5 ideas for in-person early literacy interventions

One strategy: Have staff create seating charts that allow for safe work in small groups
By: | April 6, 2021
(AdobeStock/DisobeyArt)(AdobeStock/DisobeyArt)

For many young students in the early stages of literacy, the interruption in learning brought by the pandemic has resulted in a need to go back to basics.

“As hard as this has been, it has actually been an opportunity for us to recommit to promoting the foundational skills all students have to have,” said Jessica Pasik, reading specialist at Fulton City School District in New York. “We’re recommitting to Tier 1 instruction and making sure it’s as solid as it can be.”

Special education directors may suggest staff review how many young students fall into Tier 2 and Tier 3 as they return to school buildings and undergo universal screening, and recognize when it may be more appropriate to bolster instruction at Tier 1.

Doing this may prevent students from being identified with specific learning disabilities and needing specialized reading instruction down the line.


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“If you have massive amounts of students in Tier 2 and Tier 3, it’s not an intervention problem, it’s a Tier 1 problem,” Pasik said. “We are looking at our pacing guide and having to make hard decisions about slowing down and taking things out that we don’t have the time right now to cover because the foundational things are more important. They can’t take a shortcut.”

Direct staff to use these strategies to implement reading interventions in person:

1. Seat students intentionally. Although students must sit 6 feet apart from each other to uphold social distancing, have teachers seat students with similar literacy deficits near each other, Pasik said.

Have staff create seating charts that allow for safe work in small groups. Just ensure they keep in mind that if they pull two students aside to work on skills, they may need a paraprofessional or other staff member to work with the remaining students in the classroom if they can’t work independently.

Additional staff may be busy cleaning or assisting with another teacher’s virtual lesson. “We have to always keep safety first,” she said. “But students can sit 6 feet across from each other for partner reading. We can read as a group, then they can partner read within safety guidelines, then read at home, so they get as much practice as they can.”

2. Handle materials with care. Rather than pass out books that will be difficult to clean between student uses, have staff give each student his own readers by making copies of decodable texts, Pasik said. Or slip decodable passages into a digital slide presentation students can read on their tablet or laptop or print out to read.

“You can assemble a sort of book,” she said. “They can be reading it on the computer, but they need all those concepts of print, too, such as having the book in their hand, turning the page, pointing — all those aspects are important, too.”

3. Create a sound wall. To help students reinforce letter sounds, suggest staff create a sound wall, as an alternative to a word wall for older students, that is arranged by letter sounds and the spellings that go with the sounds. Have relevant images accompany the sounds. For example, a teacher may put “Oy, Oi” on the wall along with the picture of a toilet.

4. Engage in word chaining. Recommend staff have students do word chaining using dedicated word and letter tiles or pieces of paper or using digital tiles on a digital whiteboard if they have their own tablets or laptops during in-person learning, Pasik said.

Students can start with the word “bat,” for example, then build a chain with “pat,” “rat,” “rot,” “tot,” “lot,” and “log.” They have to think about what letters to change. “Even though we’re in person, we can still utilize those tech tools,” she said. “It’s fun for students.”

5. Keep it quick. Have staff engage students in other quick activities, such as identifying rhymes, clapping out syllables, and listening for the initial, middle, or last sound in a word, Pasik said. Ensure activities don’t last for longer than 12-15 minutes to maintain student engagement.

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for LRP Publications.