Planning Reading Intervention for Your Elementary Students This Year

Wherever learning takes place, having a plan for explicit intervention instruction makes a difference.

Overhead View Of Girl Lying On Bed And Reading Book
Overhead View Of Girl Lying On Bed And Reading Book

Reading intervention for elementary students who need it is a must-have for an effective literacy program. Bolstering struggling readers’ skills with strategic supplemental instruction was essential before COVID-19. With the frantic shift to online learning during the spring of 2020, researchers estimate that students may only retain 70% of a typical year’s reading progress when they start the 2020-2021 school year. This means delivering effective reading intervention needs be a priority, whether it happens face-to-face or remotely. Check out these 5 key considerations for planning reading intervention anywhere learning takes place:

Schedule the time

Struggling readers need extra teaching time. Literacy leader Dr. Louisa Moats lists adequate intervention time for struggling students to receive specialized instruction as a top necessity for achieving literacy for all. The exact amount of time will vary based on student age and needs, but it’s wise to plan for intervention to occur 4-5 days/week for 20-40 minutes. Trained instructors are also key; struggling readers need knowledgeable teachers!

Scheduling reading intervention time could get tricky during COVID-19, but it can be done. Whenever possible, hybrid-schedule schools should take intervention needs into cohort schedule development. If education is remote, intervention needs to involve connecting with students’ families. Ask about their schedules and set expectations to ensure that someone at home is available to offer specific supports or trouble-shoot technology issues.

Assess students initially and routinely

Effective intervention can’t happen without information about students’ strengths and needs. Initial universal screening helps identify students who need intervention.  Once intervention begins, observation and regular formative assessment data let teachers tailor their instruction and differentiate to support each student’s progress.

During remote learning, teachers may have to get creative to gather assessment data. Having one student stay online after each small group video session, scheduling one-on-one video calls, or using online assessment tools could be options. Help caregivers understand the function and importance of assessment. That way, they can encourage kids’ authentic participation in assessment tasks.

Adopt a comprehensive scope and sequence


Assessing elementary students helps identify skill gaps, but that still doesn’t negate the importance of a solid curriculum. In particular, experts Nell K. Duke and Heidi Mesmer highlight the importance of teaching phonics skills in an intentional sequence. This helps students to create mental “file folders” of related principles and boosts retention.

While attention to phonics is crucial, intervention has to address the whole literacy picture; build in time for explicit instruction in phonological awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, too.

Share a high-level scope and sequence with any caregivers helping support learning at home, so they know what students have learned and where they’re headed next.

Plan ahead for explicit instruction and practice time

Equip teachers with the planning time and materials they need, like student manipulatives and texts.  Being prepared for each intervention session will make scheduled time with students count. This free reading intervention checklist can help. Each lesson should include a strategically paced blend of direct teaching, guided practice, and independent practice that shows teachers where they need to go next. Teachers must be trained to provide corrective feedback to address any student misconceptions quickly.

For intervention delivered remotely, investigate ways to mix synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Share resources such as video clips that model concepts like letter-sound associations so consistent and correct modeling can continue outside of live intervention sessions. Video clips of the production of spoken sounds are also helpful during face-to-face teaching if the teacher must wear a mask. For live online teaching, move multi-sensory practice online, for instance by creating letter tiles in Google Slides or Google Drawing. Or, arrange for students to have their own set of manipulatives at home.

Always plan to connect isolated skills to authentic reading and writing

Discrete skills are meaningless if students can’t use them in their broader reading and writing lives. Structure the intervention cycle so that students get explicit teaching. Then, give students chances to apply those skills to reading and writing connected text. When assigning reading and writing assignments for other classroom time or home, model how students could apply skills they’ve learned in intervention lessons.