What Is Structured Literacy?

Educators and academics have built upon the Orton-Gillingham method and other literacy education methods to help develop what we know today as Structured Literacy.

Structured Literacy is an umbrella term adopted by the International Dyslexia Association to refer to the many programs (like Orton-Gillingham) that teach reading by following the evidence and research behind the Science of Reading.

Structured Literacy is explicit, systematic, prescriptive, diagnostic, sequential, and cumulative instruction beneficial to students in general and remedial instruction. The ultimate goal of reading is comprehension. Comprehension is driven by word recognition and language comprehension, identified in the Simple View of Reading. The Simple View of Reading comprises five essential elements identified by the Science of Reading and incorporated into Structured Literacy. Those elements are:

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension

Orton-Gillingham was created as a phonics-based, explicit, systematic, and highly structured method. Educators and academics have built upon the Orton-Gillingham and other literacy education methods to help develop what we know today as Structured Literacy.

Structured Literacy was proven to be a necessary approach toward the foundation of reading by the Science of Reading.

Structured Literacy Emphasizes:

  • Phonology – Speech sounds
  • Sound-Symbol Association – The relationship between sounds and symbols
  • Syllables – A word or part of a word that contains one vowel phoneme
  • Morphology – The study of the forms of words
  • Syntax – Sentence structure
  • Semantics – Meaning of words


How to Teach Structured Literacy:

Through Structured Literacy, teachers implement appropriate methods for all students and particularly necessary for students with learning differences. Students who have difficulty decoding need a focus on phoneme-grapheme and blending automaticity for both real and nonsense words. Teachers are skilled at differentiating instruction based on assessment results.

Structured Literacy should be:

  • Systematic – Scope and sequence are clearly defined and provide a logical progression of skills from simple to increasingly more complex.
  • Cumulative – New concepts are layered upon previously learned concepts and frequently reviewed to build automaticity.
  • Explicit – Multi-sensory strategies are used to enhance instruction and improve memory by providing explicit instruction that is visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic.
  • Diagnostic – Teachers must continuously assess progress to measure outcomes and make decisions about prescriptive teaching and differentiation.

15% of children need explicit instruction to learn to read, while up to 50% need this type of instruction to read proficiently. Sounds should be taught in isolation until students are able to manipulate these sounds and symbols to create words and sentences by themselves.

While some children can learn to read regardless of the instruction type, all students can benefit from explicit instruction to reach their full potential. 

The Science of Reading continues to prove that a Structured Literacy approach is necessary for foundational reading success. As teachers, we must continue supporting all students’ learning and stay committed to their education.