The development of this intervention guidelines was necessitated by the problems teachers are experiencing in their classrooms when helping children who have difficulties in learning to read. Many teachers meet children who have problems with identifying words, reading, writing and understanding what they read. It is evident that this affects other areas of academic functioning, as these children cannot follow written instructions in class.
We have also emphasized that the teacher needs to work closely with the child’s parents, guardians or members of the family who can read. This collaboration will make the activities most effective and the experience most rewarding.
We hope that these ideas will complement the commendable efforts being made by teachers in helping children learn to read.
In Helsinki and Lusaka February 2022
Ritva Ketonen, PhD, University of Helsinki & lecturer Kalima Kalima University of Zambia
This Intervention Guidelines for reading and writing have been developed to facilitate the child’s road to literacy within the classroom. The child remains in focus of all the activities proposed in the guidelines.
The material focuses on phonological awareness activities because there is strong evidence that a good mastery of these skills is fundamental to effective reading at any grade level and in any orthography. We have started with the most basic skills and moved on to the more advanced ones toward the end. This is because knowledge of the basic letter-sound relationships is important for effective reading. We have also left room for innovation in case the teacher finds some more appropriate strategies. This principle will be seen throughout the document.
The materials required for the activities vary from task to task. The activities contained in the guidelines are simple and very flexible in order to allow teachers to make their own teaching aids based on relevance and availability of materials in their environment.
Some of the materials we suggest include:
• Any writing material.
• Reading material that is appropriate for each child’s level.
• Letter cuttings, plastic letters or similar.
When children come to school, they have often had some exposure to print during their daily lives. However, the exposure may vary in different contexts. Children’s ability to learn to read and write is
among other factors related to the frequency and quality of their informal experiences with written and oral language before they enter school.
Print awareness involves an understanding that reading and writing represent thoughts, ideas and knowledge. It is the first step towards developing an understanding of what it means to be a reader and a writer. Print awareness usually develops spontaneously when a child can see adults reading and
Parents and teachers can develop a child’s print awareness by providing print rich environments, reading to the child and responding to the child’s questions and comments about print.
Children who exhibit phonological awareness are usually able to divide spoken sentences into words, syllables and letter-sounds. Before a child masters sound-letter associations he or she must understand that spoken words can be segmented. Usually, children start to develop phonological awareness spontaneously during their early childhood by playing with language through songs and nursery rhymes. Children learn phonological awareness best when teachers and parents and other adults plan for the activities and experiences to happen regularly and in enjoyable ways.
Starting point for language training
If a child has very little knowledge about the basics of phonological awareness
• Check that the child has some print awareness; he or she knows that there is a link between speech and print.
• You may also have to teach what sentences and words are. You can use for example pictures to form some sentences. Write a sentence on the board and discuss with the child what the words are.
• Start encouraging the development of phonological awareness by singing songs and nursery rhymes with the child. Instructions are given in this Guidebook.
This is important for both reading and writing since one has to be able to segment words into speech sounds in order to write correctly and synthesize sounds in order to read correctly. When training sound identification it is more effective if the child can see the trained letters of the sound(s) at the same time.
Any kind of appropriate writing surface such as a board or a book. Any kind of material the teacher may find useful for teaching e.g., pictures or objects in the classroom.
Rhyming Includes nursery rhymes, songs, poems and storybooks with patterned rhymes in your daily read-aloud program.
When reading a familiar poem or rhyme, pause before a rhyming word and let children fill in the rhyme.
One, two, three, four, five.
Once I caught a fish – (alive).
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
Then I let it go – (again).
Why did I let it go?
Because it bit my finger – (so).
Which finger did it bite?
The little finger on the – (right).
Create your own simple rhymes and invite children to try some as well.
Example: Here is a cat. The cat is wearing a – (hat).
When children are familiar with the concept of rhyme, they may match pictures that rhyme.
Help children to identify the initial sounds of their names. Example: Pick one child and ask him or her to say his or her name (Mary). Write the name on the board. Help the child identify what the initial sound is in the name (/m/). Ask the children to mention other names in the classroom that start with the same sound.
Teach the easiest and most frequent letters first (usually vowels and the simple consonants (e.g., ‘S’ and ‘R’) before teaching the other consonants. Identify familiar objects that have the initial sound you want to teach. Then show the word. Point to the letter and tell the children how it sounds.
The teacher should stress the vowel or the consonant that he or she intends to teach.
Example: Point to an orange and ask the children to say what it is. The teacher says “Orange” Ask what sound the children hear first. Show the word “Orange”. Ask for other words that start with “O”.
Write a letter on the board. Ask how it sounds or what sound it represents. The teacher can give an example of a word that has the sound in the beginning and then ask children to identify some words that have similar beginnings.
Example: Write the letter ‘A’ on the board; ask the children how it sounds. Give an example of the word apple, which starts with the sounds /a/, and then ask the children to give other words that start with a similar sound.
The teacher selects words that have similar beginnings and makes songs or sentences using these words. Then he or she encourages the children to think of other words that begin with
Example: Paul, picked, pieces of paper.
The teacher can say three (3) words, two of which have similar initial sounds. Ask the child to identify the one that has a different initial sound.
Example: Say apple; ball; ant. Ask the child to tell you which of them is different (ball).
The teacher can have several letters on the board/table. He or she selects some words and writes part of the word on the board/ table leaving out one of the letters. The teacher then
pronounces one word at a time and asks the child to put the missing letter to the word.
Example: Write pa, girl, do. Show pa and say “pat” and ask the child which letter is missing. The child answers “t” and adds the missing letter to the word. Then show girl and say “girls” etc.
• Children may have difficulties in relating letters to letter-sounds. They may say that they know the letter-sound but cannot remember how it sounds.
• Some children’s knowledge of single letter-sounds may be insecure or
• They can confuse letters with their sounds.
• They may also confuse similar letters of similar sounds, for example b is /p/, d is /t/ or q is /u/.
This is the most important activity in teaching reading and writing skills. When children know how to sound out letters, they can begin to put the sounds together to read simple words such as ‘s-i-t’ or ‘p-i-t’.
Models of letters made of plastic, cardboard, clay and/or any other material that may be available.
Newspaper cuttings, manual letters, letters written on the board, ground etc. Picture dictionaries that the teacher can make.
Use children’s names to point out similarities and differences in the way they look and sound.
Example: Choose pairs such as Musa and Marianne. Have children notice how they look and sound alike or different at the beginning, middle and end.
Teach the easiest sounds first. Identify familiar objects that have the initial sound you want to teach. Then show the word.
Point to the letter and tell the children how it sounds. The teacher should stress the vowel or the consonant that he or she intends to teach. Example: Point to an orange and ask the children to say what it is. The teacher says “Orange” Ask what sound the children hear first. Show the word “Orange”. Ask for other words that start with “O.
The teacher writes down some words that sound almost the same. He or she reads one of them and asks the child to identify which of the words had been read.
Example: Write the words ‘fat’ ‘mat’ ‘cat’. Read one of them and ask the child to point to the one, which was read.
The teacher presents several letters to the child, discusses the letters and the letter-sounds with the child and then hides one of them and asks the child to remember which letter has been removed. Example: The teacher presents letters a, o, u, s to the child and discusses what letters they are and what kind of sound they represent. Then she removes the letter u and asks the child which letter is missing.
When a child inquiries about a word, use the opportunity to point-out letter-sound relationships. Example: This one begins with /s/. It is salt. This one begins with /p/, it is a pen.
The teacher asks the child to look at the shape of the teacher’s mouth as he or she pronounces the letter-sound. The children can try and pronounce the same letter-sound, while looking in the mirror to see the shape of their mouths and “feel” the pronunciation. Example: Show the letter “P” Pronounce the sound /p/, and ask the child to imitate you, while he or she is looking in the mirror.
GraphoGame is a learning app and game for teaching early literacy skills.
Memory game: the teacher selects the letters he or she wants to teach, makes two sets of each letter, shuffles them and puts them facing down and asks the child to match them while the child is pronouncing the letter or the letter-sound.
The teacher can drill children on letter-sound recognition. She can say letters in a random order and the children can write the letters. Next the teacher says the sounds and has the children
write the letters that represent the sounds.
With children who have difficulties in learning letter names and letter-sounds, using the manual alphabet has shown to help them in recalling the letter-names and sounds. Teachers who are able to use the manual alphabet are encouraged to do so even with children who do not have hearing difficulties.
Children may have some difficulties in understanding syllables.
• They may not be able to divide words into smaller units.
Syllables are useful for correct reading and spelling of words.
Any concrete objects the teacher can find in the immediate environment to represent syllables.
Pronounce different words using syllables so that the child learns that words can be divided into syllables.
Example: The teacher says the word paper in syllables: PA-PER.; and then asks the child to repeat the word that he or she had heard.
Divide words into syllables by clapping the hands together with the children.
Example: E-LE-PHANT Clap 3 times as you pronounce each syllable.
Ask the child to count syllables in a word using fingers and then use concrete objects to make the syllables more “visible”. This activity should follow the direction of reading. (From left to right) Example: HO-LI-DAY: Three objects – each is representing one syllable.
Present different syllables and ask the child to form words from the syllables.
Example: TO and DAY. Ask the child to make a word from these two syllables.
Syllable deletion tasks for local languages. The teacher can say a word and then he or she removes one of the syllables; it can be at the beginning or at the end. Ask the child what syllables
Example: Say KULIMA – KU-LI-MA. Ask the child 1) to remove KU and 2) say what the remaining syllables are. “LI-MA” remains.
The child may identify individual letter-sounds but cannot put the sounds together to form words.
• Children who have difficulties in this area are not able to read words correctly.
Blending is a skill that requires sounding out letters and putting them together in order to read words or syllables. The child has to know the letter-sounds well in order to blend them into words.
This is an essential skill that needs a lot of practice.
Models of letters made of plastic, cardboard, clay and or any other material that may be available. Newspaper cuttings, manual letters, letters written on the board, ground etc.
Teach children to blend letter-sounds into words. Begin with short words that follow regular spelling. Start by identifying one letter-sound.
Example: /m/-ilk. /s/-at.
Make rhyming words ending –ag, -at, -ad. Then ask the child to put different consonants at the beginning to make different words.
Example: Select the word family e.g. –at, give the sound /k/, let the child add –at and ask what word it makes (Making the word “cat”).
Work gradually towards blending the letter-sounds in simple words. For instance, /s/-/a/-/t/.
Example: Once the children are comfortable listening for individual letter-sounds, teach them to break up words into small units. For example, the word SAD: /s/-/a/-/d/.
Matching games: In this activity the child matches pictures with their corresponding words.
Example: The teacher displays some pictures with some words, and then asks the child to match the picture with the appropriate word.
Play games that use everyday words. For example, going shopping, preparing food, or daily cleaning.
Example: Make a list of things you can buy for the home (e.g., bread, milk, sugar, soap etc.); give the list to the child and ask him or her to get the items from a “shop corner” in the classroom, with imitations of these things. Or another pupil can be the ‘shopkeeper’ who is giving the items to the one who is reading the list.
Make word families such as –ag, -at, -ad. Then ask the child to put consonants at the beginning to make different words.
Example: write the letters –at. Ask the children to put initial letter to make different words. S-at: sat, P-at: pat, R-at: rat.
Encourage children to read words in the environment (e.g., labels, instructions, road signs).
Example: STOP; CLASS; DESK; BOARD.
The teacher can refer to the previous sections if the child’s problem lies at the level of letter-sound relationships, distinguishing sounds in a word or breaking words into syllables before proceeding with the following activities.
Pictures, imitations of food, cleaning material etc., labels, NBTL material.
The teacher can read words aloud together with the child to improve reading fluency.
The teacher can train children to remember words that are common. These words should become sight words, so that children can remember them immediately they see them. Example: In English such common words are for example I, am, come, like, my, here, up and look.
The teacher selects words that are difficult for the child to read and helps the child to read the words in syllables (in local languages).
Example: The teacher is teaching the word TRACTOR. She can ask the child to read “TRAC- ” and then “ – TOR
These activities can be used with children who read word by word, in a slow way and forget the meanings of the words.
• They can also be used with children who read fast and make a lot of reading errors. This problem may be associated with attention problems.
• Some children do not stop at full stops.
Any kind of reading material that is appropriate for the child.
The teacher should encourage the children to read more quickly by Reading part of the sentence himself. Reading part of the sentence with the children. Encouraging the children to read by themselves.
Repeated reading: The teacher asks the child to read the same text several times so that the reading fluency becomes better every time the child reads the text.
Example: Choose a text, which is appropriate to the child, not too long, 6-10 lines are usually suitable. Then ask the child to read the text. See and record how long the reading takes and discuss which words were difficult to read and which ones were easy. Then the child reads the same text again; the reading time is put down etc.
The teacher marks the full stops clearly and asks the child to read sentences and stop where there are full stops.
Example: mark the full stops of the text using different color or make them bigger than usual to make them more visible.
For children who read quickly with errors, the teacher can help them read slower by exposing parts of the sentence gradually. Example: The ball is big. The teacher hides the sentence using a piece of paper and exposes the word –‘the’, then ‘ball’, then ‘is’ and finally ‘big’.
The teacher may also hide the difficult word and then gradually expose one syllable at a time.
Example: When teaching the word “CAPTIVE”, the teacher can hide the word and gradually show each
syllable: ‘cap- ‘, the ‘–tive’.
Children may read very slowly, moving from sound to sound or from word to word so that they cannot remember the sentences they have read.
• They may also find it difficult to find the main ideas in a paragraph, or to pick out some important details.
• Some children may struggle with reading because they do not know the meanings of words (poor vocabulary).
• Some children may have limited short-term memory when reading and may not remember what they read in the beginning of the sentence.
• The structure of the sentence is complicated.
Wide variety of different kind of texts, pictures, NBTL material; texts and pictures.
If the child is reading very slowly, refer to the activities, which are explained in training words and sentences. Make regular reading times for children who are struggling until they begin to decode the words automatically and can concentrate on the meanings.
Read short interesting texts to the children and ask them to listen to the main idea.
The teacher can use any opportunity to explain new words to the children, teach for example: opposites, similarities or differences, and comparisons.
Example: Your hair is shorter than Mumba’s hair. The teacher’s table is cleaner than your table.
Encourage children to use a variety of words to describe the same event.
Example: Ask the child to describe an accident.
The teacher can ask the child to take note of the words that are difficult to understand in the text.
Example: After the child has finished reading a text, the teacher can ask the child which words were difficult and explain their meanings.
The teacher can write a sentence on the board, ask the child to read it and then show the corresponding picture on the board. Example: Put three pictures on the board. Write a sentence, which
refers to one of the pictures. Ask the child to read the sentence and show the corresponding picture.
The teacher can write a short story and ask the children to give it title. Or have the child read a story and then tell briefly what happened in the story.
• Children may struggle with writing because they do not have good fine motor skills.
• They may have some problems understanding what letters represent the sounds.
Writing is demanding because we have to integrate memory, fine motor skills, perception skills, language skills and concentration in order to do it well. The teacher must ensure that a child has a good writing posture, in order to write well.
Children can become good at handwriting by writing regularly.
Any appropriate writing material that is available.
Encourage child’s attempts to write. Often the writing gradually moves from scribbling and forming strings of letters to an attempt to represent sounds with letters.
Have the children trace shapes, which the teacher makes in sand, clay, or on the board, using the finger or some pointed object.
The teacher can ask the pupils to connect two or more dots with a pencil, crayon or any writing object.
The teacher can draw two lines and ask the child to draw a line between the two lines.
Example: Draw two (2) parallel lines with some space between them. Ask the child to draw a line between them without touching either of them.
The teacher can discuss differences and similarities between capital letters and small letters.
Example: Write the letters “B” and “b”. Make the child understand the differences between them.
The teacher can make dotted letters and then have the child connect the dots to complete the letters.
Example: Make several dotted letters and ask the children to connect them so that they develop mastery of writing letters.
The teacher can bring children who are having problems with some letters to the board and help them make the problem letter on the board.
Example: If a child has problems with writing the letter “b”, give the child practice on the board with a lot of assistance.
The teacher should give extra practice in writing for those children who confuse letters such as ‘d’ and ‘b’.
Example: Have some words that contain both ‘d’ and ‘b’ and help the children distinguish between them and write them in their books or on other writing material.
• In order to spell well, children need to combine their knowledge of sound-letter relationships, their visual memory of how words look and their knowledge of words and word parts.
• Some children may have problems with letter-sound relationships. They can be helped by using the letters-sound relation tasks.
The teacher can select a picture or some object. Ask the child to state what it is and to identify the number of syllables by clapping their hands. The teacher selects some concrete objects to represent each syllable. The teacher then asks what the first syllable is. When the child has identified the syllable, the teacher asks what the first sound in the syllable is. The child writes the letter of the first sound. After the child has written the letter, the teacher asks what the next sound in the first syllable is. The teacher follows this method until the whole word is spelt correctly.
Example: The teacher wants the child to spell the word: “impala”
The teacher can encourage the children to spell words aloud. Example: Ask the children to spell their names, their friends’ names or the names of furniture in the classroom.
The teacher can tell stories or read to the children so that the children become familiar with the structure of stories.
The teacher can also discuss how the sentence starts (with capital letter) and how it ends (full stop).
The teacher can help children to get started by giving them key words of the sentence.
Example: the teacher gives the words ‘boy’, ‘walk’, school’ and the children write a sentence using these words.
The teacher can present a picture and ask the child to write some sentences about the picture.
Example: Present a picture of children playing and ask the child to write some sentences on what the picture is about.
The teacher can have some sentences with words missing and a picture to represent the missing word. This will help children develop their vocabulary.
Example: It is ___ (have a picture of rain).
The teacher can encourage the child to put his finger after writing each word, so that the child does not write the words without spacing them.
Children may have some problems with punctuation.
• They may not be sure about spelling.
• They may not use capital letters.
• They may also have problems in writing clear messages.
• Some children do not space words.
Sometimes children should be given an opportunity to write stories or news without the teacher making marks of their spelling mistakes. If the teacher focuses on spellings all the time, children may not enjoy writing.
Any kind of writing material, sequence pictures, cartoons, conversation posters.
• The child with poor short-term memory often forgets instructions and is often thought to be
• He may forget what he has just heard or read.
• He has also problems with understanding long sentences, because he forgets parts of the
• He may also struggle with spelling and dictation exercises.
Notice: a child who doesn’t follow orders can also be a child with attention problems. These exercises may not necessarily improve the child’s actual short- term memory but they will help him to concentrate better and pay attention to essential matters. Visual
cues help the children to remember better.
The teacher plays games that encourage the children to remember lists of several items.
Example: The teacher gives a list of animals and asks the child to recall what words were mentioned.
The teacher can give some instructions and ask the children to repeat them before they follow them.
Example: The teacher asks the child to write a list of things the child likes, ask the children to repeat the instructions before they write the list.
The teacher gives the child multiple instructions, and then asks the child to carry them out.
Example: The teacher asks the child to take a book to the teacher’s table and then bring a piece of chalk from the table.
The teacher directs the children’s attention to the things they must remember and repeat them often. Pictures that refer to the things the child must remember are very useful.
Example: If children do not remember some letters or words, the teacher can help them remember these letters or words and practice several times to develop mastery of the particular letters or words.
The teacher identifies some objects or pictures and asks the child to name them. The teacher then hides the objects and mentions some of items, which the child should point at when they
Example: Put seven pictures on the table e.g., a car, a dog, an elephant, an orange, a table, a lion and a bicycle. Ask the child to name them. Hide the pictures and say: “point at the car, the orange, and the lion.” Then uncover the pictures. If the child points at the pictures correctly, ask him next time to point at four pictures, five pictures etc. If three pictures are too difficult, start with two.