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Move Up from Teaching Reading to
Language-Literacy Development

Imagine offering your underperforming and delayed seven-to-seventeen y/o readers lessons that streamline foundational literacy instruction while deepening their engagement and motivation. The key is Integrated Language-literacy Development which strengthens the underlying spoken language abilities that drive reading and writing growth.

​The most fundamental fact about learning to read, spell and write is that language and literacy development are inseparable. The four major aspects of spoken language are involved in every sentence you read and write -- phonemes (sounds), morphemes (meaningful word parts), semantics (meaningful words) and syntax (meaningful sentences). These four, along with related vocabulary knowledge, largely predict and determine literacy progress. They are represented in print in a variety of ways that are often overlooked by traditional reading methods.

Developing the four aspects of speech with orthography (written words) is best done in an integrated manner – not as separate parts - as they reinforce each other. For example, integrated morphological awareness instruction strengthens decoding, fluency, spelling, and sight word and vocabulary knowledge. When spoken and written language abilities work in unison they create fluent, meaningful and enjoyable reading experiences.

Another advantage of language-literacy development is that students implicitly understand the four components of speech and are continuously improving their verbal abilities. These strengths are why some young children learn to read at an early age. These students, who we call Literacy Runners, use their language advantage to develop spelling, writing, fluency and comprehension abilities with equal ease. If six-year-olds can develop literacy-language abilities to this level then so can older Reading Walkers (slow-progressing readers) and Reading Joggers (disfluent, disinterested & underperforming readers).

This is the goal of the lessons we designed for our own Walkers and Runners, called Sparking the Reading Shift, which is now used by parents and teachers across the U.S., Canada, England and Australia. By integrating the multiple components of speech with a variety of orthographic activities, progress that usually takes months or more is apparent to both student and teacher after only a few weeks. This is highly motivating for both students and teachers. Best of all, Sparking the Reading Shift doesn’t require any training. We wanted to give even first year teachers the ability to provide advanced literacy instruction and experience success without added stress.


One way that we incorporate sophisticated language-literacy development into each lesson in Sparking the Reading Shift yet keep it simple is with Linguistic Lego Word Challenges. The Lego pieces are made of Phonemic, Orthographic and Morphological plus Semantic blocks, abbreviated POM+S. The challenge is to Analyze patterns, Build and Expand words, and then Combine words into sentences, as easy as A-B-E-C. Each lesson gives players a broad literacy experience where they are reading, spelling and writing multisyllabic words, challenges phrases and complex sentences from day one. Literacy instruction the A-B-E-C way:

  1. A- Analyze words and recognize patterns to develop word solving strategies so that unfamiliar words are seen as composed of familiar sound, spelling and meaningful patterns, greatly expanding sight word, vocabulary and spelling knowledge.  

  2. B- Build words from a large variety of Phonemic (sound), Orthographic (spelling) and Morphological (meaningful) parts, creating meaningful words (Semantics). POM→S

  3. E- Expand these words into multisyllabic words by adding syllables and morphemes.

  4. C- Combine words into phrases (going to the store, in a while), and sentences.


Integrated POM+S Development is Based on a Solid Foundation

POM plus Semantics - POM + S - is one of the most important and widespread findings in all of reading research.

Full List of reliable researchersPOM + S is called:

  • ‘triple word form’  - Virginia Berninger's Theory of Literacy

  • ‘connection between orthographic, phonological and semantic sequences’  - Mark Seidenberg's statistical learning theory

  • the bonding of pronunciation, spelling and meaning  - Linnea Ehri's orthographic mapping theory 

  • ‘letter, sound and meaning flexibility’  -  Nell Duke and Kelly Cartwright's Active View of Reading Model

  • “POSSuM: Phonology, Orthography, Semantics, Syntax, Morphology’  in Maryanne Wolf's Multiple Aspects of Word Knowledge 

  • The three (POM) awareness plus vocabulary and morphosyntactic skills’ in Young Suk Kim's Dynamic Literacy Model

  • ‘Strength of the mental word web created by the "morphophonological and semantic transparency of words" largely determines  literacy success - Charles Perfetti's Lexical Quality Hypothesis.  


Linguistic Lego Play with A-B-E-C Engages Resistant Readers


Literacy Runners' greatest advantage is that they know how to play with words, their parts, and combinations, as if they are just an engaging set of Linguistic Lego Blocks. A noted neuroscientist recently stated that the #1 thing to know about teaching reading is that "words are like Legos, they are made from parts or pieces, that you can plug and play with to make different things...Playing with words is fun - the language that they are constructing is an amazing thing!" This game is easily learned at any age - with the right instructions.


 The researchers who support POM + S instruction also insist that the four parts of speech and orthography be taught together, not as separate components. Integrated Language-Literacy Development combines these components and their many interconnections with print. So a POM+S lesson provides foundational spelling, sight word, vocabulary, and sentence level writing and comprehension instruction in each lesson. Integrated development frees up tons of prep and instructional time that is better used for more enjoyable and enriching experiences. 


Reading Shift Lessons Focus on Continuous Literacy Learning

Sparking the Reading Shift lessons are designed to help students take the huge jump in language-literacy that second graders (~7 y/o) begin to experience which largely determines long-term literacy growth. Readers must go from decoding Cat in the Hat to understanding Charlotte’s Web in a matter of months. At this age grade-level text contains:
•    3 to 7 words / 100 in grade level text are unfamiliar.
•    65% of these words are multisyllabic.
•    the pronunciation of words becomes less consistent – sign, signature, resign, re-sign.
While early literacy instruction is essential, continuous literacy growth through secondary school requires language-literacy development. Sparking the Reading Shift  provides broad literacy instruction, from word recognition to sentence comprehension helping to ensure that Reading Walkers and Joggers read longer and more challenging words as easily as Literacy Runners do. The lessons develop two more important abilities - Word Puzzle Solving and Generative Learning. 


Teach Readers How to Solve Multisyllabic Word Puzzles

The largest barrier to long-term reading success is deciphering unfamiliar multisyllabic words fluently. These words become common in third grade and beyond. Literacy Runners instantly recognize: 

  •  familiar spellings, syllables, and single syllable words within words -- un-eco-logic-al or un-reli-able.

  • onset-rime spelling patterns such as ant, which unlocks pant, plant, slant, chant and even instant.

  • morphemes like act, helping them figure out the pronunciation and meaning of actor, react, inactive, action and activate.

Pulling this together is an i
mportant language ability called set for variability, which is the ability to play with the pronunciation of an unknown word until it sounds meaningful. Literacy Runners expand their sight and vocabulary knowledge by thousands of words a year by figuring out these word puzzles. Walkers and Joggers are fully capable of learning how to solve these word puzzles, too. 



Generative Learning is the Key to Word Solving Strategies 

It is impossible to teach 8 y/o and older readers the thousands, yes thousands, of spelling, sight, and vocabulary words that they learn each year in school. Literacy Runners learn these words with ease using a process called generative learning. Their language-literacy abilities allow them to generate the pronunciation and meaning of unfamiliar words based on known sequences, patterns, connections, and principles. This self-teaching ability is the key to long-term literacy growth. Generative learning is a well-established method for language learning, as it reduces the need for memorization and repetition.

Reading Walkers and Joggers require explicit instruction in building, expanding and combining Linguistic Legos pieces and solving multisyllabic word puzzle to reach this level of self-teaching. Often practice with a few hundred words is all it takes for readers to apply and generalize this vital language-literacy ability.


Give Teachers Ready-to-Use Lessons so They Can Go Home Early

I’m Bruce Howlett, a former biological researcher with over twenty years’ experience as a special education teacher. I created the first software that combined phonemic awareness with written words, as well as the content for the largest volunteer reading effort in North America. I really enjoy creating literacy lessons based on current research for my students. More importantly, I enjoy seeing my Reading Walkers and Joggers get excited about learning now that they can finally play with written and spoken language like Literacy Runners do. We all get excited when their decoding issues fade as they start fluently reading, spelling and writing multisyllabic words, complex phrases and challenging sentences. 

 The 'shift'  in Sparking the Reading Shift, or STaRS. refers to the transition from Reading Walkers and Joggers into Literacy Runners. STaRS incorporates all of the methods described above and comes in two versions - the 16-lesson, 180 page Sparking the Reading Shift –Language Literacy Intervention (for Reader Walkers) and an abbreviated 12-lesson version, 120 page – Sparking the Reading Shift – Language-Literacy Enrichment (for Reading Joggers). 

Each page is a ready-to-use activity that includes brief instructions and ten, three-to-five-minute word challenges that students must first answer verbally, then in writing. Each lesson progresses from basic POM activities to sentence construction and fluency practice, dramatically accelerating progress. Isolated memorization of spelling patterns and rules, as well as learn-and-forget repetition are largely avoided. A 30-minute lesson given once or twice a week with all your underperforming students often saves hours of class time, which is better used for more enjoyable activities. 

Sparking the Reading Shift is designed for ease of use by parents, tutors, and new and experienced teachers, supplementing – not replacing – your existing literacy methods. Most educators only need the instructions provided on each page, or by the sample lesson, below. For a sample chapter email Bruce Howlett. Both versions are available for sale, in print or for immediate download (PDF). See how playing with language leads to success for students and teachers alike.


Sign up for our newsletter about advances in literacy instruction, including our upcoming and groundbreaking Sparking the Fluency Shift, that will take your readers far beyond the confines of decodable books and Leveled Literacy reading. 


A Linguistic Lego Lesson

This is a typical lesson from Sparking the Reading Shift. The lessons deeply engages students in words and how they work. It follows the POMSS sequence, starting with phonemes and spellings, then building meaning with morphological awareness, whole word patterns, phrases and sentences. Each lesson ends with a variety of fluency activities. Note that only a few examples for each activity are shown. 


Sparking the Reading Shift uses a generative learning approach, a well-regarded vocabulary, morphology and spelling method. Each year proficient readers learn thousands of sight, spelling and vocabulary words. It's impossible to teach all these words. Students need to generate the meanings of new words, based on their knowledge of how words work. 


STARS  explicitly shows readers general patterns, principles and relationships and how to analyze and assemble words, phrases and sentences. Then students practice playing with words so that they know how to decipher unfamiliar words.

Start with Letter and Sound Analysis
Play with Sounds & Spellings
Next, Extend the Pattern
Develop Flexible Word Recognition
Now, Read Onset-Rime Patterns
Play with Morphemes
Become Aware of Syllables
Compare and Read Phrases
Build Phrases into Sentences
Develop Fluency with Phrases
Prosody - Reading with Expression
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Bruce Howlett on the Overarching Approach to Literacy

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Simplifying Reading Instruction with Integrated Multicomponent Learning

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Long-term Literacy Success with Sight, Vocabulary & Multisyllabic Words

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An Overarching Approach to Reading that Both SoR and BL Teachers Will Embrace

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