The Role of Speech Language Pathologists for Literacy Assessment and Intervention

It is well within the scope of practice for speech language pathologists to address all domains of literacy. Speech language pathologists can address both oral language (listening/speaking) and printed language (reading/writing).

The literacy domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing are all related to one another. It is important to incorporate all areas during language therapy sessions. During language therapy, speech language pathologists can address these four areas when working on vocabulary and comprehension goals. For example, if a student with a language disorder is practicing identifying the meanings of tier 2 words in sentence context, a clinician may guide him or her through all literacy domains of listening, speaking, reading and writing by doing the following:

1. Provide a visual such as a worksheet with word bank and cloze/fill in the blank sentences.

2. Prompt the student to actively listen as you read aloud the words in the word bank that contains a field of choices. The student may repeat the words or verbally read the words to familiarize himself or herself with the choices.

3. Guide the student on how to use context clues in the sentences as a word detective to figure out the meaning of each tier 2 word.

4. The SLP may read aloud the sentence or the student may read it aloud while thinking about or visualizing what each sentence states.

5. The student can write the selected tier 2 word responses in the cloze/fill in the blank sentences based on the clues in the sentences.

Speech/language pathologist can address a variety of language goals including answering literal & inferential questions, identifying text structure, and other higher level language skills (e.g. compare/contrast, cause/effect, problem/solution, drawing conclusions) by embedding practice opportunities for students to listen, speak, read, and write during speech/language therapy sessions. You will be amazed with their linguistic progress over time.

According to the National Reading Panel (2000), the 5 literacy domains include:

Phonological awareness





Phonological awareness is an overall term that refers to the phonological or sound system that comprises oral language. It is critical for reading success and when a child’s awareness of the phonological structure is evaluated, the results can help predict later reading ability. It is a child’s knowledge that sentences are comprised of words that have syllables and then sounds. Phonological awareness skills should be mastered by approximately 1st grade. However, many children in elementary, middle school, and even high school lack effective phonological awareness. There is a developmental hierarchy of phonological awareness as skills increase in complexity and build on each other to maximize reading success. Phonemic awareness is part of phonological awareness and refers to a child’s knowledge of individual sounds. It is the ability to identify the different sounds that make up speech. Phonics helps kids match sounds to letters or letter groups. Fluency is the ability to read accurately and quickly. Vocabulary is a necessary language component for  spoken and written information. Explicit vocabulary instruction is needed for children and adolescents to effectively comprehend verbal and written text. Comprehension is true understanding of a messaged conveyed.

During language and literacy assessment, speech language pathologist can complete formal and informal measures to assess these areas using tools such as:

1. Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing 2

2. Test of Integrated Language and Literacy Skills

3. Gray Oral Reading Test Fifth Edition

4. Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, Fifth Edition

5. Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language, Second Edition

6. Phonological Awareness Progress Monitoring Tool

In the field of education, there is current discussion about the Science of Reading, which helps us to understand the cognitive processes that are essential for reading proficiency. It describes the development of reading skills for both typical and atypical readers based on research across disciplines. The Science of Reading has disproved various methods used over the years to teach reading that were not based on scientific evidence. Most reading difficulties can be prevented in young, at-risk students. In other grades, studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of intensive phonemic awareness training, intensive phonic decoding training, and opportunities for repeated practice with reading-controlled text. Intervention in these skills leads to efficient orthographic mapping or the ability to recognize each letter of the alphabet and the associated sound. Word memorization is not the goal that should be targeted, rather learning phonics empowers students with an exponential effect.

Regular words are taught according to phonetic patterns and irregular words are analyzed for their irregularities. When proficient readers encounter new words, they phonemically analyze the word for the regular grapheme-phoneme patterns and can identify the irregular element(s) with ease. Teaching weak readers to activate this process allows them to align the letters to the phonemes in their memory.

However, it is also important not to completely push phonics as the sole component towards successful reading because reading incorporates all parts of language.

Timothy Shanahan, educator and researcher upon literacy, recommended the following for all professionals working with children in reading:

– Teach phonics about 30 minutes a day.

– Devote comparable amounts of time to each of the other components of proficient reading, including the ability to read text fluently, comprehension, writing, vocabulary, and background knowledge.

Remind the child to use their eyes, point with their fingers to each word that they are reading, and encourage children to ask questions while reading. Recommend the parents to practice reading with their children as well.

As speech language pathologists, it is critical to understand how important our role is to developing the language and literacy skills of children and adolescents. The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), our national organization, clearly outlines that listening, speaking, reading, and writing assessment and intervention are all within the scope of practice for speech language pathologists. SLPs in the school and private practice settings can make a tremendous impact in remediating these skills in children with language disorders, learning disability, and dyslexia. We can provide assessment and treatment while also providing consultation to teachers, parents, students about effective literacy practices.


What is the Science of Reading?

Spring into Literacy: Teaching Phonological Awareness