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Make the Most of Summer Tutoring with Structured Literacy Lessons

A picture of a woman tutoring a student who is reading a book and smiling.

Summer is right around the corner and if you are looking to streamline your approach as a reading tutor, structured literacy is the way to go! Summer is short and there is no time to waste. We’ve used the structured literacy format with emergent and struggling readers and it works like a charm!

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Who Your Clients Are Likely to Be

Most of the students you will be working with this summer have had a challenging year. Their parents are seeking summer tutoring for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The student has not met end-of-year benchmarks.
  • The student has struggled with reading throughout the year.
  • The student is either identified with a learning deficit or teachers and/or parents suspect a learning deficit.
  • The student is demonstrating signs of frustration or resistance to reading.
  • The parent is worried about summer reading loss.

What You Need to Know First

The profiles mentioned above are indicative of a need for a Structured Literacy format that adheres to the Science of Reading. Our intervention process does both. We are here to make your tutoring life easier. Read on to discover this effective technique that includes all the components of structured literacy.

Step 1 – Assessments

It is important that you know where to begin with your students. You could find this by reviewing current school data. This can be supplied by the parent/guardian.

If school data is not available, we like to begin with a standardized benchmark such as the DIBELS 8. These measures include beginning, middle and end-of-year benchmarks as well as progress monitoring assessments for grades K through 8.

Conducting your own assessments will help fill in any missing information. The cornerstone of reading is phonemic awareness. Without mastery of phonemic awareness, reading will always be a struggle. For our Kindergarten, First, and some Second Grade students we like to begin with our Phonological Skills Assessment.

Phonological Awareness Assessment

Alphabetic knowledge is also a prerequisite for reading. Our FREE Letter Name, Letter Sound Assessment provides great baseline data for emerging and struggling readers.

the letter name and sound assessment on a clipboard wth a pencil

We recommend assessing phonics skills using a measure such as CORE Phonics Survey (#ad) or, for students in grades 3 and up, Wilson Assessment of Decoding and Encoding (WADE).

A hallmark of structured literacy is adhering to a systematic phonics scope and sequence. Here is a blog post about why a phonics scope and sequence is important. Once you’ve determined students’ knowledge of phonics, you can follow the district scope and sequence. If the district does not have one available, here is a FREE Phonics Scope and Sequence to determine where to begin instruction.

picture of our K-2 Scope and Sequence

Starting with a few critical assessments will help you successfully navigate your summer tutoring. Furthermore, when you reassess at the end of the summer, it will provide data as to student progress and the effectiveness of your tutoring.

Step 2 – Phonological Awareness

If assessment data reveals a weakness in phonological awareness, begin your session with a 3-5 minute warmup that targets the specific areas of need. If you’re looking for games and/or ways to scaffold phonological awareness, check out this informative blog post.

Step 3 – Alphabetic Principle

The next step in our structured literacy lessons is a quick drill warm-up to address letter names and sounds. Using the alphabet cards, we start by showing the student a letter card. The student must then recall the sound. We choose about 10 cards (including ALL vowels) so as to keep the lesson moving.

For most struggling readers, we begin with the letter cards that include the picture as well. We ask the student to tell the ‘whole story’ of the letter. (i.e. letter, picture/keyword and sound – a…apple…/a/.) Please remember to remove this scaffold once students can recall letter names and sounds with automaticity.

As the students enunciate the letter sound remind them to ‘clip the sound’, meaning the student should not add an /u/ to the end of the sound. (/d/ not /duh/)

Step 4 – Phonics

Applying letter/sound knowledge to decode words (phonics) is a key step in structured literacy. It is likely that your struggling readers have taken to guessing. For more information, read our post on why guessing is detrimental.

In order to break the habit of guessing, students must successfully apply the phonics pattern and use that pattern to decode.

We use a multi-sensory technique known as tapping. When given the word cat, the student taps each sound: /k/…/a/…/t/. Please check out our YouTube video for a demonstration on tapping. If you have a student who’s resistant to tapping, we love adding engagement with the use of pop-its.

Rainbow Colored Pop It Fidget Toy
Pop-its are a motivating, multi-sensory tool that we love incorporating into our lessons. #ad

They can also press their fingers into balls of playdough as they ‘smoosh’ each sound.

Three balls of playdough
Motivate reluctant ‘tappers’ by having them ‘smoosh the sound’! #ad

The earliest readers, or those who have a weakness in phonemic memory often have trouble sequencing sounds (/k/…/a/…/t/, tac rather than cat), inserting sounds (/k/…/a/…/t/, clat), changing a sound (/k/…/a/…/t/, cap), or deleting a sound (/k/…/a/…/t/, at). These students require a process known as successive blending. Please check out our blog post on successive blending to learn more.

Step 5 – Applying Phonics to Reading

The next step is applying this letter sound knowledge to decodable texts. The use of decodable texts helps students solidify their understanding of syllable patterns. As students read decodable texts they learn and apply the code of reading and are no longer compelled to guess.

Step 6 – Spelling

Spelling is an important part of a structured literacy lesson. Reading and Spelling are reciprocal skills. That means students must have ample opportunities to practice spelling both phonetically regular and irregular words. We also like to include a sentence dictation in addition to words in isolation.

If you are using our decodable books to teach reading this summer, all you have to do is refer to the back of the book and/or the lesson plans to locate decodable and irregular (or ‘not yet’) ‘star’ words for the spelling portion of your lesson.

Back page of a decodable book written by Informed Literacy. An arrow is pointing to the decodable word list.

Step 7 – Vocabulary

Vocabulary and comprehension are essential for successful reading. Students with limited reading experience may have a narrow vocabulary so it’s important to include vocabulary as part of a structured literacy lesson. Vocabulary instruction is essential for English learners too.

Be on the lookout for multiple meaning words that can sometimes cause confusion (i.e. deck as in a ‘deck’ of cards, a porch, or even a punch). Students need to understand the meaning of the words based on the context.

Step 8 – Comprehension

The end game in reading is comprehension so be sure to weave in comprehension questions throughout your lessons.

Back page of a decodable text written by Informed Literacy. Arrow is pointing to comprehension questions.

Step 9 – Fluency

Trouble with fluency is an indication that the syllable pattern is not yet mastered. Therefore, opportunities to reread phonetically regular words in isolation and rereading of a familiar text are invaluable for developing fluency. Repeated readings can be assigned for homework practice to help reinforce the phonetic pattern.

With thoughtful planning, your student is likely to have a successful summer reading experience.

Where can I find resources to address these skills?

Finding the right resources to support young readers can be a game-changer! Here are resources we use within a 30 minute structured literacy tutoring session.

Letter Name and Sound Bundle Cover
This bundle includes a letter name & sound assessment, sound cards, Bingo boards and fluency grids to reinforce the alphabetic principle.
Phonological Awareness Games
This bundle includes lots of fun games to help develop foundational phonemic awareness skills.
Decodable word lists, phrases, and sentences are an effective tool for developing prosody.
These decodable words, phrases and sentences are the perfect way to help your emergent and struggling readers develop fluency.
Decodable Readers Short Vowel Fiction Nonfiction Mega Bundle Cover
The materials are designed to help teachers explicitly guide students to develop the skills and habits of capable readers. 


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