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Essentials of Literacy Instruction

Get the basics on effective practices in teaching word study, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, motivation, writing, and content area literacy.

Browse the sections below to learn more about how you can help your middle-grade and high school students build literacy skills in these key areas.

For more in-depth information, see our In the Classroom section for strategies, classroom video, and sample lessons.

Multicultural group of middle school students working on phonics and word study

Word study: For adolescents who read at a very low level

Many adolescents who read at a low level struggle with decoding multisyllabic and unusual words, recognizing common words by sight, reading and writing words that have irregular spellings, and identifying families of words that share common roots. Providing targeted word study instruction can help these students become more proficient.

Young teen girl working on reading fluency in class

Reading Instruction: Fluency

If students haven't developed fluency — or "automaticity" — then reading can become slow, halting, and frustrating. When students are working so hard to get the words right, they can't focus on the meaning of the text. And if students haven't learned to read with appropriate expression, they might get through sentences quickly — yet not completely understand the meaning.

Close up of middle school students' hands working on science vocabulary study

Reading Instruction: Vocabulary

It’s important to make vocabulary study a regular activity in your classroom. Kids don’t really learn and remember words unless they see them many times in print, use them many times in their classroom discussions and written texts, and continue to see, hear, and use them. 

Multicultural high school classroom with active discussion groups

Reading Instruction: Comprehension

Reading comprehension is a complex task. Research-based strategies can help, but there are other key ways to help your students become strong readers, including building background knowledge, providing a range of texts and text difficulty, and teaching self-monitoring skills.

Close up of male middle school student reading graphic novel in library

Reading Instruction: Motivation

Keeping kids interested and motivated to read can be a challenge. Some students who can read would rather do other things instead, while those who struggle with reading often don’t enjoy it. Find out what you can do to motivate kids to read every day.

Teacher offers writing instruction to group of high school students

Writing Instruction

Research tells us that the most effective way to build students’ writing skills and confidence is through direct, explicit, and systematic instruction.

Latina middle school student holding up her poster on biodiversity

Reading and Writing in the Content Areas

Content area teachers need training in the essentials of literacy instruction — how to provide effective vocabulary instruction in their subject areas and instruction in reading comprehension strategies to help students make sense of content-area texts. In addition, they should be able to teach students to read and write in the ways that are distinct to their own content areas.

Have a special interest in literacy instruction for English language learners or students with learning disabilities? Visit our sister sites, Colorín Colorado and LD Online.