A Lesson Outline for Foundational Literacy Development

Essays by Shalon Sims on education, creative writing and literacy

A Lesson Outline for Foundational Literacy Development

Below is a a basic lesson outline that covers the “foundation” of English, or the rules and patterns that make up how words are made, their spelling and sounds. This lesson outline can be used for anyone who is developing their literacy.

Almost 50% of people in Canada have low levels of literacy, so this lesson outline could be for YOU!

This lesson outline follows up from my previous post on the Importance of Sound, which is one of the more popular posts on this website. This lesson outline is intended for teachers to use, but I believe this could be helpful for students who are studying independently.

The foundation of English is not normally taught in school (anymore)

Many of the topics you’ll see below are not usually explicitly taught in school. Most native English speakers pick up these rules naturally through hearing their parents speak, having their parents or adults read to them, through reading independently, and through being immersed their entire lives in English. They don’t know why a word is the way it is (for example, why we spell ‘can’ with a ‘C’ rather than a ‘K’), but they know it just is.

If you think this is a matter of memorizing every instance of every word, then you would be wrong. No, in fact, there are foundational English language rules at play that get internalized over time. For example, the ”k”‘ sound is normally spelled with a ‘C’ when it precedes the vowel ‘A’ or ‘U’, but it is spelled with a ‘K’ when it precedes the vowel ‘E’ or ‘I’. For example, CAN, CUT, KEEP, KICK. This is actually a foundational rule of the English language.

Are there exceptions? Yes, of course. English has borrowed many words from many cultures and often those words retain the spelling of their original language. However, as you learn these foundational elements of English, you begin to get a sense for which words are borrowed. The oddballs stick out more and are easier to spot.

Who should learn these foundational rules?

I believe that anyone can benefit, but especially ESL and struggling readers will benefit from learning these foundational rules. Anyone who says, “I don’t like to read” probably has basic literacy issues or gaps in their foundational understanding of English. According to ABC Life Literacy Canada, over 48% of Canadians have literacy levels that fall below high school levels. That means 50% of people in Canada would probably benefit from learning these foundational rules.

Why did I make this lesson outline and why do I believe so passionately in teaching these foundational rules of English? Well, because I believe that all people should LOVE reading. Because I cry inside when someone says, “I don’t like reading.” What they’re actually saying is that reading is challenging for them. They don’t realize that there are gaps in their literacy skills. For whatever reason, they didn’t internalize these foundational rules. For those people, and for ESL students—especially ones who come from an oral culture/tradition where writing and reading take second place to speaking and listening—these foundational rules can be a game changer.

Anyone who says, “I don’t like to read” probably has basic literacy issues or gaps in their foundational understanding of English.

Lesson Outline

This basic lesson plan will develop foundational literacy skills. I recommend spending about 40 minutes for each lesson, but if you lack for time, then at least these seven parts, done as 7 different lessons, will really help your students understand that there IS a pattern to English, which will go a long way to helping them spot that pattern as they read.

Part #1. Vowels and Consonants


  1. learn short vowels: pat, pet, pit, pot, putt
  2. Learn long vowels: mate, meet, might, mote, mute
  3. Practice spelling long and short vowels
  4. Practice long or short
  5. What are syllables?

Part #2. Learn spelling rules of long vowels


  1. Long A: tape, main
  2. Long E: meet, each
  3. Long I: night, site
  4. Long O: note, boat
  5. Long U: cute, dune
  6. Practice spelling long vowels

Part #3. Learn spelling rules of short vowels and consonants


  1. Learn how to spell short vowel sounds
  2. Learn when to use ‘c’ or ‘s’ or ‘ck’ or ‘k’
  3. Learn when to use ‘g’ or ‘dge’
  4. Learn when to use ‘ch’ or ‘tch’
  5. Learn when to use ‘n’ or ‘kn’
  6. Practice spelling rules

Part #4. Learn about common Prefixes – what is a prefix?


  1. re- example : redo, renew, rewrite
  2. dis- example: dislike, disuse, dissapoint
  3. un- example: unsafe, undo
  4. practice using prefixes

Part #5. Learn about common Suffixes – what is a suffix?


  1. -able example : doable, lovable, readable
  2. -less example: careless, ageless, loveless
  3. -practice using suffixes

Part #6. Learn about Parts of Speech


  1. What is a verb?  Verb suffix endings
  2. What is a noun?   Noun suffix endings
  3. What is an adjective? Adjective suffix endings
  4. Practice parts of speech

Part #7. Learn about root words – what are root words?


  1. Learn about when we use root words
  2. Learn common root words
  3. Practice using root words



  • I have some videos on Youtube that you can use if you want your students to practice drilling the short vowel sounds. Especially the short vowel sounds are difficult and students need to spend time on their own practicing them.
  • For resources, I will leave it up to you to Google the topics listed in the outline. You will find many videos if you google, for example, ‘verb suffix endings.’

I hope you find this lesson outline interesting. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.