Getting Ready

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This section explores the levels of research and gives an overview of the language knowledge teachers will need for effective reading and writing instruction. Examples of how teachers can apply this knowledge in the classroom are also provided. As a starting point, think about the following question:

What do I know about effective reading and writing instruction?

This includes thinking about the process of reading development, the acquisition of reading and the assessment of progress. It also includes thinking about what works or does not work in practice. The questions provided in the following chart can help teachers focus on what they already know and what they want to learn from this kit.

Effective reading and writing instruction K-W chart

What do you know about effective reading and writing instruction? Reflect on what you know and what you would like to know about teaching reading and writing.

What Do I Know? What Do I Want to Learn?
 How do children learn to read?
 Why do some students struggle?
 What are some structures of English language?
 Which teaching methods work in reading

 What are recent research findings about what 

 How does one engage and motivate students?

Becoming an informed consumer of research knowledge

You want to make sure you choose the right methods and content for your class and you want to engage your students in learning. You have so many “idea-workbooks” for teachers and so little time in the busy day that you do not know where to start. You also know that the “one size fits all” workbooks have not always worked for your students.

You contemplate going down the hall to chat with other teachers, but decide to save that for tomorrow in the staff room.

Now where to go?

Try research-based recommendations. There are a great number of articles that explain what has been proven to work for hundreds, even thousands, of students. The likelihood of research-based teaching methods working for you is high, so try them out.

Read ahead for many great ideas.

Read the article What if research really mattered? (Ravitch, 1998) to start thinking about the importance of research in education.

Keeping up to date with research

Having a good foundation of knowledge and keeping up to date with recent research is critical within the practice of teaching. It is important to choose instruction techniques that the highest levels of research have shown to be successful, and to know when and how to intervene to give a student additional assistance. The following is a guide on how to make informed choices, using reliable research.

The highest levels of research incorporate results from many studies (meta-analyses), are completed on thousands of children (large sample sizes), and often are continued over long periods of time (longitudinal studies). Such well-designed studies adhere strictly to rules that control for subjectivity and bias. They are based on experimental designs that allow comparisons. Strong conclusions are possible only after data from a large number of studies has been collected and compared.

Evidence-based practice

Evidence-based practice in teaching involves taking relevant information from research findings and implementing it into the classroom.

The flowchart below demonstrates how evidence-based practice in teaching is a continuous, cyclical process. The three interactive elements are: (1) information of the highest quality from the available scientific evidence, (2) the assessment of a particular student’s needs, and (3) the teacher’s own expertise. As new evidence is found and new students are assessed, teaching practices must be reevaluated and adjusted accordingly. It is important to keep up to date with the new research in order to provide students with current and effective reading instruction. There is no single method or single combination of methods that can successfully teach all children to read (International Reading Association Statements, 2006)[1].

(Adapted from LinguiSystems, 2006) [2]

Recognizing good research

It is essential to critically evaluate research by looking for signs of bias, as well as searching for comparisons and duplications of results. The chart below ranks study designs based on their ability to protect against bias (e.g., whether they are objective); they are ranked from the strongest level (Level 1) to the weakest level (Level 4). When attempting to select valid research to inform practice, teachers should look for studies that are well designed and not biased. The studies relevant to teaching children how to read and write are conducted not only by education specialists, but also by specialists in areas such as psychology, neuroscience, and learning disabilities. The evidence presented in this resource kit does not discuss specific reading programs, but rather focuses on effective instruction methods that can be used to teach students how to read.

Rob Savage – Importance of evidence for developing reading programs.

Levels of Research

Level of Evidence Types of Study
  Level 1 (The strongest)  - Meta-analysis of randomized
   controlled trials.
 - Systematic review

  - Well-designed
  - Control of bias
  - Examines many studies (large sample
  - Conclusions that are based on
    statistical analysis.
  - Conclusions that are significant.
  Level 1a
 - Single randomized, controlled trial
  Level 2
 - Controlled study without randomization.
  - Control of bias
  - Single study
  - Well-designed
  Level 2a
 - Quasi-experimental study.
  Level 3
 - Case studies
 - Survey research
 - Observational research
 - Archival research
  - Well-designed
  - Non-experimental
  - Qualitative description
  - Useful at early stages of investigation
    (Stanovich & Stanovich, 2003) [3]
  Level 4 (The weakest)
 - Expert committee reports
 - Consensus statements
 - Experience of respected authorities
 - Lacks comparative information
 - Fails to test an alternative
 - Rules nothing out
 - In some cases, expert opinion can
   be important

(Adapted from LinguiSystems, 2006)[2]

Key sources of evidence-based research

A vast amount of research has been completed on methods of reading instruction and new research is being published all the time. There are good sources available on the Internet. Many will be referred to in the modules that follow. Some main sources are listed below.

It is interesting to find that Canadian organizations are notably missing from the list below and this is because there are few research and research dissemination organizations in Canada equivalent to those listed. Please note that studies of many Canadian researchers are cited throughout the text of this kit. We are not singling out any provincial research because this resource is not specific to any one province.

Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network (CLLRNet)

CLLRNet’s ongoing Encyclopedia of Language and Literacy Development and its other knowledge initiatives provide free online access to research-based information on how children acquire language and literacy.

Education Resources Information Centre (ERIC database)

ERIC provides access to more than 1.2 million bibliographic records of journal articles and, if available, links to full text. ERIC Digests of Research are available up until 2003 from the ERIC Clearinghouse The ERIC Clearinghouse was discontinued in 2003, and subsequent Digests are mixed into the ERIC database.

Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR)
Part of FCRR’s mission is to conduct scientific research on reading, reading assessment, and reading instruction. FCRR aims to disseminate information on research-based instruction and assessment practices and to thereby benefit students learning to read. The FCRR website reports on research findings, provides examples of practical student activities, and suggests intervention programs for struggling readers.

National Reading Panel (2000)
The National Reading Panel, a major initiative of the U.S. Congress, conducted a number of meta-analyses to assess the status of research-based knowledge, including the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching children to read. This document reports on the findings from the meta-analysis.

The main report is entitled Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction.
The findings of the National Reading Panel are also summarized in an accessible document designed by teachers:
Armbruster, B. B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2003). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read (2nd ed.)
Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy (NIFL).

SEDL (formerly Southwest Educational Development Laboratory)

SEDL aims to improve teaching and learning through research, development, and dissemination. The SEDL website includes useful research-based readings; a model of the cognitive framework, which clearly lays out the stages of development in reading; and links to sources with activities.

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC)

This resource from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences provides summaries of scientifically based studies. The WWC’s reviews focus on reading interventions for students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 that are intended to improve skills in the specific areas of alphabetics, reading fluency, and reading comprehension, or in general reading achievement.


With a busy teaching practice, it is difficult to keep up to date with current knowledge. This resource kit summarizes implications of recent evidence-based research, but five to ten years from now there will be much new evidence. One source that provides current and accessible information is the periodical called The Reading Teacher, published by the International Reading Association.

What have I learned about research?

Being knowledgeable about language

In order to evaluate reading instruction programs and teach reading explicitly, the teacher must have a solid foundation in language. Teachers who are native speakers of English use language knowledge unconsciously; however, in order to explain this knowledge to students, teachers need to raise their own knowledge to a conscious level. Pre-service teachers need to receive direct instruction about the sound structure of words (Stainthorp, 2004)[4]. Receiving this direct instruction will provide teachers with the conscious knowledge they need to instruct students.

This section gives an overview of the different areas of language knowledge and the terms involved. Similar to all sections in this kit, it provides a foundation to build upon.

Dale Willows – Teacher Preparation.

Research findings on teachers' knowledge of language

Spear-Swerling, Brucker, & Alfano (2005)[5] report findings of studies on teachers’ language knowledge and self-perception in comparison to their preparation and experience. The following is an excerpt from their report:

"Studies have documented a relationship between teachers' knowledge of language and the reading achievement of their students, providing support for the idea that such knowledge should be included in teacher preparation. Lacking this kind of knowledge, teachers may misinterpret assessments, choose inappropriate examples of words for instruction, provide unintentionally confusing instruction, or give inappropriate feedback to children's errors. Knowledge about word structure is important for all educators responsible for teaching basic reading and spelling skills, but it is particularly critical for those who work with struggling or disabled readers whose difficulties with word- level reading skills are well documented" (p. 267-269).

It should not be assumed that experienced elementary or special education teachers have adequate language knowledge (Bos, Mather, Dickson, Podhajski, & Chard, 2001; Cunningham, Perry, Stanovich, & Stanovich, 2004; McCutchen et al., 2002; Moats, 1994, 2004)[6][7][8][9][10]. In a survey of perceptions and knowledge of pre-service and in-service teachers, Bos et al. (2001)[6] found that both groups demonstrated limited knowledge of phonological awareness or of terminology related to language structure and phonics. Both groups perceived themselves as only somewhat prepared to teach early reading to struggling readers. These findings indicate a mismatch between what teachers know and what research supports as effective early reading instruction for children.

If reading came naturally, teaching would be a much easier job. Children would learn to read as readily as they learn to speak. Teachers would only need to give students the chance to practice their skills. But children do not learn to read just from being exposed to books. Reading must be taught. For many children, reading must be taught explicitly and systematically, one small step at a time. That's why good teachers are so important. (Reading Rockets, 2008)

 How conscious are you about your language knowledge and reading skills?
 Try reading the following words from Old English aloud:
gadertang delan lafian campwig faecnig tacnberend

How successful were you? Did you realize what skills you used? If you did read these words you were able to sound them out using sounds of the  letters or letter groups. You did not have any other clues as to how to pronounce the words.

The following is an excerpt from the famous nonsense poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. Read it aloud.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Again, how successful were you and what skills did you use to read the words successfully? Did you guess the words? Did you try sounding them out? Which words did you seem to understand in this excerpt? The pattern cues to indicate what role the words played (syntax, grammar) (e.g., the ‘-y, the ‘-s’ for plural, the punctuation, the sentence structure with simple words such as “and”, “the”, “in”, “were”) all help in understanding the text. Because the patterns are familiar to you as an English reader, you can read the above excerpt fluently, with expression, as if you understood its meaning.

These skills – sounding out letters and breaking words apart into patterns – are learned. We all sound out words and we may not be aware of it. We learned these skills consciously at one time, and as we improved, they became automatic and unconscious to us; children need to go through the process of learning the skills consciously and practicing them until they become automatic.

Table of core language competencies for teachers

This overview of core language competencies is laid out in chart form for easy reference. Basic definitions of language structures and skills are followed by examples of what a reading teacher needs to know about them and examples of how a reading teacher may use that knowledge in practice. The concepts presented here will be discussed in further detail later in the kit.

Term Definition Examples Teacher Competency Use in Practice
Phonemic Awarness
  • Awareness of individual speech sounds
  • Phonemes may indicate differences in meaning
  • There are more phonemes than letters; in English, 24 consonants and 19 vowels
  • See phonemes chart following
  • Know the 43 phonemes in English
  • Identify and select examples of words containing a specific phoneme (e.g., two, tea)
  • Select contrasting pairs of words that differ only in one phoneme (e.g., hat, mat)
  • Recognize phoneme substitution by a student in their speech, reading, and spelling (e.g., dat for that; lose for rose)
  • Create lessons, teaching the phonemes in order of difficulty and grouped for similarities
  • Choose words that are logical groups for differentiating phonemes
  • Understand a substitution and intervene and correct it
  • Give student special help when they are missing a phoneme
  • Plan explicit activities to enhance awareness of phonemes
  • Ways to spell the sounds
  • Are composed of one to four letters
  • In English, there are more than 250 graphemes
  • Spellings for the ‘long a’ sound (/eɪ/ phoneme): cake, weigh, they.
  • Practice recognizing and writing groups of words that share spelling patterns
  • Patterns can be learned with a combination of pattern study and memorization

  • Choose words that are grouped into families to illustrate sound patterns and spelling patterns (e.g., mate, gate, date, plate, crate; but not straight, weight)
  • Help students with spelling by linking to sounds

Phonological Awareness
  • All aspects of speech processing and production
  • Varies because of dialectical variation (e.g., regional accents use different sounds)
  • Co-articulation: Speech sounds are folded into one another during normal speaking (e.g., 'Here you are' might become 'Hery'ar')
  • Understand the continuum from simple phonemes to more complex clusters of sounds in order to follow a logical sequence in instruction
  • Know how sounds are articulated in order to encourage students to articulate correctly
  • Choose examples of words that group onset (beginning) and rime (end) units (e.g., ran, run, rim, rip vs. gate, mate, late)
  • Plan lessons that develop awareness of syllables
  • Link phonological skills to reading and writing. Have students sound out words they read
  • Recognize phonological errors in children’s speaking, reading, and writing
Morphemes—Word Structure
  • Sequences of sounds that form the smallest units of meaning in a language
  • cats: “cat” is a morpheme; so is “-s”, meaning “plural”
  • played: “play” is a morpheme; so is “-ed”, meaning “past tense”
  • Suspend, portable, traction--these words are divisible into roots, and affixes (prefixes or suffixes):
--roots (e.g., pend, tract, port)
--prefixes (e.g., meta-, pre-, post-, trans-, re-,)
--suffixes (e.g., -able, -ty, --ation, -ology)
  • Know how to break apart newly encountered words into morphemes, rather than simply treating them as long words
  • Be aware of the principles of word formation in English (e.g., use of morphemes indicating verb tense, indicating adverb)
  • Recognize morphemes
  • Words that are from Latin and Greek break up into morphemes (e.g., sus-pend, sus-pens-ion)
  • Be aware of regular changes in accent-placement (e.g., when adding the suffix “-y”: PHOtograph; phoTOGraphy)
  • Explicitly teach morphemes in vocabulary and spelling instruction
  • Choose morphologically related words for a lesson
  • Help students understand meaning of words by breaking them apart into morphemes
  • Work with the morphemes of Latin and Greek origin (e.g., affixes)
Language of origin and history of use can explain many spellings:
  • Old English: many of the basic words
  • Latin and Greek: many words made up of base words with prefixes and suffixes
  • French gives us many words
  • Meaning and part of speech can determine the spelling
  • Speech sounds are spelled with single letters and/or combinations of up to four letters
  • Spelling of some sounds is governed by established conventions of letter sequences and patterns
  • Old English: cough, bough, dough
  • Latin/Greek: migrate, migration, immigrant, immigration, migrating, migratory
  • French: garage, with a soft “g”, as opposed to the sound in “nudge”
  • Part of speech: adjective vs. adverb (e.g., happy, happily; careful, carefully)
  • Meaning: its (possessive pronoun) vs. it’s (contraction of it is)
  • “aigh” in straight
  • Double consonant “protects” the short vowel from becoming a long vowel sound
hopping vs. hoping,
hotter vs. hotel,
comment vs. moment
  • Understand that English spelling has not changed to eliminate inconsistencies and to reflect changes occurring in its sound system over time
  • Understand that English retains spelling of the base word, even though rules of pronunciation dictate a different way of sounding out that word:
same spelling for the /k/ sound of “electric” and the /s/ sound in “electricity”
  • Adopt a systematic plan for teaching the decoding and spelling of new words
  • Teach following the developmental nature of spelling
  • Construct appropriate word lists
  • Have students recognize and sort predictable and unpredictable words (gate vs. straight)
  • Link decoding and spelling to show the reason for the activity
  • Know that errors can occur from a child’s natural tendency to write what they hear
  • Oral knowledge of new word meanings
  • Learned in relation to other word meanings
  • Many new words are learned incidentally through reading
  • Others are learned through repeated exposure in context, plus formal study
  • Concerned with the meanings of the words (semantics) and their use; not to be confused with orthographic (spelling) patterns
  • Identify antonyms, synonyms
  • Group words according to similarities, patterns, meanings
  • Group words in categories and differentiate characteristics within groups (e.g., differentiating the meanings in the following group: “ambling, stalking, racing, hopping”)
  • Select words that are central to understanding the text
  • Make linkages (grouping associations, placing new words in a context)
  • Teach classes of words to group the vocabulary
  • Teach properties of words (rhyming, two syllable, same spelling of vowel sound) to show another way of grouping them
Grammar and Syntax Phonological Awareness
  • Parts of a sentence and their different forms
  • How words are used correctly in sentences
  • Adverbs, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, nouns, articles
  • Tenses of verbs, forms of adjectives and adverbs, agreement of noun and verb
  • Understand parts of sentences, the different forms of words
  • Analyze and construct common paragraph forms: development by detail, by comparison and contrast
  • Know five cohesive devices used in good writing:
-Repetition of key words  
  and phrases
-Transitional expressions
-Parallel structures of
-Old/new information
  • Understand the mistakes a student may be making and explain how to correct those
  • Show the structure of sentences, paragraphs, and texts visually
  • Support writing development
  • Pinpoint problems in writing or in reading and comprehension
  • Give guidance and corrective feedback

(Adapted from Moats, 1999; Fillmore & Snow, 2000)[11][12]

Chart of phonetic symbols for 43 phonemes in English

Vowel Phonemes
Consonant Phonemes






(Adapted from Small, 2005)[13]

Chart of morphemic layers of the English language

An important skill to teach children who are learning to read is how to break words into their parts and obtain meaning from those parts. Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units in language and can be combined to form new words with different meanings (e.g., ‘walk’ is one morpheme and ‘walk-ed’ contains two morphemes). English has a rich vocabulary because it has acquired morphemes from other languages over time. Morphemes in English come from three main historical sources: Anglo-Saxon words, Latin words and Greek words. Students both enjoy and benefit from learning through activities about the origins of words (e.g., learning about ancient writing systems; learning the origins of new words; Henry, 2003)[14]. This type of knowledge increases their vocabulary, and helps with their reading, writing, and spelling.

Layers of the English language


  • Short common words (e.g., pat, thin, cap)
  • Can form compounds: news-paper, pig-tail, thumb-tack
  • Inflections added (e.g., to verbs: “-ed, -s, -ing”; to adjectives “-er, -est”
Second Layer:

  • Technical, more formal words
  • Affixes (e.g., re-, mis-, dis-, pre-, con-, ad-, ab-, ex-, in-, un-, -ion, -ive, -or, -(i)ous, -ness, -ment, -ful)
  • Roots (e.g., “tract”, “fect” as in unattractive; appointment, disruption contract, infection)
  • Plurals: curricula, stimuli
Third Layer:

  • Specialized words, often science
  • Compounds: geography, phonology
  • Plurals: syntheses

(Adapted from Henry, 2003; Moats, 1998)[14][15]


We pronounce the sounds of our native language automatically, without thinking about where to put our tongue or our lips. However, some students have trouble articulating sounds, in particular students who are English language learners (ELL). A child’s articulation affects their phonological awareness and their phonemic awareness, and this in turn will affect their reading ability. A conscious knowledge of how speech sounds are produced allows a teacher to understand possible mispronunciations of speech sounds. A chart of how English consonants are articulated is provided below.

Articulation chart for consonants

Lips Touch

   W*              S*
Upper Teeth Touches Lower Lip

   W                 S
Tip of Tongue Touches Back of Upper Teeth

   W                 S

Tip of Tongue Touches Ridge Behind Upper Teeth

   W                 S

Tongue Touches Back of Ridge

   W                 S  

Back of Tongue Raised

   W                 S

Open Mouth

   W                 S

    p                 b

    t                   d

    k                  g

Forcing Air Through Narrow Opening

    f                   v
    θ                  ð
    s                  z
    ʃ                    ʒ

Nasal (Through the Nose)



Sound Passage not blocked

                        r, l

  • W = voiceless (like a whisper); * S = voiced (sounded)
    (Adapted from Small, 2005)[13]


This section provided a general overview of language knowledge. It shows how essential it is for a teacher to have a thorough knowledge of language in order to explain, model, correct, and evaluate their students. This knowledge may also be helpful in recognizing and understanding areas of difficulties for students leading to appropriate interventions.

What have I learned about language?


  1. International Reading Association. (2006). Mini module 6: Using multiple methods of beginning reading instruction. A position statement of the International Reading Association. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Retrieved May 1, 2008, from
  2. 2.0 2.1 LinguiSystems. (2006). Guide to evidence-based practice. Retrieved April 25, 2008, from
  3. Stanovich, P.J., & Stanovich, K.E. (2003). Using research and reason in education: How teachers can use scientifically based research to make curricular & instructional decisions. The Partnership for Reading: Bringing Scientific Evidence to Learning. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: RMC Research Corporation. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from
  4. Stainthorp, R. (2004). W(h)ither phonological awareness? Literate trainee teachers' lack of stable knowledge about the sound structure of words.Educational Psychology, 24(6), 753-765.
  5. Spear-Swerling, L. Brucker, P. O., & Alfano, M. P. (2005) Teachers' literacy-related knowledge and self-perceptions in relation to preparation and experience. Annals of Dyslexia, 55(2), 266-296.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bos, C., Mather, N., Dickson, S. Podhajski, B., & Chard, D. (2001). Perceptions and knowledge of preservice and inservice educators about early reading instruction. Annals of Dyslexia, 51, 97-120.
  7. Cunningham, A., Perry, K., Stanovich, K., & Stanovich, P. (2004). Disciplinary knowledge of K-3 teachers and their knowledge calibration in the domain of early literacy. Annals of Dyslexia, 54(1), 139-167.
  8. McCutchen, D., Harry, D. R., Cox, S., Sidman, S., Covill, A. E., & Cunningham, A. E. (2002). Reading teachers' knowledge of children's literature and English phonology. Annals of Dyslexia 52(1), 205-228.
  9. Moats, L. C. (1994). The missing foundation in teacher education: Knowledge of the structure of spoken and written language. Annals of Dyslexia, 44, 81-102.
  10. Moats, L. C. (2004). Language essentials for teachers of reading and spelling (LETRS). Module 2: The speech sounds of English and Module 3: Spellography for teachers. Longmont, CO: Sopris West Educational Services.
  11. Moats, L. C. (1999). Teaching reading is rocket science: What expert teachers of reading should know and be able to do. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers. Retrieved March 10, 2008, from
  12. Fillmore, L. W., & Snow, C. E. (2000). What teachers need to know about language. (Contract No. ED-99-CO-0008), Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED444379). Retrieved January 24, 2021 from
  13. 13.0 13.1 Small, L. H. (2005). Fundamentals of phonetics: A practical guide for students (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson Education Inc.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Henry, M. K. (2003). Unlocking literacy: Effective decoding and spelling instruction. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.
  15. Moats, L. C. (1998). Teaching decoding. American Educator, Spring/Summer, 1-9. Retrieved May 31, 2008, from
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