Promoting Literacy Development: 50 Research-Based Strategies for K–8 Learners


Patricia A. Antonacci & Catherine M. O'Callaghan

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright

    View Copyright Page


    The Purpose of Our Book

    Our purpose for writing this book is to assist teachers in developing literacy skills in young students. When planning and designing Promoting Literacy Development: 50 Research-Based Strategies for K–8 Learners, we were quite optimistic about being able to develop an easy-to-use handbook of instructional strategies for classroom teachers. Our goal directed us to select a set of research-based literacy strategies that address the national standards in the English language arts and to organize them in an easy-to-use method for the busy teacher.

    For this purpose, we have consulted research on teaching literacy as well as the statements made by policymakers that inform the English language arts curriculum to identify those core areas in literacy development required for teaching young readers and writers. Thus, 50 research-based strategies are organized around the following 10 areas for teaching and learning literacy:

    • Phonemic Awareness
    • Phonics
    • Reading Fluency
    • Vocabulary
    • Story Comprehension
    • Comprehension of Informational Text
    • Questioning for Understanding
    • Discussion for Understanding
    • Narrative Writing
    • Writing Across the Curriculum

    The writing of this text was encouraged by the classroom teachers' need for an easy-to-use handbook that contains best strategies for teaching literacy. Therefore, we purposefully designed a handbook of 50 research-based instructional strategies based on 10 critical areas of literacy development for planning instruction. The 50 instructional strategies are clearly written and presented in a step-by-step method. Further, understanding that not all students learn at the same rate or in the same way, we have included suggestions for differentiating instruction for English language learners as well as for students with special needs.


    Promoting Literacy Development: 50 Research-Based Strategies for K–8 Learners may be used by pre-service teachers as a supplementary handbook to their core literacy textbook, or it may serve as a valuable resource for the in-service teachers engaged in professional development workshops. In any case, classroom teachers in kindergarten through grade 8 will consider it a user-friendly resource for planning instruction for the English language arts as well as for reading and writing across the curriculum. Reading teachers will find this collection of strategies extremely functional for teaching students who receive support services for literacy instruction. Literacy coaches and instructional leaders in elementary and middle school may employ this text as a valuable source for designing professional development for classroom teachers.

    Organizational Features of the Text

    Our intention in writing Promoting Literacy Development: 50 Research-Based Strategies for K–8 Learners was to fashion a well-organized handbook for busy classroom teachers. Therefore, the organization of the handbook was designed to include instructional strategies that are concise but clearly written, to offer a brief but useful summary of background knowledge, and to utilize the critical areas of literacy development for planning and organizing literacy instruction.

    Organizing literacy instruction: We have identified 10 areas for teaching literacy development. Each of the 10 areas is organized around a section that provides a comprehensive discussion of the research and practice related to that literacy area, followed by a strategy for assessing the area and a guide for using Response to Intervention for the area. Further, within each section, there are 5 research-based strategies that are aligned with the core area of literacy instruction. Thus, a total of 50 instructional strategies are organized around these 10 core areas that have been identified by best practice and supported by research reviewed by the National Reading Panel (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000) and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

    Fifty instructional strategies: Five research-based literacy instructional strategies are organized around 10 critical areas targeted for developing proficient readers and writers in kindergarten through grade 8.

    Step-by-step procedure: To ensure a well-organized approach to the implementation of each strategy, a step-by-step procedure is provided. The teachers follow a planned and structured approach to teaching from the start to its finish, through clear and concise steps.

    Format of instructional strategies: For each instructional strategy, a full description is provided that follows the same format in each of the 50 strategies. Included in each instructional strategy are the following: (a) a brief overview of the strategy, (b) suggestions for when to use the strategy within the literacy block, (c) tips on modifying the strategy for use with different grade levels, (d) a step-by-step procedure for implementing the strategy, (e) an application of the strategy using children's literature for a specific grade level, (f) an approach to differentiating the strategy for teaching English language learners, (g) an approach to differentiating the strategy for teaching students with special needs, and (h) a list of references.

    Pedagogical Features of the Text

    Ten core areas for literacy instruction: To support literacy instruction, we have carefully selected the critical elements for effective classroom literacy instruction. Ten core areas for literacy development selected for the handbook have received substantial support from research and professional associations, as well as from “best practices” identified by classroom teachers, literacy coaches, and instructional leaders. Each of the 10 core areas receives an ample discussion within the appropriate section of the handbook.

    Research-based literacy strategies: Selected for instruction are core areas for literacy development and strategies that have received support from the research. A discussion of the theory and research related to the core literacy area and related strategies are presented within each section of the handbook. Additionally, for each strategy a brief overview is provided that includes a rationale for using the selected strategy and ensures an effective instructional approach for that literacy area.

    Using the strategy: When is the strategy to be used? Can it be modified for different grade levels? Suggestions are made for using the strategy within the literacy block. For example, some strategies are more effective before, during, or after engaging students in reading or writing, while others work well throughout the literacy event. Further, tips are offered for modifying the instructional strategy for different grade levels.

    Clear descriptions of each instructional strategy: Included within the text are clear and well-developed descriptions of the 50 instructional strategies. Each strategy contains a brief summary of background information with information on when to use the strategy and how to modify the instruction for different grade levels. Teachers will benefit from the step-by-step description of implementing the strategy by receiving appropriate information on what they and the students are required to do. Each step is concise and easy to follow. To further support the description of the procedure, there is an application of the strategy for classroom use and suggestions for modifying instruction for English language learners and students with special needs.

    Strategy applications with children's literature: To demonstrate how to implement each strategy, an application using outstanding children's literature with a range of grade levels across the 50 strategies is provided.

    Graphics: Throughout the text, many graphics are used to provide visuals for teachers and students. For example, teachers are offered some figures that clarify literacy concepts that are discussed, strategies for classroom-based assessments provide rubrics and tables to assist the teacher in observing and scoring students' literacy performances, and many strategies include graphic organizers to support student learning.

    Integration of technology: Suggestions are made for the appropriate use of technology with selected instructional strategies.

    Differentiating instruction for English language learners: There is a wide range of diversity among students at all grade levels. Among students from diverse backgrounds are English language learners. The International Reading Association and other professional organizations have made clear policy statements regarding appropriate reading instruction for children who are learning English. For each instructional strategy, suggestions for differentiating teaching for English language learners are provided.

    Differentiating instruction for students with special needs: Students with special needs frequently are disabled readers and writers. Teachers need to modify the literacy strategies when working with students with special learning needs. Each of the 50 instructional strategies provides one or more ways to use the strategy with students who are struggling readers and writers.

    Strategies for assessing literacy performances: For each of the 10 critical areas of literacy development, an assessment strategy is provided. Classroom-based assessments are offered for each of the 10 literacy areas that may be used by the teacher to determine students' performances in these areas.

    Guides for using Response to Intervention (RTI): Teachers are becoming more responsive to those students who need help in specific literacy areas. For each of the 10 literacy areas, a guide for using RTI is provided.

    Professional resources: For each of the 10 critical areas for teaching literacy, professional resources are provided. These include selected books and handbooks of additional strategies in those particular areas for literacy development.

    National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00–4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.


    It is with deep appreciation that we express our sincere thanks to the competent team at Sage Publications. Our special thanks to Diane McDaniel, acquisitions editor, who once again has shown outstanding leadership by providing insightful suggestions, ongoing support, and perceptive feedback and, with her gentle encouragement, has motivated and sustained us throughout the project. Thank you, Diane! We offer sincere gratitude to our editorial assistants—Ashley Conlin, who began the process, and Theresa Accomazzo, who completed it—for providing us with immediate answers to all our questions and facilitating the process of this publication. To the team of editors at Sage—Brittany Bauhaus, production editor; Adele Hutchinson, permissions editor; and Megan Speer, copy editor—who have taught us so much about writing and the writing process, we thank you.

    The valuable comments and practical suggestions offered by our reviewers were indeed useful during our revision process. Our special thanks to

    Linda K. Allen, Texas Tech UniversityDeborah Farrer, California University of Pennsylvania
    Jennifer P. Bailey, University of West FloridaIrene Lang Kleiman, Miami University
    Carolyn Backus, Marietta CollegeMary Kay Moskal, St. Mary's College of California
    Kathy H. Barclay, Western Illinois UniversityTammy Schimmel, University of Tampa
    Esther Berkowitz, St. Joseph's CollegeBeth Walizer, Fort Hays State University

    To our own students, our in-service teachers who have used the literacy strategies in their classrooms, and our pre-service teachers who tried them out in their fieldwork and have provided wonderful feedback, we continue to be indebted. Finally, to you, our readers, who will use the information, techniques, and strategies within your classrooms, we offer a special thank you.

    Setting Standards in the English Language Arts

    Although we present these standards as a list, we want to emphasize that they are not distinct and separable; they are, in fact, interrelated and should be considered as a whole.

    IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts
    • Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic, and contemporary works.
    • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
    • Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
    • Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
    • Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
    • Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
    • Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
    • Students use a variety of technological and informational resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
    • Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
    • Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.
    • Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
    • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

    Standards for the English Language Arts by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English. Copyright 1996 by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.


    For teachers in primary, elementary, and middle schools, teaching children to read and write is a dominant concern. Their commitment to students' literacy is visible throughout the schools in the children's artifacts hanging on the walls, the teachers' posters, classroom libraries, and literacy instruction taking place in classrooms throughout the day.

    A teacher's dedication to students' achievement in literacy instruction is built on a foundation of teaching and learning. We wish to present a handbook that assists in-service teachers by extending their professional knowledge base and supports pre-service teachers as they begin to create a foundation for teaching reading and writing to young children. Within the introduction, we have addressed the significant constituents that are regarded by the professional community for becoming effective teachers of literacy. These are the factors used in designing Promoting Literacy Development: 50 Research-Based Strategies for K–8 Learners.

    Research-based instruction: Why do effective teachers use research-based instruction? Teaching approaches that are informed by research demonstrate a positive impact on student learning. Selecting such research-based instructional strategies is, therefore, likely to lead to greater gains in student achievement than selecting those with little or no support from scientific studies. We have provided the background from research for each of the 10 literacy areas and a summary of research to support the effectiveness for each of the 50 instructional strategies presented. Just as we are aware of the importance of selecting the appropriate instructional approaches, what we teach children is just as important. Standards-based instruction provides the basis for what we teach young children as they journey to become proficient readers and writers.

    Standards-based instruction: National and state standards, developed by policy groups and informed by research, tell us what students need to know. Teachers frequently use standards as a way to measure student performance by determining the levels at which students have met the standard for a specific skill or concept in reading or writing. Additionally, such student performances or outcomes based on standards are used by many to determine their own teaching effectiveness. Each of the instructional strategies addresses the national standards jointly developed for the English language arts by the International Reading Association and the National Council for the Teachers of English.

    Differentiated instruction: Our classrooms are diverse with a growing student population of English language learners as well as students with special learning needs. Many English language learners' reading levels fall below those of students whose first language is English. Students with special learning needs most frequently have difficulty learning to read and write. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 targets the literacy achievement of all students, especially those who are struggling to read, and teachers are charged with closing the achievement gap for all student populations. The goal stipulates that 100% of the nation's students reach the level of proficiency in reading and the language arts, with all teachers sharing in this responsibility. How does the classroom teacher assist diverse students achieving a level of proficiency in reading and the language arts? Using research-based instructional strategies that work for all students but are modified to meet the needs of English language learners and students with special needs will help in closing this widening achievement gap. Thus, differentiating instruction for English language learners as well as students with special needs is no longer considered an option. Rather, it is a requirement within all classrooms where teachers are committed to producing higher literacy levels for all students.

    Classroom-based assessment: When teachers are engaged in classroom-based assessment to determine their students' literacy performances, the results may become more valuable in assisting children in becoming better readers and writers. “Assessing children's literate learning requires attending not only to what they know and do but also at least as much to the context in which they know and do” (Johnston & Costello, 2010, p. 65). Classroom assessment is aligned with what students do within the classroom in becoming literate; it allows for authentic learning, occurring within a context that is familiar to the teacher as well as the student. The teacher may reflect on teaching and learning, using the results to ask, “What approach or strategy did I use that worked or did not for each of the students?” Further, the teacher is more apt to use the assessment results of students' performances in literacy to improve their learning. The teacher focuses on those students' performances that did not reach the target level and applies an appropriate intervention strategy.

    Response to Intervention (RTI): RTI is a new approach to assessment and instruction of students at risk (Johnston, 2010). Prior to the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools identified students with learning disabilities based on the discrepancy approach, which labeled learners when their IQs did not match achievement levels (Scanlon & Sweeney, 2010). As Marie Clay noted in 1987, often students labeled as “learning disabled” were struggling due to the inadequacies of their instruction rather than a cognitive deficit. In RTI, the assumption is that the curriculum needs to be adjusted to meet students' needs rather than the belief that something is wrong with the learner.

    The process of RTI begins with universal screening to compare students' performance with established literacy benchmarks (Mesmer & Mesmer, 2010). Working collaboratively, teachers and literacy specialists select students for scientifically based interventions. The most common RTI model uses three tiers of intervention with careful progress monitoring across all interventions (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006; Johnston, 2010). Tier I occurs at the classroom level with increased instructional support provided by the classroom teacher in small reading groups. Students who still do not meet the benchmarks after receiving Tier I intervention are selected for further support. Tier II intervention is usually provided by a teacher with specialized knowledge in systematic, explicit instructional support with small reading groups. Students at risk should continue to receive Tier I support while they are targeted for Tier II intervention (Dorn & Henderson, 2010). If data analysis determines that a few Tier II students are showing limited or no growth, they are targeted for more intensive individual instruction in Tier III with a skilled instructor. After such intensive, targeted support, Tier III students who continue to demonstrate little or no growth in literacy are considered for classification as learning disabled (Scanlon & Sweeney, 2010).

    The key to successful RTI programs is the quality of instruction provided by the teacher (Scanlon, Anderson, & Sweeney, 2010). Unfortunately, many school districts are buying scripted intervention programs when dynamic assessment and responsive instruction can be provided only by a trained teacher (Dorn & Henderson, 2010). A knowledgeable teacher understands that responsive teaching entails “on-the-spot” decision making regarding students' needs and explicit, systematic instructional support (Scanlon, Anderson, & Sweeney, 2010). This text adheres to the model of dynamic assessment and responsive teaching by providing instructors with rubrics at the end of each section that may be used for progress monitoring. After careful data analysis, teachers may choose to use the recommended RTI strategy in each section for further intervention; however, it should be noted that all interventions should be adapted to meet the specific needs of striving readers.

    Clay, M. (1987). Learning to be learning disabled. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 22, 155–173.
    Dorn, L., & Henderson, S. (2010). A comprehensive assessment system as a Res ponse to Intervention process. In P.Johnston (Ed.), RTI in literacy: Responsive and compre hensive (pp. 1–6). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
    Fuchs, D., & Fuchs, L. (2006). Introduction to Response to Intervention: What, why, and how valid is it?Reading Research Quarterly, 41, 94–99.
    Johnston, P. (2010). A framework for Response to Intervention (RTI) in literacy. In P.Johnston (Ed.), RTI in literacy: Responsive and comprehensive (pp. 1–6). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
    Johnston, P., & Costello, P. (2010). Principles of literacy assessment. In M.Cappello & B.Moss (Eds.), Contemporary readings in literacy education (pp. 57–68). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
    Mesmer, E., & Mesmer, H. (2010). Response to Intervention: What teachers of reading need to know. The Reading Teacher, 62, 280–290.
    Scanlon, D., Anderson, K., & Sweeney, J. (2010). Early intervention for reading difficulties: The interactive strategies approach. New York: Guilford.
    Scanlon, D., & Sweeney, J. (2010). Response to Intervention: An overview: New hope for struggling learners. In P.Johnston (Ed.), RTI in literacy: Responsive and comprehensive (pp. 13–23). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
  • About the Authors

    Patricia A. Antonacci is a professor of education and teaches in the literacy education program at Iona College. Antonacci entered the teaching profession as a classroom teacher for the middle and elementary grades and continued as a reading specialist. Her long career in public schools brought her a range of experiences as a teacher at all grade levels, including a number of years working in diverse classroom settings. As a reading specialist for K through 12, she assisted teachers in integrating literacy instruction in content areas. Working in a large urban school district afforded her rich experiences teaching striving readers and English language learners.

    Antonacci has taught courses at Fordham University and Iona College, including the following: reading in the content areas for middle and secondary grades, foundations of literacy, literacy across the curriculum, and action research in literacy. She has also mentored doctoral students in conducting research in literacy education. Currently, she is teaching courses in the literacy program at Iona College. She has published numerous journal articles and books, including (as coauthors) Antonacci and O'Callaghan, Portraits of Literacy Development: Instruction and Assessment in a Well-Balanced Literacy Program, K–3 (2004); Antonacci and O'Callaghan, A Handbook for Literacy Instructional and Assessment Strategies, K–8 (2006); and Antonacci and O'Callaghan, Using Children's Literature Across the Curriculum: A Handbook of Instructional Strategies (K–8) (2010).

    Catherine M. O'Callaghan is a professor of education and chair of the Education Department at Iona College. She entered the teaching profession as a classroom teacher and continued her career as a literacy specialist with teaching experiences that span across the grades. Teaching in New York City within diverse settings afforded her a wide range of teaching experiences. Her doctoral degree in Language and Literacy from Fordham University initiated her research interests in new literacies, critical literacies, teacher education, and intervention plans for helping striving readers and writers. O'Callaghan began working with pre-service and in-service teachers at St. Joseph's College in the Child Study Department and as an adjunct at Fordham University in the School of Education. She currently teaches courses in literacy education at the graduate and undergraduate levels, including the following: language development, action research in literacy, literacy across the curriculum, and reading in the content areas. She is also involved in supervising in-service teachers who work with struggling readers and writers in the literacy practicum course.

    O'Callaghan has published numerous journal articles and books, including (as coauthors) Antonacci and O'Callaghan, Portraits of Literacy Development: Instruction and Assessment in a Well-Balanced Literacy Program, K–3 (2004); Antonacci and O'Callaghan, A Handbook for Literacy Instructional and Assessment Strategies, K–8 (2006); and Antonacci and O'Callaghan, Using Children's Literature Across the Curriculum: A Handbook of Instructional Strategies (K–8) (2010).

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website