3 Easy Ways To "Gamify" Your Structured Literacy Lessons

One of the biggest misconceptions and things that I hear, and you may as well, is that the science of reading is a new fad or just phonics. The reality is that the instruction that we have used for years with dyslexic learners is the "science of reading" come to life. The collection of research that is the science of reading is not new. We have decades of research and evidence about teaching reading, and we know that it is a complex process with many different components. Structured literacy covers all of the elements of literacy instruction. 

The umbrella term, Structured Literacy, was coined by the International Dyslexia Association to describe effective reading instruction that is essential for students with dyslexia and beneficial for all. Structured literacy (SL) encompasses more than phonics. It addresses language at all levels: sounds, spellings for sounds and syllables, patterns and conventions of the writing system, meaningful parts of words, sentences, paragraphs, and discourse with longer texts. 

The guiding principles of the SL diagnostic approach require teachers to be adept at individualizing instruction (even within groups) based on careful and continuous assessment, both informal and formal. As educators, we aim to constantly move student learning forward and determine when scaffolds and repetition are needed. We know that to free up cognitive space for comprehension and oral and written language, word reading content must be mastered to the degree of automaticity. 

Thinking of this definition, you may wonder if meaningful play has a role in structured literacy. To this, I say YES!

All new learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge. We can be mindful of how we guide students in practicing and applying previous and new learning. 

"While the brain is not a muscle that gets stronger with exercise, the neural pathways that make up a body of learning do get stronger, when the memory is retrieved and the learning is practiced."

Make It Stick, p.3-4

How does this impact our instruction?

 The number of repetitions matter when planning reading instruction for the beginning reader and the dyslexic learner. While some may believe structured lessons are filled with constant drilling of skills, this is not the case. Structured literacy is designed to weave in multiple practices within a lesson and review previously learned skills. Read more about the importance of repetition here

Repetition creates change at the synaptic level where the neurons meet. With the correct repetition of a skill, we create a new pathway in the brain. The more correct repetition we include in our reading instruction, the stronger and faster the connection between the neurons becomes. 

What can we do to facilitate this needed practice in meaningful ways?

Meaningful activities and games can link previous knowledge to new learning in engaging ways to solidify connections and build automaticity. Instruction follows a planned scope and sequence of skills that progress from easier to more difficult. One concept builds on another. This makes the perfect design to weave in activities and games to bridge the knowledge to practice. 

One of the powerful reminders for us as educators is that it is possible to play with a purpose. Playful learning can set the stage for enjoyable interactions, reduce the stress sometimes associated with reading, and engage students in reading tasks while still focusing on a learning objective.

The goal of "gamifying" portions of your structured literacy lessons is to move learning forward, engage the student in critical thinking, build automaticity, and so much more! There are many benefits to bringing games and activities into your lesson. Learn more at my podcast - season 1, episode 11.

How can we bring learning activities or games into lessons in meaningful ways?

Here are three easy ways to gamify your dyslexia therapy sessions while maintaining the integrity of your program and using the materials/resources you already have! 

Roll and Read 

Roll and Read game boards are the easiest way to raise engagement in the word reading practice portion of the lesson. Simply create a chart and add words tailored to your lesson. Students simply roll a die and read, or spin and read. You can tailor the target to grapheme recognition or phoneme recognition. I make a copy for each student so they can code and read as they play. They love to take these home for additional practice, and because it is in a game format, they will often read more than a traditional list. Simple and effective! If you are looking for some pre-made game boards, I have some available in my shop

Sentence Race

This is another simple twist on the materials you most likely have in your dyslexia or reading program. Unlike "Roll and Read" games that address reading on the word level, sentence race focuses on connecting words in phrases or sentences. Print off decodable sentences or phrases, cut them into strips, and fold them in half, then use any game board to "roll and read" the sentence. Easy-peasy! 


I love to use my Jenga®️ wooden blocks and game for multiple activities. I like the one with the different colored blocks and corresponding die for multiple reasons. First, I can adjust the focus of the activity and simply assign a color to the concept at hand. For example, if we are working on grammar, I may assign nouns the color red, verbs blue, etc. I have the student choose a sentence to read, then roll the colored die, and if they get a red, then they have to identify the noun in the sentence and then pull a red block from the Jenga®️ tower. Another way I use the Jenga blocks is simple - read your sentence and pull a block, spell a word and pull a block, etc. Using tJenga®️blocks is always a favorite with students. 

Meaningful play includes explicit instructions and a clear connection to previously learned skills or those that need to be incorporated as scaffolds or as reteaching practice. 

The activities and games we choose to embed within the lessons are simple and do not take time away from the lesson. Instead, they become part of the lesson and fit with the time allotted for that skill or task and maintain the integrity of the structured literacy program. These examples may be simple, but they create ample opportunities to bridge knowledge into practice and build automaticity. They connect to the observations and the diagnostic approach, one of the guiding principles of structured literacy. 

There are so many ways to bring meaningful play into our Structured Literacy lessons. Let me know if you want more information and ideas for bringing meaningful play into structured literacy lessons. 

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