Written Language Disorders: Intervention Target Areas

Instructional strategies support phonological awareness, word recognition/decoding, reading comprehension, writing process, writing product, and spelling at different levels. In addition, instruction that supports vocabulary is often part of intervention programs, as vocabulary knowledge is foundational for reading and academic success (e.g., Adlof & Patten, 2017; McGregor et al., 2013; Nagy & Townsend, 2012; Nagy, 1988; Perfetti & Stafura, 2014).

Dual language learners (DLLs) or emergent bilinguals also benefit from interventions that dynamically allow comparisons across languages and activate transfer at the phonological, lexical, syntactic, and discourse levels. DLLs with reading disorders benefit from early reading and writing experiences in more transparent orthographies than English, such as Spanish (Butvilofsky et al., 2017).

Older individuals may function at earlier developmental levels. Intervention for these individuals is based on developmental level, with chronological age taken into consideration when selecting instructional materials.

Below are ideas for relevant areas of intervention, grouped by age level. However, treatment goals and targets are left to the discretion of individual clinicians to meet specific standards or goals.

Emergent Level (Preschool Age)

The period of emergent literacy is when the child typically develops an awareness of print and an understanding of the functions of literacy. The child acquires skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are the precursors to reading and writing (Kamhi & Catts, 2012; Sulzby, 1985; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998). Through the process of “literacy socialization,” or the cultural and social aspects of learning to read, children gain oral and written language experience through literacy events (i.e., shared book reading, recognition of common signs, logos, and symbols) and interaction with literacy artifacts (i.e., books, magazines, mail, toys with print; Van Kleeck & Schuele, 1987).

Phonological Awareness

  • Building awareness of patterns of sounds, including
    • rhyming and
    • syllables
  • Improving the ability to generate rhyming words and identify syllables in words
  • Building awareness of beginning sounds in words
  • Improving the ability to generate words that begin with a certain sound

Emergent Reading

  • Engaging in joint book reading, including pointing to pictures in books to support understanding of structure and content of books
  • Teaching awareness of conventions of print orientation (top to bottom of page, left to right orientations of English print)
  • Understanding that words represent objects, actions, or ideas
  • Understanding that text represents spoken language
  • Pointing out spaces between words
  • Matching speech to print
  • Building awareness of environmental print, including
    • product logos,
    • street signs, and
    • printed words in environmental context (e.g., “milk” on a carton of milk)
  • Building alphabet/letter knowledge, including
    • recognizing letters and
    • naming letters
  • Teaching sense of story and understanding simple story structure, including
    • answering questions about a story and
    • retelling a story in sequence

Emergent Spelling/Writing

  • Providing opportunities to engage in “paper-and-pencil activities,” including
    • drawing,
    • copying lines and shapes,
    • copying numbers and letters, and
    • pretend writing
  • Teaching the distinction between drawing and writing

Early Elementary Level

Formal instruction in reading and writing begins during the early elementary school years. Children learn to decode words, read fluently, and comprehend what they have read. They begin to develop spelling skills and learn to write letters, sentences, and short narratives (Ukrainetz, 2015).

Phonological Awareness

  • Continuing to develop phonological awareness skills, including
    • rhyming,
    • segmenting, and
    • blending
  • Developing awareness of sounds and syllables in words

Word Recognition/Decoding

  • Increasing repertoire of sight words
  • Teaching sound–symbol correspondences
  • Teaching awareness of spelling patterns in words
  • Improving reading decoding (recognizing individual sounds in a printed word and blending sounds to form the word)
  • Increasing reading fluency

Reading Comprehension

  • Encouraging interest in and understanding of story narratives and other text genres, including
    • exposition and
    • persuasion
  • Building awareness of story components, including
    • plot,
    • characters, and
    • setting
  • Working on story retelling
  • Teaching strategies to determine meaning of words from context cues

Writing Process

  • Teaching how to plan before writing and how to edit the final product
  • Improving ability to understand and use digital texts
  • Improving prewriting, planning, and revising

Writing Product

  • Practicing writing uppercase and lowercase letters as well as first and last name
  • Improving the ability to write brief stories and journal entries
  • Developing the ability to write a variety of grammatically correct sentence types and to use writing conventions correctly, including
    • capitalization and
    • punctuation
  • Improving vocabulary, lexical diversity, and sentence complexity


  • Developing skill in using letter–sound knowledge to spell words as they sound, beginning with rudimentary spelling using one to three letters
  • Improving the ability to spell common words correctly
  • Developing the ability to correct some spelling errors

Later Elementary Level and Above

Some older students might continue to need direct instruction for decoding and fluency. Much of the intervention for this age group uses an “instructional strategies approach.” This approach focuses on teaching rules, techniques, and principles to help gain and use information across a broad range of situations and settings and is based on enhancing metalinguistic and metacognitive skills. The emphasis is on how to learn, rather than what to learn (Westby et al., 2015). Classroom assignments are often used to teach strategies for learning academic content. Some instructional strategies are discipline specific, and others are generalizable across disciplines (Faggella-Luby & Deshler, 2008). Strategy instruction may address recognizing, understanding and using root words, and using context to deduce meanings of complex vocabulary.

Word Recognition/Decoding

  • Developing the ability to use root words to understand word meaning
  • Enhancing morphological awareness, including an understanding of how inflectional endings and derivational prefixes and suffixes change meaning
  • Developing the ability to decipher complex words related to different academic disciplines

Reading Comprehension

  • Disciplinary literacy—improving understanding of content-specific vocabulary, concepts, and content
  • Improving the ability to use context to
    • deduce meaning and
    • infer and identify main ideas
  • Developing skill in paraphrasing information that was read
  • Improving understanding of figurative language and recognition of ambiguities in written text, including
    • multiple-meaning words and
    • ambiguous sentence structures
  • Teaching strategies to improve reading comprehension, including
    • reviewing headings and end-of-chapter questions prior to reading,
    • rereading portions of text, and
    • taking notes
  • Teaching strategies to improve self-monitoring of comprehension while reading
  • Teaching strategies to manage different styles of text
    • skimming
    • analytic reading for in-depth meaning
    • critical reading for interpretation
  • Improving understanding of different text genres and purposes by using
    • story grammar checklists and other text schemata and
    • strategies such as the following:
      • Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review (Gunning, 2002; Robinson, 1946)
      • Preview, Question, Read, Summarize, Test (Staton, 1982)
  • Introducing and practicing use of available technologies to facilitate reading, including
    • text-to-speech software,
    • narrated textbooks, and
    • scaffolding reading/writing systems

Writing Process

  • Improving the ability to use strategies, techniques, and technologies to plan, organize, and complete written assignments, including
    • “talking through” the content aloud prior to writing,
    • visual/graphic organizers,
    • word prediction software, and
    • voice-to-text speech recognition software
  • Developing skills in the use of digital technologies to research a topic and gather information relevant to writing assignments
  • Teaching the use of strategies, techniques, and technologies to facilitate editing of written work. Examples include the following:
    • self-questioning and self-cuing
    • doing a spellcheck and grammar check for work composed in electronic format

Writing Product

  • Building skill in writing more complex and grammatically correct sentences
  • Improving the ability to judge correctness of grammar and morphological word forms in own writing and to correct errors in own writing
  • Increasing understanding and use of figurative language in writing
  • Improving the ability to write cohesively by
    • including sufficient detail,
    • linking ideas, and
    • elaborating


  • Improving understanding of phonological and morphological aspects of regular and irregular spellings in consideration of sounds and syllables
  • Improving knowledge of orthographic patterns of irregularly spelled words


Adlof, S. M., & Patten, H. (2017). Nonword repetition and vocabulary knowledge as predictors of children's phonological and semantic word learning. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60(3), 682–693. https://doi.org/10.1044/2016_JSLHR-L-15-0441

Butvilofsky, S., Hopewell, S., Escamilla, K., & Sparrow, W. (2017). Shifting deficit paradigms of Latino emerging bilingual students’ literacy achievement: Documenting biliterate trajectories. Journal of Latinos and Education, 16(2), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/15348431.2016.1205987

Faggella-Luby, M., & Deshler, D. (2008). Reading comprehension in adolescents with LD: What we know; what we need to learn. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 23(2), 70–78. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5826.2008.00265.x

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Kamhi, A. G., & Catts, H. W. (2012). Language and reading disabilities (3rd ed.). Pearson.

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Nagy, W. E. (1988). Teaching vocabulary to improve reading comprehension. International Reading Association.

Perfetti, C., & Stafura, J. (2014). Word knowledge in a theory of reading comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18(1), 22–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/10888438.2013.827687

Robinson, F. P. (1946). Effective study. Harper & Row.

Staton, T. F. (1982). How to study. Illinois University Press.

Sulzby, E. (1985). Children’s emergent reading of favorite storybooks: A developmental study. Reading Research Quarterly, 20(4), 458–481.

Ukrainetz, T. A. (2015). Awareness, memory, and retrieval: Intervention for the phonological foundations of reading. In T. A. Ukrainetz (Ed.), School-age language intervention: Evidence-based practices (pp. 445–490). Pro-Ed.

Van Kleeck, A., & Schuele, C. M. (1987). Precursors to literacy: Normal development. Topics in Language Disorders, 7(2), 13–31. https://doi.org/10.1097/00011363-198703000-00004

Westby, C., Culatta, B., & Hall-Kenyon, K. M. (2015). Informational discourse: Teaching the main course of schooling. In T. A. Ukrainetz (Ed.), School-age language intervention: Evidence-based practices (pp. 379–410). Pro-Ed.

Whitehurst, G. J., & Lonigan, C. J. (1998). Child development and emergent literacy. Child Development, 69(3), 848–872. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1998.tb06247.x

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