Voyager Sopris Learning EDVIEW360 Blog Series
Recent Blog Posts

Let’s Talk! Speech-to-Print Connections for Adolescents: Exploring the Potential of Language Connections with Older Students

Updated on
Modified on June 23, 2023


One of the most adventurous decisions of my professional career was moving to a middle school reading interventionist position after many years working primarily with elementary students.

Part of negotiating that learning curve was figuring out how to make interventions more connected to students’ other classes, to one another, and ultimately to their lives. What I began to realize over time was the power of talk. While it seemed as though I spent much of my days trying to get my middle school scholars to stop talking, I began to think about harnessing my students’ innate desire to express themselves through oral language into rich literacy learning opportunities.

Now, as a trainer of teachers, I often refer to the power of talk to build the brains of our littlest learners. Truly, human brains enter this world with an astonishing ability to absorb and express through oral language. The importance of cultivating this highly evolved capacity in our babies and preschoolers cannot be underemphasized. As critical as it is to facilitate our youngest learners’ capability to connect language to print, the role of collaboration and discussion provides a powerful platform for creating literacy learning experiences for adolescents as well.

Generating interest and curiosity is key to providing learning opportunities that are motivating to all learners. Adolescent learners can be tough customers in this regard! However, motivation is a particularly essential component of effective instruction for this demographic. In fact, according to Reading Next, motivation is included as one of the 15 key elements for improving adolescent literacy (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006). 

The reality is that the attention of older learners is often consumed with social media, peer approval, and extracurricular activities. Teachers can capitalize on older learners’ propensity for social interactions by facilitating collaborative discussions, thus laying the groundwork to explore others’ thoughts and perspectives through naturally engaging, more motivating activities.

Read on to discover some specific ways to build literacy proficiency for older students while taking advantage of their inclination for collaborative, language-based activities:

  • Plan for productive, student-directed talk every day
    Students generally want to talk in class every day anyway—use that superpower for good! Use routines to seamlessly integrate productive peer dialogue into every day. Set clear expectations for group/peer discussion time and provide ample opportunities for modeling and practice. The use of sentence stems can help to keep discussions focused and productive. Some additional resources to establish routines and plan peer group work from Adlit.org:

  • Older students love read alouds, too!
    A genuine “win/win” is a rare and wonderful thing. Here’s one that truly checks the boxes—reading aloud to older students. Built into the opening of each thematic unit within LANGUAGE! Live® reading intervention for grades 5–12 are short read alouds like these to help build background. Carefully chosen read alouds can enhance comprehension in content-area classes and build vocabulary and language power for all students. This is particularly impactful for older students who may not be able to access text (decode) at grade level. Teachers can read aloud a selection of fiction to enhance content-area lessons (think Grapes of Wrath while learning about the Great Depression). Strategically paired students could read aloud to one another—again with plenty of opportunities to practice routines.

    See the resources below to access lists of read alouds appropriate to enhance content-area classes:

  • Consider the language structures that pull “double duty” with older readers
    Teachers’ understanding of the structure or systems of language helps provide students with increasingly accurate and fluid access to words and their meanings. Comprehensive instruction in all language systems over time can be a powerful way to simultaneously build both word recognition and language comprehension domains. Specifically, the layers of morphology and syntax provide abundant opportunities to connect language to increasingly complex word and sentence structures older students will encounter more often as they tackle content-area texts.
    The table below presents a sample of resources related to morphology and syntax, the focus of the EDVIEW360 Webinar, Reading Intervention in Middle School: Critical Steps for Success, that I’ll be presenting Tuesday, May 17:


Language SystemDefinitionExampleSample Resource:
MorphologyThe study of meaningful units in a language and how the units are combined in word formationTeach most common Latin affixes and roots to unlock meaning: con-   struct-    -(t)ionMatrix Maker:
SyntaxThe system of rules governing permissible word order in sentencesTeach parts of speech as a word’s function or “job” in a sentence
Sentence anagrams
Possible Sentences:


  • Choose science- and language-based interventions for older, struggling readers For older students, a “speech-to-print” approach to intervention is an especially critical component to accelerate progress in both word recognition and language comprehension. LANGUAGE! Live, created by Dr. Louisa Moats, provides age-appropriate instruction for students in grades 5–12 to improve foundational skills while connecting with authentic texts. LANGUAGE! Live is designed to meet students where they are to most efficiently get them where they need to be, by connecting language with literacy in an engaging, student-centered and collaborative format. All the “literacy strands” are integrated for a truly unique, motivating hybrid-model of accelerated learning.

    So, go ahead…live adventurously! Harness your older readers’ penchant for talking into opportunities to develop expressive language while increasing literacy proficiency at the same time. A win-win!


Register for the webinar, Reading Intervention in Middle School: Critical Steps for Success, here


Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C. E. (2006) Reading next – A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Ebbers, S. (2011). How to Generate Interest So Reading Comprehension Improves.         
Comprehension, Reading. California: University of California

Moats, L. C. (2020). Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD:     
Brookes Publishing.

Moats, L. C. (2020) Teaching Reading is Rocket Science, 2020. American Federation of Teachers, 44(2), 4-39. https://www.readingrockets.org/sites/default/files/teaching-reading-is-rocket-science-2020.pdf

Vaughn, S., Gersten, R., Dimino, J., Taylor, M. J., Newman-Gonchar, R., Krowka, S., Kieffer, M. J., McKeown, M., Reed, D., Sanchez, M., St. Martin, K., Wexler, J., Morgan, S., Yañez, A., & Jayanthi, M. (2022). Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades 4–9 (WWC 2022007). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from https://whatworks.ed.gov/.


About the Author
Julie Klingerman
Dr. Julie Klingerman
National LETRS Trainer
Julie Klingerman has worked in education for more than 34 years, during which she has been a classroom teacher, literacy coach, and reading specialist for primary and secondary students. She earned her doctorate in reading and literacy in 2016 and is an adjunct instructor of literacy for graduate students at Liberty University and Wilson College. Dr. Klingerman also is a national LETRS® (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) trainer and an enthusiastic advocate for research-based professional development for all teachers.
Learn more about Dr. Julie Klingerman