Using Procedural Algorithms in Literacy Instruction

For students with language-based learning disabilities, every word matters. Both expressive and receptive language can be difficult for these students, meaning their teachers must be intentional about verbiage. Procedural algorithms (with visual representations) are powerful tools because they take away the necessity of dedicating words to giving directions. Instead, each word used by the teacher can be instructional. Below are some applicable procedural algorithms that you can use to make the most of instructional time.

Reading Isolated Syllables

  1. Code
  2. Tap the Sounds
  3. Blend and Read

This algorithm involves steps that are visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic. First, students code with diacritical marks. Depending on the needs of your students, you could have them code only vowels and vowel teams or you could ask them to code digraphs as well. For tapping the sounds, use a consistent hand movement each time. This could be tapping one hand down the length of the opposite arm, lightly hitting a fist on a hard surface, touching fingers to a thumb in sequence, or another movement of your creation. I would recommend using a smaller movement so that you can apply a larger one to syllables. As students tap, make sure they produce the sounds simultaneously to activate as many senses as possible. Blending could be a smooth movement showing that the isolated sounds are now together in sequence. For example, if your tapping involved moving one hand down the opposite arm, the blending should be sliding the hand instead of tapping it. Again, students should say the word as they physically represent the blending of sounds. Your visual representation here could be modeling the movements in a quick sequence or icons on an anchor chart.

Reading Multisyllabic Words

  1. Box off Prefixes
  2. Box off Consonant Suffixes
  3. Circle Vowel Suffixes
  4. Find the Vowel Sounds
  5. Label the Letters
  6. Check Chart and Break

This algorithm, while it is my favorite, requires lots of prerequisite teaching. I would start by only teaching steps 4-6, with the other steps covered with tape on my anchor chart. As students become fluent with these steps, you can introduce the others one at a time.

Teach your students that boxes indicate the chunk is taken care of. Once they draw a box around a group of letters, they leave the group alone and read it as a whole. They can still work within circles, but their attention is drawn to the familiar chunk. As they find vowel sounds, they should put dots above them. Pay careful attention to the word sound, as not all vowels will make sounds. It is important for students to have prior experience recognizing the syllable types so they can give one dot each to vowel teams and r-controlled vowel combinations and omit the dot from silent, final Es. To label the letters, students should put a V or C above each letter from the first dot to the last, indicating vowels and consonants. From there, students can see familiar patterns and better know where to break the unfamiliar word. There should be a break between each vowel sound. You’ll notice that my sixth step references a specific chart. I created a chart organizing breaking patterns from most to least common based on my MSLE training. For more information, please contact me via comment, email, or Twitter.

Spelling Isolated Words

  1. Repeat
  2. Unblend
  3. Write

This is a quick series of steps that makes the process of spelling concrete. We often tell students to spell without explicitly explaining that spelling is the opposite of reading. Using this algorithm, my students benefit from a systematic way to break down the process of spelling. Repeating simply means repeating the word after the teacher. Do not discount this step as it gives you an opportunity to ensure students have heard you correctly and are accurately articulating the sounds. Unblending means segmenting the word into its sounds in sequence. This process should be verbal and kinesthetic. Apply your tapping movement from reading to this process to make a connection between the two. Students should then write the letter or letters corresponding to each sound. You could extend this task or have students check their work by asking them to code what they’ve written with diacritical marks. I would recommend providing immediate feedback about students’ accuracy. I have them trade their pencils for pens and model the correct spelling on the board. This makes students compare their spellings to the correct one and keeps them engaged. If I allowed students to repeat their errors, the practice would reinforce errors rather than accurate spelling.

Writing Dictation Sentences

  1. Draw a line for each word, matching the length of the lines with the predicted length of each word.
  2. Write the first letter of each word on a line. Write complete sight words if you know them.
  3. Finish the sentence, correcting the capitalization and punctuation.

To apply this algorithm, the teacher should read the sentence three times. The above steps show what students should do during each reading. It is important that you strictly maintain your three read limit. This will ensure that students don’t subconsciously learn that they don’t have to follow the steps. Before beginning the steps, you can write the needed sight words on your board depending on the needs of your students. This added support can be gradually removed as students’ sight word knowledge becomes more automatic. Like with spelling, you should provide immediate feedback for best results.


For more examples, information, or clarification, please contact me! I have seen the benefits of using procedural algorithms firsthand. Students know what to expect when they enter my classroom, saving my instructional time and their language processing energy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *