How to Teach Phonics Intervention Lessons for Grades 3-5

When you have students who are in upper elementary classrooms reading several years below grade level, your phonics instruction needs to be systematic and focused. Today we will look at several students* reading far below grade level, and we will walk through how to address their needs.
* All student names have been changed, in case you were curious.

Best Resources to Teach Phonics Intervention in grades 3-5

Maggie's* story: Maggie is a hard-working 4th grader, entering 4th grade at a 2nd grade reading level. Maggie's parents are supportive, and many interventions were in place last year (3rd grade) for fluency and comprehension. After 6 weeks, Maggie continues to struggle when reading in all subject areas. Both Maggie and her teacher feel like they are banging their heads against a wall.

Dominique's* story: Dominique moved into his new fifth grade class from out of state, and his records have not arrived yet. His dad says Dominique received special reading help at the last school, and he has always been a bit behind in his reading. From the teacher's universal screening data, Dominique is estimated to be reading at a second grade level. Dominique's teacher tries everything to help, spending a ton of extra time working one-on-one with Dominique, but she sees so many areas of deficiency that she does not know what to do during their time together.

Carmilla's* story: Carmilla's third grade teacher does not know what to do when she learns Carmilla reads on a level D (her school expects Carmilla to read on a level P by the end of third grade). While Carmilla has made great growth (she now reads on a first grade level), she still has huge gaps in her decoding skills, and encountering new words is difficult.

What do each of these students have in common? They are reading well below grade level, and have been for years. The answer: we need to dig deeper to find out the underlying issues, then target these areas systematically and with a laser-like focus.

I set up this plan of attack with a 5th grade team I was coaching - fast and easy - the Names test.  After we analyzed the data, a teacher turned to me and said "Donita doesn't understand vowels! I can fix this with a few targeted lessons!"  And she was off and running...

Truly, once you dig deeper to find out the underlying issues, your student can make great strides in their reading. Here's my fast and research-based way to dig deep and find out what each student needs: The Names Test. (Cunningham, 1990; Dufflemeyer and Colleagues, 1994)  If you want to read the research, here's a link from The Reading Teacher.  It's easy, research based, and fast!  Here's the low down:
  1. Print the Names Test Directions.
  2. Print the List of Names.
  3. Print the Scoring Sheet (You will need 1 copy per student).
  4. Tell the student to pretend they are the teacher calling out the roll.  They are to do their best to pronounce the words.  Do not help them.  If they struggle, just say "Do your best."  Record checks for correct responses, and write the incorrect responses.  Give them a sticker or a high five, and send them back to their work.  :)
  5. Score the assessment.  Here's my favorite version to use of the scoring sheet, since it puts the names in the order your students will say them.  Use your favorite colored pen to circle the phonetic elements they missed.  Tally them up.
  6. Analyze the information.  Where are most of their mistakes?  That is your target area.
Honestly - the first time you do this, it *might* take you 10 minutes.  After that, you won't need to print new materials, so it will be shorter. You only do this assessment with your struggling readers, so it doesn't take all day.

     Now, target your instruction to hit these areas.  To make it faster, form some strategy groups that you hit several times a week on the phonics skill - vowels, anyone?  There are tons of resources available for phonics with lower grade students, but you'll need to be sure to alter these to make them more appropriate for the upper grades students.  Upper Elementary kiddos don't seem to get excited about cute graphics as the younger ones do, and they might run from the room if you give them a copy of Miss Wishy Washy.
Best Resources to Teach Phonics Intervention Lessons in Grades 3-5
Bundle Pack #1

     I've put together a few resources for y'all, and they are all classroom tested, designed by a literacy specialist/literacy coach in grades 3-5, and bundled them all together to save you time and a few bucks! If you only need one set, here you go:

     Each set is a week of interventions with lesson plans, materials, activities, and printables. Here's a quick look at what's included in the Consonant Digraph intervention pack:

For more resources to help your struggling readers in third, fourth, and fifth grades, please visit my TpT store at
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