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Leveraging Evidence-Based Practices at School and at Home: Making up for Lost Time in Early Literacy

September 27, 2021

SRI International
   Emnet Shibre, Research Associate, REL Appalachia

Bolstering critical early literacy skills after COVID

Stock image of young father and daughter reading book outside

After ensuring the safety, health, and emotional well-being of students in PreK through 3rd grade, why consider literacy as a priority for teaching and learning after an extended time apart due to COVID-19? Not only do early literacy skills play an integral role in ensuring that students have access to content across grade levels and subjects, these skills are also critical for long-term success in an increasingly technological and competitive economy. 1 Research demonstrates that early literacy skills facilitate a student’s early learning experiences and are connected to positive outcomes such as lower grade retention and higher high school graduation rates. 2 The upheaval and uncertainty brought on by the recent pandemic have had disparate impacts on students and the literacy instruction they received during the past year. 3 Changing curricula, varying learning modalities, and differential access to resources at home have all influenced the rate at which students were exposed to academic concepts this year. As a result, some students may enter the summer months and the next school year with unfinished learning in critical disciplines such as literacy.

To address these potential skill gaps, educators can partner with families, who are students’ first and lifelong teachers. Together, educators and families can work to remedy gaps over the summer, in the fall, and all year long – in school and at home. By using evidence-based practices wherever students are along the literacy continuum, educators and families can maximize collective impact and make the most of in-person time spent with students. This blog highlights resources for educators to leverage in their classroom as well as resources to share with family members to use with their students at home.

Resources for classroom use

Multiple Topics

Source/Resource Title Topic Description Age range
REL Central: In Nebraska, a Focus on Evidence-Based Reading Instruction blogpost Various This REL Central blog links to an online inventory of practice guide summaries for early literacy instruction ranging from instruction for English learner students to teaching effective writing skills. It summarizes information from all literacy What Works Clearinghouse practice guides. K–12
REL Southeast: Foundations in Emergent Literacy Instruction infographics Phonological awareness, print knowledge, oral language, and vocabulary This infographic series from REL Southeast focuses on four key emergent literacy building blocks and highlights evidence-based strategies to support development in each area. PreK–K


Source/Resource Title Topic Description Age range
REL Midwest: Evidence-Based Literacy Interventions to Support Young Learners During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic webinar Reading strategies This webinar from REL Midwest provides educators with strategies to support their students' reading skills during the end of the school year and over the summer as they enter the 2021/22 school year after the COVID-19 pandemic. PreK–3
REL Midwest: Interactive Readalouds: Learning from Books Together video Readalouds to build language and comprehension In this video, a skilled facilitator shares tips for asking effective questions for both on-the-surface and deeper-dive discussions of books, models the readaloud process, and introduces a writing task and a readaloud planning template. Download the related lesson planning template, which includes step-by-step instructions for planning your own interactive readalouds. K–3
REL Northwest: Improving Language Acquisition among English Language Learners: Four Powerful Evidence-Based Activities video Reading in the content area This video illustrates four evidence-based practices teachers can incorporate into their classrooms to help English learners build their language skills while they learn complex grade-level content. These practices come from the 2014 Institute of Education Sciences practice guide Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School. K–8


Source/Resource Title Topic Description Age range
REL Appalachia: Phonological Awareness: The Sounds of Reading blog post Phonics This blog post features a description of phonological awareness, along with steps for beginning instruction of phonological awareness and strategies for helping students who struggle with phonics. K–3
REL Midwest: Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade video Phonics This video explains the need for systematic, direct, and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics and discusses the most effective evidence-based practices for teaching decoding to early readers. K–3


Source/Resource Title Topic Description Age range
REL West: A Teaching Routine for Academic Vocabulary in Grades PreK–1 video Vocabulary This video walks viewers through a 3-step routine for teaching academic vocabulary to young students, aligned with evidence-based recommendations from two What Works Clearinghouse practice guides on teaching early literacy skills to all students. The video may be especially beneficial for students whose home language is not English. PreK–1

Resources To Share With Families

Source/Resource Description Features
REL Southeast: A teacher's guide to supporting family engagement in foundational reading skills These teacher's guides provide information for teachers on how to support families as they practice foundational reading skills at home. It serves as a companion to the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide, Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade.
  • Recommendation reminders from the practice guide
  • Teacher scaffolds for communicating with families
  • Family activities for modeling and sharing
  • Family literacy videos
REL Southeast: Supporting Your Child’s Reading at Home videos and activities These videos and activities provide families with information about how to support children as they practice foundational reading skills at home.
  • Family activities with easy-to-follow instructions to help children practice foundational reading skills
  • Short family videos for tips on how to use the activities to help children grow as readers
What Works Clearinghouse: Tips for supporting reading skills at home handout Distilled from the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide, Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade, this handout includes four tips grounded in evidence-based practices from classroom settings that could help parents or caregivers develop their children’s reading at home.
  • Easy-to-understand tips with practical examples
  • Definitions of key literacy terms


1 M. L. Kamil, G. D. Borman, J. Dole, C. C. Kral, T. Salinger, & J. Torgesen (2008), Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A practice guide (NCEE #2008-4027), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

2 E. Frede, & W. S. Barnett (2006), Early literacy: Policy and practice in the preschool years [Policy brief], National Institute for Early Education Research.

3 H. J. Hough. (2021, April 29), COVID-19, the educational equity crisis, and the opportunity ahead, Brookings Institution.