Explicit Intervention in Decoding

Intervention Overview

An explicit intervention in decoding is most commonly prescribed when students struggle with reading fluency and phonics. Early, explicit, and systematic instruction in phonics can help strengthen students’ decoding skills. Decoding instruction should follow a phonics scope and sequence. The intervention focus for decoding uses data from an informal phonics decoding survey to determine the decoding skills mastered and teach the next skills in the progression while addressing any gaps in decoding ability. The use of connected text (decodable readers) to practice reading target skill words in context is critical to developing phonics skills.

What is Decoding?

What is Phonics?

Decoding is the ability to use knowledge of letter-sound relationships to accurately read a word (Moats & Tolman, 2019). Phonics instruction helps students learn how to decode words.

Phonics instruction teaches students basic letter-sound correspondences, how to sound out words, exceptions to the principles, and more advanced skills, such as decoding multisyllabic words.

Explicit and Systematic Intervention in Decoding

In an intervention for decoding, it is important that intervention lessons include elements of explicit and systematic instruction. Explicit and systematic instruction is direct, engaging, supported with clear models and feedback, and organized through a planned sequence. Learn more about explicit instruction in decoding in the video below.

Preparing to Implement the Intervention

Before delivering explicit intervention in decoding, administer a phonics decoding survey to determine skill attainment and needs. After a starting point for instruction has been identified, teach decoding subskills sequentially and integrate them with other foundational reading skills for maximum benefit. Plan explicit instructional routines, such as those presented in the video, that model the objective and allow for students’ meaningful practice with target decoding skills. 

What to Teach

There are certain elements that must be included in an effective explicit intervention in decoding, including:

Readiness Skills

Phonological awareness and phonemic awareness (blending, segmenting, manipulating sounds in words)


Blending sounds represented by print

Word Building

Mapping phonemes (individual speech sounds) to the graphemes (printed letters)


Guided practice in writing words and sentences

High-Frequency Words

Categorizing words whether they are spelled regularly or not, and calling attention to the parts of words that are not easily decoded (e.g., said)

Connected Text

Controlled, decodable text to practice early phonics skills and high-frequency words that have been explicitly taught

How to Teach

When teaching an explicit intervention in decoding, it is beneficial to:

  • Follow a phonics scope and sequence
  • Cumulatively review previously learned phonics patterns
  • Embed phonemic awareness activities related to the phonics pattern
  • Follow the “I do, we do, you do” model for gradual release of responsibility
  • Practice both decoding and encoding (writing) of the targeted phonics pattern
  • Practice decoding target skill words at the word, phrase, sentence, and text levels

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a decoding intervention 'systematic'?

Decoding interventions that are systematic use a planned scope and sequence to introduce phonics elements, building from simple letter-sound correspondences to complex patterns. Lessons include intentional review and practice of skills. 

What makes a decoding intervention 'explicit'?

Explicit decoding interventions include deliberate teaching of concepts with continuous student-teacher interaction. Teachers begin lessons by modeling the objective. Students then practice with the teacher before completing the task individually (e.g., I do, we do, you do).

Who benefits from explicit intervention in decoding?

Students who are showing difficulty learning the relationships between sounds and letters and sounding out words may benefit from explicit intervention in decoding. You may notice that these students also have trouble reading out loud, reading fluently, spelling, and working with individual sounds in spoken words despite generally effective instruction.

Featured Resources

Elkonin boxes help students better understand the alphabetic principle in decoding. Students count the individual sounds called phonemes, and then write the letters that represent each sound.

Decoding interventions should follow a phonics scope and sequence. Here is one example of a scope and sequence for phonics instruction.

This toolkit from the National Center on Improving Literacy includes many resources on how to support phonics development.

The University of Florida Literacy Institute's Virtual Teaching Resource Hub features activities to assist teachers to teach foundational reading skills using technology.

Use phonics lesson plans from the National Center on Intensive Intervention to supplement reading instruction to meet a range of student needs.

View an example of how standards-aligned instruction for decoding can be taught across the continuum of the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework.

The International Dyslexia Association Georgia has compiled a list of decodable readers available for purchase or to download for free.

Read this article by Linda Farrell, Tina Osenga, and Michael Hunter and learn how to organize high-frequency words to fit into your decoding intervention.

These activities from Zaner-Bloser's Superkids Reading Program build letter-sound knowledge, blending skills, and decoding abilities.

Create a deck of phonemes that can be substituted and manipulated to create various kinds of blending activities.

Additional Learning Opportunities

Watch Decodable Texts in Phonics presented by Ohio Literacy lead Michelle Elia.

Watch Shifting to Structured Literacy: Systematic Phonics presented by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck.

Watch How to Maximize Intervention Time: Tips for Instructional Efficiency presented by Andrea Farrow and Jessica Pasik.

Listen to Dr. Louisa Moats as she highlights the significance of decoding in the science of reading.

Expert presenter Laura Stewart shares phonics teaching techniques in PART 2 of this Zaner-Bloser webinar series.

Watch the Phonics Instructional Routines that are Aligned with The Science of Reading presented by Dr. Susan Hall and Judie Caroleo.