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Intervention Target Areas

Intervention target areas are listed in the table below. This list is not exhaustive but highlights the primary deficit areas for children with written language disorders. Selection of targets will depend on the student's unique needs and should be individualized.

Although not specifically listed in the table, instructional strategies to support vocabulary development and growth are often part of an intervention program, as vocabulary knowledge provides a foundation for literacy development and supports academic success (e.g., Nagy, 1988; Nagy & Townsend, 2012; Perfetti & Stafura, 2014).

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

Metalinguistic skills are overarching and affect reading, writing, and spelling; they are included within the table, where appropriate.

Emergent Literacy (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. He or she acquires skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are the precursors to reading and writing (Sulzby, 1985; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998).
Phonological Awareness
  • Building awareness of patterns of sounds (e.g., rhyming and syllables) and improving ability to generate rhyming words and identify (e.g., “clap out”) syllables in words
  • Building awareness of beginning sounds in words and improving 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 words are being read
  • Pointing out spaces between words
  • Matching speech to print
  • Building awareness of environmental print (e.g., product logos, street signs, printed words in environmental context [e.g., “milk” on a carton of milk])
  • Building alphabet/letter knowledge (e.g., recognizing and naming letters)
  • Teaching sense of story and understanding simple story structure (e.g., answering questions about a story and retelling the story in sequence)
Emergent Spelling/Writing
  • Providing opportunities to engage in “paper-and-pencil activities” (e.g., drawing, copying lines and shapes, including 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—and awareness of sounds and syllables in words

Sound, syllable, and word level

  • 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

Sentence and discourse level

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

Sound, syllable, and word level

  • Practicing writing—uppercase and lowercase letters, and first and last name
  • Encouraging storytelling by using pictures and labeling the pictures with words

Sentence and discourse level

  • Improving ability to write brief stories and journal entries
  • Developing ability to write a variety of grammatically correct sentence types and to use writing conventions correctly (e.g., capitalization and punctuation)
  • Teaching how to plan before writing and how to edit the final product
  • Improving ability to understand and use digital texts
  • Developing skill in using letter–sound knowledge to spell words as they sound, beginning with rudimentary spelling using one to three letters
  • Improving ability to spell common words correctly
  • Developing ability to correct some spelling errors

Later Elementary Level and Above

Some older students might continue to need direct instruction for decoding and fluency. However, much of the intervention for this age group incorporates an “instructional strategies approach” that focuses on teaching rules, techniques, and principles to facilitate acquisition and use of information across a broad range of situations and settings. Enhancing metalinguistic and metacognitive skills is fundamental to learning new strategies. The emphasis is on how to learn, rather than what to learn (Westby, Culatta, & Hall-Kenyon, 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).

Sound, syllable, and word

  • Developing ability to use root words to understand word meaning
  • Enhancing morphological awareness, including an understanding of how inflectional endings and derivational affixes change meaning
  • Developing ability to decipher morphologically complex words associated with different academic disciplines (e.g., history, literature, chemistry, algebra)

Sentence and discourse

  • Improving understanding of content-specific vocabulary, concepts, and content (disciplinary literacy)
  • Improving ability to use context to deduce meaning and to 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 (e.g., multiple-meaning words and ambiguous sentence structures)


  • Teaching strategies to improve reading comprehension (e.g., reviewing headings and end-of-chapter questions prior to reading, rereading portions of text, and taking notes)
  • Teaching strategies to improve self-monitoring of comprehensionwhile reading
  • Teaching strategies to manage different styles of text (e.g., skimming, analytic reading for in-depth meaning, and critical reading for interpretation)
  • Improving understanding of different text genres and purposes by using the following:
    • Story grammar checklists and other text schemata
    • Strategies such as the following:
      • Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review (SQ3R; Gunning, 2002; Robinson, 1978
      • Preview, Question, Read, Summarize, (self)Test (PQRST; Staton, 1982)
  • Introducing and practicing use of available technologies to facilitate reading, including
    • text-to-speech software;
    • narrated textbooks; and
    • scaffolding reading/writing systems.

Sentence and discourse

  • Building skill in writing more complex and grammatically correct sentences
  • Improving 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 ability to write cohesively by including sufficient detail, linking ideas, and elaborating


  • Improving 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 (including digital products);
    • word prediction software; and
    • voice-to-text speech recognition software.
  • Developing skills in the use of digital technologies (e.g., Internet and collaboration sites) 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
  • 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


Faggella-Luby, M., & Deshler, D. (2008). Reading comprehension in adolescents with LD: What we know; what we need to learn. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 23, 70–78.

Gunning, T.G. (2002). Creating literacy instruction for all children. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Nagy, W. E. (1988). Teaching vocabulary to improve reading comprehension. Urbana, IL, and Newark, DE: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills (ERIC), International Reading Association (IRA), and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). [Note: This book was published collaboratively by three organizations: ERIC and NCTE are located in Urbana, IL; IRA [now International Literacy Association] is located in Newark, DE.]

Nagy, W., & Townsend, D. (2012). Words as tools: Learning academic vocabulary as language acquisition. Reading Research Quarterly, 47, 91–108.

Perfetti, C., & Stafura, J. (2014). Word knowledge in a theory of reading comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18, 22–37.

Robinson, F. P. (1946). Effective Study. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

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

Sulzby, E. (1985). Children's emergent reading of favorite storybooks: A developmental study. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 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). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

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). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Whitehurst, G. J., & Lonigan, C. J. (1998). Child development and emergent literacy. Child Development, 69, 848–872.

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