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The Science of Reading: What is Structured Literacy?

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Structured Literacy...Balanced Literacy...Whole Language... Cueing Method...Guided Reading... there are so many different approaches to teaching reading, leaving educators and parents to wonder, how do we teach our kids to read?

Science of Reading: Structured Literacy

The Science of Reading has recently gained popularity in the education world. In part, because of Emily Hanford's podcast, Sold a Story, and in part because after decades of struggling reading achievement in our nation, parents, teachers, and school districts are searching for more.

The Science of Reading challenges the ideas of popular instructional methods that have been used to teach reading. It supports the idea that in order to learn to read, students need a clear and precise foundation in literacy skills to become successful readers. This clear and precise method is the structured literacy approach to teaching reading.

But... what does that even mean? What is structured literacy? And more importantly, why should teachers shift their practice to support the elements of structured literacy?

Today we are going to explore the components of structured literacy.

What IS Structured Literacy?

Structured literacy is the systematic and explicit approach to teaching foundational reading skills.

Structured literacy recognizes that comprehension IS the ultimate goal of reading, but to get there, students need foundational skills in word recognition and language comprehension. The acquiring and combining of these skills is represented in Scarborough's Reading Rope.

Scarborough's Reading Rope
Photo Credit: Really Great Reading

As the Science of Reading has become more well-known and supported in education, structured literacy has also gained popularity (check out What Every Teacher Needs To Know About the Science of Reading).

What Does a Science of Reading Structured Literacy Look Like?

Evidence-based practice aligned with the research findings from the Science of Reading is at the heart of structured literacy. There are 4 specific evidence-based teaching practices that guide instructional practice in structured literacy:

  1. Explicit Instruction

  2. Systematic

  3. Cumulative

  4. Diagnostic

Principles of Structured Literacy

Explicit Instruction

Explicit instruction is direct, clear, intentional teaching of literacy skills. This means that teachers are:

  • Naming and modeling skills (phonics, comprehension, and language skills)

  • Explaining the thinking needed to use literacy skills

  • Providing interactive learning and practice

  • Providing practice time with direct and intentional feedback to help students with mastery

  • Removing assumptions that students either know or will "figure out" skills and content

Systematic & Cumulative

When we teach in a way that is systematic and cumulative, it means that instruction is organized and delivered in a logically built way. This means that lessons:

  • Begin with easier concepts and build up to more challenging concepts

  • Skills that are more commonly used are taught before less frequently used skills

  • Skills build on previously taught skills

  • Opportunities for practice are provided


Structured literacy at its core is student-driven instruction. Instructional moves are planned for and monitored through assessment and data:

  • Using both formal and informal assessment

  • Assessment and adjustment that is ongoing

  • Observations of skill usage and automaticity that are frequent and consistent

  • Regular progress monitoring of specific skills to assess mastery and automaticity

When we think about structured literacy, it is important to note that it is not beneficial to just one type of learner- structured literacy is beneficial to ALL LEARNERS.

Finally, structured literacy supports all components of instruction identified in the Science of Reading.

Science of Reading: What Teachers Need to Know

Happy Teaching!

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