When we first started literacy instruction with Anna, she had limited speech, language, and communication skills and was preliterate. After 60 hours of instruction over a 15 month period, by the time Anna was 5 years 2 months old, she was able to read and write simple stories! She knew all of the letter sound correspondences with greater than 90% accuracy; she had acquired key phonological awareness skills, demonstrating greater than 90% accuracy with sound blending and phoneme (or sound) segmentation skills. She was able to decode or recognize by sight hundreds of words. She generalized her decoding skills to attack any new word. She was able to read simple stories independently and responded to factual questions with greater than 80% accuracy. She was learning to respond to more complex inference questions. She was able to spell more than 50 words with greater than 80% accuracy and she would attempt to spell any word by applying her phoneme (or sound) segmentation skills and letter sound knowledge. She was able to write simple stories using an adapted keyboard with speech output or using letter cards.

Learning literacy skills also seemed to bolster Anna’s speech, language, and communication skills. When we first started literacy instruction, she demonstrated a very limited range of speech sounds/ speech approximations; she primarily communicated telegraphically using a single sign or exchanging a picture to request a preferred item or activity. Using written words seemed to support her speech production. As she learned the letter sounds, she applied her knowledge to written words. The written words provided visual supports to let her know the sounds to say in sequence. Over the course of instruction, her speech production improved significantly; she was more intelligible and she produced longer spoken utterances.

Learning to read and write also served to increase Anna’s vocabulary. She added many new words to her vocabulary during literacy instruction. She also learned to express longer sentences, combining words to communicate more complex meaning. The visual supports of the written sentences seemed to help her learn many of the necessary structural words (e.g., words such as “the” or “and”) as well as many of the necessary word endings (e.g., the s on the verb in the sentence, “Dad hugs”).

After 15 months of instruction, Anna entered Kindergarten as a reader and a writer; her literacy skills exceeded those of many of her typical peers. She clearly benefited from effective, evidence-based literacy instruction (checklist) that followed these key principles:

  • Made instruction meaningful and motivating
  • Provided sufficient time for instruction
  • Targeted appropriate skills
  • Utilized effective and efficient instructional procedures
  • Provided adaptations to support her participation.

In the video below, you can see the progress that Anna has continued to make, building from the foundation of early literacy instruction. Not only have her reading skills improved, but she is interested in a wider variety of topics ( including her classmates!). As Matt Haig (British author) has written, “Reading isn’t important because it helps get you a job. It’s important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. Reading makes the world better. It is how humans merge. How minds connect.” Reading has helped Anna not only learn new information, but it supports her participation in educational activities that provide opportunities to meet and interact with new people.

We have have shared these  literacy instruction techniques  because we believe that the development of literacy skills can provide life-changing results. We encourage you to try these ideas, and to review the additional resources below

Selected Literacy Instruction References


The development of these web materials was supported by U.S. Department of Education grant H325K110315, the Penn State Children’s Communicative Competence Project.

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