Structured Literacy Intervention: What is structured about it?

Structured literacy approaches dates back to the 1930s and the collaboration of Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a neurologist,  Anna Gillingham, a psychologist, and Bessie Stillman, a teacher.

Together, they developed what has come to be known as the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) Approach for teaching language-literacy skills to people with the kinds of processing weaknesses that are typical of dyslexia. 

Today, after being subjected to several decades of study using brain imaging and sophisticated research methods, Structured literacy intervention is considered "best practice."  One of the hallmarks of Structured literacy is the systematic inclusion and interweaving of all the domains that serve as foundations for literacy. (See below.)




Structured Literacy Therapy (O-G):  Common Principles

1. The elements of language structure are introduced discretely, explicitly and slowly. Each language concept is introduced first in a face-to-face session, using concrete, sensory experience(s). Each concept is defined explicitly.  For example: What is a vowel sound? What are its physical properties and how can a vowel be differentiated from a consonant sound?  Conceptual units are sequenced in a linguistically "smart", therapeutic curriculum that includes the essential units in each domain (speech sounds, letter symbols, syllables, words and word parts, word meanings, sentences, handwriting, connected discourse and text) so that all the prior knowledge needed to understand, identify and produce each new unit as been mastered before a new element is introduced. For example, the concept vowel and its physical properties must be established as a basis for understanding the concept syllable.  Since most struggling readers and writers have weak awareness and/or memory for language units, therapeutic techniques involving multiple senses and memory anchors are used to support awareness and memory.  A typical therapy session lasts 30 - 60 minutes and includes a sequence of 1 minute to 10 minute practice exercises as follows:

  • Review the language unit(s) practiced in the last session.
  • Explicitly define the new language element(s); Raise awareness with structured, focused practice. (See Smith, et al., 2013)
  • Practice speech sounds (phonological) and letter symbols (awareness, memory and formulation) with immediate feedback for each trial. (See Smith, et al., 2013)
  • Practice words containing the new language element(s) in reading & spelling.
    • Practice real and/or nonsense words that feature the new language element(s);
    • Practice real and/or nonsense words that mix the new element(s) with previously learned elements.
  • Observe and practice the new language element(s) in a variety of meaningful word contexts with base element(s), prefix(es) and/or suffix(es) with immediate feedback for each trial. (See Smith, et al., 2013)
  • Practice words containing the new language element(s) in sentences: read, write, formulate phrases & sentences with immediate feedback for each trial. (See Smith, et al., 2013)
  • Practice  discourse with feedback. (See Smith, et al., 2013)
    • listen to and/or read passages containing the new language element(s);
    • formulate, speak and/or write using specific discourse structure (e.g., narrative, expository).

2. Each session follows a specific order. Brief activities are pre-planned so they rotate through the domains of language. (See Table 1.1, above.)

3. Specific practice routines for each language domain are used over and over.  Like sit-ups or leg-lifts for language,  this allows a focus on the discrete element(s) of language being practiced as opposed to the technique for practicing them.

4. Practice is provided across all the domains of language in each session with immediate feedback for each trial. (See Smith, et al., 2013). Daily practice is designed to strengthen representation across the entire language system, from top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top. English speech sounds (phonemes) and their written symbols (graphemes) are learned a few at a time, cumulatively, in the context of the six English syllable types that anchor vowel pronunciation. The meaningful parts of words (morphemes) are identified and named. There is daily practice in the pronunciation and spelling of words and meaningful word elements (bases, suffixes and prefixes), and application in sentences and in discourse (reading and writing). The idea of working across all the domains of language in every session, also referred to as the multi-linguisitc or multi-component approach, has been validated by recent research, including brain imaging research.

5. Practice is structured to be intensive, with immediate feedback for each trial. (See Smith, et al., 2013)  Following face-to-face therapy sessions, highly structured and intensive daily review and reinforcement is provided, at least 5 days a week. The pace is of review and reinforcement practice is rapid, both in the rotation through the domains of language and in the response rate during each practice activity. The Lexercise individualized online games and offline table-top practice provide a way to customize intensive, daily practice and deliver it in a motivating format that also provides the clinician with data so response to intervention can be tracked.  The Lexercise games typically deliver about 100 challenge opportunities in a 15 minute practice session.


Below is an example of how this concept  (the phonemes represented by the letter <c>) might be introduced. The clinician would ask the client to read each word under the chart and then decide where to place the word, based on the sound associated with the <c> in that word.

Note the word <cycle> would stimulate some discussion since its first syllable and its second syllable would need to be sorted to different columns!

For more detail on advanced Structured Literacy methods see:  Word Inquiry: It's a Structured Language Approach


Structured Literacy intervention is not the same as tutoring

As can be seen from the above discussion, structured literacy therapy is not at all the same as "tutoring."  Tutors typically use the methods that are common in group teaching. These "tutoring" methods often lacks the power to fully address individual language processing differences. 

Lexercise provides online and offline tools that facilitate the use of a therapeutic, structured literacy approach by streamlining the clinical planning process and providing convenient, motivating ways to provide intensive, daily review and reinforcement.  The Lexercise learning management system allows the clinician/teacher to select the therapy procedures that address to the client's unique needs.

See these articles for more information about treatment:       

See these articles for more information about professional development:



Birsh, J. R. , Editor (2010). Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, 3rd Edition. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co

J. D. Smith, J. Boomer, A. C. Zakrzewski, J. L. Roeder, B. A. Church, F. G. Ashby. Deferred Feedback Sharply Dissociates Implicit and Explicit Category Learning. Psychological Science, 2013; 25 (2): 447 DOI: 10.1177/0956797613509112



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