a literacy lesson that has a few key components:

  • It follows a sequential order of skill introduction - all the concepts are organized ahead of time including the order in which you introduce sounds, the order in which you introduce rules, the order in which you build onto higher level skills.

  • It follows a structured order every time - each lesson follows the exact same format. The format looks like this:

    • Start with a sound drill in which you show students a letter and ask for the sound

    • Progress onto a structured review of previously taught concepts

    • Introduce the new rule

    • Practice the new rule at the sound level, the word level, and the sentence level

    • Transition to specific phonological awareness activities, spelling drills, spelling practice, and sentence dictation.

    • Layer in activities based on identified areas of need based on student assessment.

  • It uses assessment to guide advancement - Structured Literacy also relies on checking for mastery. We want to be careful here not to get into a “mastery trap” in which students get stuck in one lesson forever but we do want to be analyzing data to ensure that students aren’t losing skills or forgetting concepts that were taught previously. Just because a student forgets something you thought they should have known doesn’t mean you’ve done a bad job - it simply means you’re doing your job because you RECOGNIZED that they weren’t retaining it which is a huge step in the right direction.

  • For a walk-through tutorial, check out our blog “A Look Into Teaching -ck” to see how we use the structured literacy approach.

So that’s that…our big picture overview of what a structured literacy lesson actually looks like. We have taken the structured literacy approach and created a system we like to call “SMARTER intervention.” Curious? Check out “How YOU Can Work SMARTER Not Harder” here.

Corey PollardComment