Skip to main content

Instructional Sequence for Teaching the
Structure of the English Language

Mary Murray Stowe, M.Ed.
Updated September/October 2013
Original Publish Date: September/October 2011 


With Multisensory Structured Language Education (MSLE), instructional concepts are to be taught directly, sequentially, and systematically (Henry, 2009).  How does this impact the instructional sequence?  Language concepts must be taught explicitly, not implicitly, and in an organized sequence, where one concept is taught and mastered then another added, coinciding or supporting the first.  An example demonstrating this concept is the teaching of the Floss Rule (doubling rule for letters, f, l, s and z after a short vowel) after teaching closed syllables that follow the CVCC pattern.  Further, when using the MSLE approach one would teach syllable types in a sequential manner rather than random spelling patterns in mini-lessons.

Authors of reading programs have developed instructional sequences based on their understanding of the research.  Reading teachers in Virginia are bound by the information provided in the English Standards of Learning Curriculum Frameworks.   Teachers in states adopting Common Core Standards will develop their instructional sequences based on the general tenets of Common Core.  School divisions further map and pace an instructional sequence based on their local standards.  When planning intense reading intervention, the teacher may adopt a program with a fully-developed instructional sequence, or select an option where the teacher is trained to make the instructional sequence decisions.  Commonalities emerge among these options, many being based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach (a structured language approach).  All reading instruction must contain the five components of reading (Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension) as outlined in the National Reading Panel’s report (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000) to meet the standards put forth in IDEA 2004, ESEA 2001 and the USED waivers of 2012. These five components are further explained in the following sections. 

Phonemic Awareness 

Moats (2009) suggests that we teach letters, sounds, syllables, and concepts according to several principles.  One principle to consider in designing or delivering instruction is the frequency with which vowels or consonants occur in running text.  Teach the more frequenting occurring first.

A second principle to consider would be the position of the mouth when producing a specific sound, in that different sounds are produced in close proximity with subtle differences making the distinction difficult to ascertain (e.g, short /e/ and /i/).  Do not teach the similar in close proximity.  Finally one must consider the order of phonological skills development, moving from phonological awareness to orthography during instruction (Tolman, 2009). This progression moves from

    • segmenting sentences into words (through discrimination of sound units);
    • segmenting words into syllables;
    • segmenting syllables into onset and rime;
    • segmenting onset and rime into phonemes;
    • mapping sounds onto letters (teach letter names);
    •  single letters to digraphs;
    • digraphs to trigraphs;
    • trigraphs to vowel teams;
    • vowel teams to blends;
    • blends to word families;
    • word families to inflections;
    • inflections to syllable types;
    • syllable types to roots/affixes; and
    • roots/affixes to word origins  (Tolman, 2009, p. 65).

During Phonics instruction, students will be taught the six syllable types.  The mnemonic below provides a memory device for students in their learning. 


Moats (2009) notes that the closed syllable is the most common spelling unit in English and accounts for just under 50 percent of the syllables in running text.  Given this information, phonics instruction should begin with the closed syllables, and certain letters.  Instructional sequences examined begin with closed syllables and short vowels.  Cheatum and Lund (2004) proposed a specific instructional sequence for syllable types – closed, VCE, open, r-controlled, c-le syllables, and finally vowel teams.  Further they suggested the order of vowels being taught in conjunction with the syllable types – a, i, o, u, e, y.   The Scottish Rite Dyslexia Programs begin the instructional sequence with /i/, closed syllables with short /i/, open syllables with long /i/, then to suffix /s/.  The Wilson Reading System (1996) begins the instructional sequence with closed syllables and a sequence similar to Cheatum and Lund (2004).   Bloom and Traub (2005) begin with a prescribed set of consonants, vowels, and closed syllables.  Gillingham and Stillman (1997) follow a similar sequence with groupings of words, the first being short vowels a, e, and I within closed syllables.  Finally, for Virginia teachers of reading, closed syllables are the first referenced for reading instruction within the curriculum frameworks (SOL 1.6).

In designing instruction, syllable instruction begins with single syllable words, moving to multi-syllable words.  Consideration must be given to the division of words into decodable parts.  Syllable division rules (p. 3 of the linked document from Saxon Publishers) must be introduced after the impacted syllable has been taught and mastered.  In practice, once closed syllable instruction has been introduced and multi-syllables have been incorporated, the syllable division rule where two consonants stand between two vowels (VCCV), often referred to as the Rabbit Rule, would be taught.   The same would be true for spelling generalizations (Reading Lessons from Educators Publishing Company).  During closed syllable instruction, the Floss Rule (doubling rule for letters, f, l, and s before a short vowel) would be introduced as this would follow the CVCC spelling pattern, one of the closed syllable spelling patterns.


Ascertaining an instructional sequence in the area of fluency is difficult as it would be based on individual student reading level and goals set.  Generally fluency activities are based on repeated reading practice, the progression of which is dependent on the student’s reading level (Read Naturally).  Other programs present repeated practice in a format moving from small units of language (letter recognition, prefix, suffix, blend recognition and high frequency words and phrases) to passages (Campbell, 2008).



Vocabulary instruction will begin with high frequency words and Dolch words, move to more complex vocabulary, often content vocabulary, and to morphology.  Vocabulary instruction is a critical component of reading, moving students forward in comprehension of more complex text.

Morphology is a critical component in reading instruction and moves from instruction in the smallest suffixes (i.e., s, ed) to more complex affixes and root words, culminating with an in-depth understanding of words origins (Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Greek) (Henry, 2013).


When considering comprehension skills, varying conceptual understandings exist.  One view encourages the teaching of specific skills or processes in a hierarchical fashion (Hall, 2011) and another  moving through gradually increasing complex text while considering the components of Scarborough’s Reading Rope (Hennessy & Greenblatt, 2012).


Hall (2011) proposes teaching the following sequence of comprehending skills for students to become successful readers.  When aligning these skills to the Virginia English Standards of Learning (Kindergarten to 12th Grade), a similar hierarchy emerges with slight variations.



Hennessy (2012) suggests that teachers of reading consider the strands of the reading rope as forwarded by Scarborough’s Strands Woven into Skilled Reading.  Comprehending tasks place demands on each strand. When one strand is compromised, the strength of the rope is compromised thus hindering the comprehension of the text being read.  s

Cain (2011), following Scarborough’s view, looked to discourse skills of integration and inference, monitoring, and knowledge and use of story structure to predict growth in reading comprehension, but noted that comprehension of words is essential for good reading comprehension.

By following appropriate instructional sequences of reading skills in the five areas of reading, research indicates that all readers, particularly those struggling, will be successful in acquiring the necessary skills to make meaning of text.


Bloom, F., & Traub, N. (2005). Recipe for reading. Cambridge and Toronto: Educators Publishing Service.

Cain, K. (2011). Reading development and difficulties. West Sussex, United Kingdom:  John Wiley & Sons,  Ltd./British Psychological Society and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Campbell, K. U. (2008). Great Leaps Reading Program Grades 3 - 5. Gainesville, FL: Diarmuid.

Cheatum, M.S., & Lund, R.H. (2004).  Keystone:  Guide for teaching Language structure. Titonium, MD:   York Press.Inc.

Gillingham, A,. & Stillman, B. W. (1997).  The Gillingham manual: Remedial training for students with  specific disability in reading, spelling, and penmanship. Cambridge and Toronto:  Educators  Publishing Service.

Hall, S. (2011).  Blueprint for intervention: Comprehension, elementary version. Lincolnshire, IL:  95  Percent Group.

Hennessy, N. & Greenblatt, P. (2012, October).  A literacy framework:  Constructing a guide for  comprehension instruction.  Presentation at the International Dyslexia Association Conference, Baltimore, MD.

Henry, M. K. (2009). Multisensory structured language teaching.  Baltimore, MD:  The International Dyslexia Association.  Available at

Henry, M. (2013). Spell Talk Strand – evidence-based practice, Friday, January 18, 2013; Evanston, IL: Learning By Design, Inc.

Moats, L. C. (2009). Language essentials for teachers of reading and spelling; Module 2 – The speech  sounds of English:  Phonetics, phonology, and phoneme awareness, (2nd ed.).  Boston, MA:  Sopris West Educational Services.

Moats, L. C. (2009). Language essentials for teachers of reading and spelling: Module 3 – Spellography  for teachers:  How English spelling works, 2nd edition. Boston, MA:  Sopris West Educational  Services.

Nagy, W. (2007).  Metalinguistic awareness and the vocabulary-comprehension connection. In R. K.  Wager, A. E. Muse, & K. R. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading  comprehension (pp. 52-77). New York: Guilford.

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 – Reports of the subgroups (NIH Publication No. 00-4754).  Washington, DC:  U.S. Government Printing Office.  Available at

Scarborough, H. 2001. Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities:  Evidence, theory, and practice. Pp. 97-110 in S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.)  Handbook of Early Literacy. NY: Guilford Press.

Wilson, B. A. (1996). The Wilson Reading System® Millbury, MA:  Wilson Language Training Corporation.

Tolman, C. (2009).  Figure 5.1 Instructional Progression from phonology to orthography. In  Moats, L. C.  (2009). Language essentials for teachers of reading and spelling; Module 2 – The speech sounds  of English:  Phonetics, phonology, and phoneme awareness (2nd ed., p. 65). Boston, MA:  Sopris West Educational Services.


Saxon Publishers, Saxon Phonics Coding Chart.  Retrieved from

The Read Naturally Strategy.  Retrieved from

Virginia English Standards of Learning.  Retrieved from