Setting Up Success: How To Build Language And Literacy Skills | Wendy Savaris

Issue 15: Setting Up Success: How To Build Language And Literacy Skills | Wendy Savaris

Wendy Savaris outlines the crucial elements required for successful reading and writing instruction and offers practical advice for educators to support learners in developing their language and literacy skills.

Wendy Savaris
Wendy Savaris
This article was published in Dystinct Magazine Issue 15 May 2023.
Wendy Savaris is a Structured Literacy / MSL (Multisensory Structured Language) Educator from NSW, Australia

My students are all unique, but each has stand out strengths. Some are funny and dramatic, and others are super active, sporty kids. Some are charming with strong social skills and others are softly spoken and gentle. What they have in common is difficulties with language and literacy. Most have a dyslexic profile, and some have actual diagnoses, which might include Specific Learning Disability in Reading and/or Writing, ADD, ASD and/or DLD. Most see me for only one session a week, so I know that our session has to move at a 'perky pace.' I need to be organised and have everything well prepared so that my student stays engaged and we can use our time wisely. These kids need evidence-based instruction which will best support them in building their literacy skills and their confidence.

Illustration by Cel Dani for DYSTINCT

I have taught English most of my life, but from around 2015, my focus has been using Structured Literacy with multisensory methods. Courses I have completed since then include Structured Literacy (MSL), Sounds-Write and Little Learners Love Literacy. In recent years, so many excellent professional learning opportunities are also freely available. So much about best practices can be learned via webinar recordings and podcasts nowadays.


Australian: 👉Dyscastia | Knowledge For Teachers Podcast | The Structured Literacy Podcast

American: 👉Together In Literacy | Melissa and Lori Love Literacy | Sold a Story | Triple R Teaching

British: 👉Sounds-Write

Learning to read and write is complex and requires myriad skills. Here are what I see as essential ingredients in effective reading and writing instruction.

Spoken Language

Spoken Language

Spoken language is the foundation for literacy. Listening to stories, singing songs and talking about anything and everything encourages kids to be curious little learners. Reading books to young children develops their vocabulary, their general knowledge and their empathy for others.



Clear articulation of sounds is key. Pronouncing sounds clearly and crisply is essential. For example, /p/ is a quiet, 'popping' sound. There should not be a 'grunty' <uh> sound (the schwa) added. Some students need lots of modelling and practice to pronounce certain sounds clearly. Otherwise, their comprehension and fluency will be blocked later when reading words such as jump, prick or plain. Auditory processing refers to hearing. When a child is struggling with any form of communication, a hearing check is advised to rule out or address an impairment. Many children with a dyslexic profile struggle with phonological processing, which specifically relates to individual sounds in words and not environmental noise. For example, difficulties in discriminating between /f/ and /th/ and /b/ and /v/ can result in mix ups between <fin> and <thin> or <kerb> and <curve>.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness

Lots of spoken language activities is crucial in the early years. Children love action songs and moving their bodies, which makes for happy, engaged learners. When it comes to readiness for literacy, phonemic awareness needs to be the key work for preschoolers and Foundation students. Once it's time to introduce letter/sound correspondences, Foundation students need lots of practice with a limited number. Cognitive load must be lightened, and activities must be short. SATPIN is one popular beginning sequence that many programs and resources follow. SATIM is another one which supports learners with some helpful 'stretchy' consonant sounds /s/ and /m/. Research is ongoing, and I love to keep learning how I can better support my students. Recently, there has been evidence that the most important phonological awareness skill is at the phoneme level. I now know that my precious time with my student (depending on their age/stage) needs to be spent adding, deleting and manipulating sounds with letter/letter strings (rather than without.)

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