Multi-Modal Approach to Structured Literacy

Intervention Overview

A multi-modal, structured, explicit, systematic, sequential, cumulative, diagnostic and prescriptive instructional approach for reading and writing; which targets: phonemic awareness, sound-letter correspondence (phonics), spelling, handwriting, fluency, morphology, vocabulary and comprehension. Teaching steps are the following: synthetic and analytic presentation, opportunity for practice and teaching to mastery of a structured scope and sequence.

What is Structured Literacy?

Structured literacy describes an approach to reading, writing, speaking, and listening instruction that is explicit, systematic, sequential, cumulative, diagnostic, and prescriptive (Turner, 2022). In structured literacy, teachers logically sequence the presentation and integration of language components that contribute to skilled writing and reading comprehension. Instruction directly addresses skills, follows a continuum of skill complexity, and is supported with clear models, step-by-step demonstrations, and ongoing review. Research supports the use of structured literacy to maximize the learning of all students, including English Learners, those with dyslexia, and children with other learning disabilities. If implemented in core (Tier 1) instruction and tiered interventions, structured literacy may prevent or remediate reading difficulties in the vast majority of students at risk for academic concerns (Moats, 2020).

What Makes Instruction 'Multi-Modal'?

Multi-modal instruction involves incorporating multiple senses within instruction. Multi-modal instruction in structured literacy means “having students hear a word, say a word, indicate the number of sounds (phonemes), letters (graphemes), or syllables in a word by clapping or using tokens or fingers, blending sounds (phonemes), saying the word, writing the word, and reading text that contains examples of the word” (Hasbrouck, 2020, p. 189).  

Multi-Modal Approach to Structured Literacy

A multi-modal approach to structured literacy directly targets foundational components of reading and writing, including phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, handwriting, fluency, morphology, vocabulary, and comprehension. Learn more about a multi-modal approach to structured literacy in the video below.

Preparing to Implement the Intervention

Check out the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading to learn about the knowledge and skills required for educators to provide structured literacy instruction for struggling readers.

How to Teach:

Structured literacy intervention programs and approaches share the following characteristics:


Provide multiple opportunities to practice instructional tasks, review skills, and demonstrate skill mastery.


Teach prerequisite skills before expecting students to learn more advanced skills.


Model and clearly explain instructional tasks. Provide targeted corrective feedback after initial student responses.


Provide explicit instruction in decoding and spelling as well as language comprehension skills (e.g. syntax, semantics, text composition).


Lesson engagement during teacher-led instruction and independent work is encouraged, monitored, and scaffolded.


Continuous monitoring of skills to ensure students complete activities with accuracy and fluency before moving on to more advanced skills.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is structured literacy referring to a single intervention program?

Structured literacy is not a single program. Many instructional and intervention programs vary widely in their use of structured literacy principles and practices. Interventions that fall under the umbrella of structured literacy contain similar key features, including intensive, highly-explicit, and systematic teaching of foundational literacy skills.

Who benefits from a multi-modal approach to structured literacy?

A multi-modal, structured literacy intervention can be beneficial for struggling readers, students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, as well as students learning English as a second language.

How much instructional time should be devoted to each key reading area during the intervention?

Diagnostic teaching as part of a structured literacy approach means using data to design instruction that fits students' needs. Some students require a greater emphasis on word decoding, while others need to fill significant gaps in vocabulary and language. Educators can use assessment to target specific skills and make adjustments in the instructional emphasis as students' needs shift.

Featured Resources

This brief from the International Dyslexia Association outlines basics on the principles and practices of structured literacy.

Learn about best practices for screening and intervention using a multi-modal structured literacy program.

The Middle Tennessee State University Center for Dyslexia presents an overview of Structured Literacy with Nancy Hennessy.

In this article, Louise Spear-Swerling contrasts a structured literacy approach with typical literacy practices.

This book, edited by Louise Spear-Swerling, helps teachers design and target structured literacy interventions for particular student profiles.

In this Keys to Literacy blog, Joan Sedita describes structured literacy and shares about professional development programs that incorporate this teaching approach.

See Dr. Pam Kastner's curated study sessions and resources related to the book Structured Literacy Interventions: Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties: Grade K-6.

Ohio schools are required to establish a Structured Literacy Certification process for K-3 teachers aligned with Ohio’s Dyslexia Guidebook.

Additional Learning Opportunities

Access professional learning facilitated by the Ohio Department of Education for the 2021 Literacy Academy in collaboration with national literacy experts. Use the viewing guide while watching Shifting to Structured Literacy: Word Recognition  presented by Jan Hasbrouck.

Access professional learning facilitated by the Ohio Department of Education for the 2021 Literacy Academy in collaboration with national literacy experts. Use the viewing guide while watching Shifting to Structured Literacy: Language Comprehension  presented by Nancy Hennessy.

Access professional learning facilitated by the Ohio Department of Education for the 2021 Literacy Academy in collaboration with national literacy experts. Use the viewing guide while watching Intervention for Elementary Students: Supporting Students in Need of Foundational Skill Intervention presented by Tim Odegard.