If you teach grades 7–12, you may think your students don’t need phonics, but if kids struggle with reading, they need reading intervention to get them up to speed, even in the older grades.
Because at this age, students are reading to learn, they need support in learning activities that involve reading. Students should also receive direct instruction in reading to help them get up to grade level. Older students who struggle with reading may have decoding deficits or limited vocabulary, or both.
Let’s take a look at some ways to support older students with phonics intervention to support reading.
3 key ideas for phonics intervention for older students
Get clear on the problem and then systematically provide instruction and practice. Here are some suggestions.
Start with assessment
Understanding where gaps are helps target intervention strategies. Assessment will help you see if students struggle with particular sounds or certain phonics skills. But you won’t know until you assess! Use Phonics Screening Sheets to assess and track progress.
Once you know where the gaps are, you can use your scope and sequence to plan meaningful lessons based on the gaps you identify.
Get your free Phonics Scope and Sequence:
The Phonics Scope and Sequence provides suggested games, digital activities, and worksheets to help students develop proficiency with different sounds and word patterns for all groups, including phonics intervention for older students.
If you have activities you like that work with any word list, you can find great ideas in these phonics word lists that cover all phonemes and spelling patterns.
Work on phoneme manipulation
If students struggle with blending or segmenting words, you may need to practice those skills. It turns out many older students have trouble with phoneme manipulation. That is, they struggle to add, delete, or substitute sounds. Additional ongoing practice of this skill may benefit older students in need of phonics intervention.
Even older kids like games, and word chains or the Change the Sound game provides practice in phoneme manipulation. You only need a few minutes to play, so you can work on this or other games frequently. This example uses 4-sound (CCVC) words, but you can use longer or more complex words if appropriate or as students increase proficiency.
- Write a word on the board.
- Circle or underline one of the sounds in the word.
- Have a student change the circled or underlined sound to a new one to make a new word, then write that word down.
- Circle/underline one sound in the new word that is to be changed.
- Choose another student to change that sound.
- Continue circling a sound that needs changing in the word until all of your students get a turn.
Find more phoneme manipulation games to use in phonics intervention for older students.
Many students who struggle with reading need phonics intervention to help with decoding and to build vocabulary.
You can teach vocabulary directly with word lists and provide practice with phonics writing prompts. First, read through the words in the word bank together. Have students practice reading and pronouncing the words. Make sure they understand the meaning. Then have students respond to the prompt, including words from the word bank.
You can also use reading together to develop vocabulary. When you come to a word students don’t know, try these steps:
- Ask them to repeat the word.
- If they cannot read the word, help them break it into sounds until they can say the word correctly.
- Explain the meaning of the word, in the context of the story, in everyday language.
- Then explain the meaning of the word in other contexts.
- Have the student try to provide their own example using the word.
- Finally, have the student repeat the word.
- If you encounter the word again, ask students to say the word and explain it or use it in a sentence again.
You can add new words to a word wall or to a student’s personal dictionary. Use words encountered “in the wild” or in your reading to make your own word bank to use for games or writing prompts.
The bottom line is that phonics intervention isn’t just for the early grades. Recognizing older students who may need phonics intervention, assessing them, and then using target interventions can make a big difference for older students who struggle to read.