Intensive Reading Interventions

The National Centre on Improving Literacy (NCIL) is a partnership among literacy experts, university researches and technical assistant providers, with funding from the United States Department of Education. The mission of this organisation is to increase access to and use of evidence-based approaches to screen, identify and teach students with literacy-related disabilities with the goal of helping all students to become proficient readers.

As noted in their article (2020), most students will learn to read if they receive high-quality, evidenced-based, core and supplementary reading instruction that focuses on developing phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. However, for a few students this is not sufficient for them to develop reading skills that are in alignment with their peers. Indeed, the gap between these students and their typically developing peers increases as the focus of instruction moves from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’.

For these students, intervention needs to be not only high-quality and evidence-based, but also intensive to accelerate the learning of these students in order to eliminate, or at least narrow, the gap.

According to the NCIL, intensive reading instruction needs to focus on:

Reading Content

  • Systematic and explicit instruction of phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
  • Use of assessments designed to pinpoint areas of reading instructions that should be intensified.
  • The provision of abundant opportunities to practice and process new skills with immediate feedback.
  • Strengthen critical oral language and listening comprehension skills.

Cognitive Processing

  • Provide specific supports and scaffolding during instruction.
  • Maintain student engagement.
  • Present information through multiple modalities (oral, visual, written, tactile).
  • Support self-efficacy and frequently monitor and communicate progress.
  • Promote strategies that encourage independence (e.g., explicit steps for decoding, strategies for organising information, etc.).

Instructional Design

  • Provide explicit instruction.
  • Provide instructional scaffolding (prompts, hints, clues, etc.).
  • Link earlier skills to more complex skills and make connections between different skills.
  • Prime background knowledge, especially before introducing new skills.
  • Provide multiple opportunities for practising new and previously learned skills.

Instructional Delivery

  • Modify the amount of time learning skills and the pace of learning.
  • Reduce the number of students in each group (no more than 4, but preferably one-on-one).
  • Create homogenous groups (i.e., students with similar instructional needs).

It is also important to collect data throughout the intensive instruction process:

  • Pre-test to determine the type of instruction that would be most beneficial to the student.
  • Continuously monitor student success during the intervention.
  • Post-test at the conclusion of an intervention to determine if further intervention is required and if so, what that intervention should entail.

The Cracking the ABC Code Multisensory Reading Programs meet all these criteria.


National Centre on Improving Literacy (2020). Intensifying reading instruction and intervention for students who are not making desired progress. The Reading League Journal. 3(3), 50-57.