This is a short story about a six-month reading intervention that took place in a school in a low socioeconomic area of Adelaide, South Australia.

At the beginning of Term 1, Toni, a Grade 1/2 teacher, found that 60 percent of her students were reading below book level 5 (or books with one or two simple sentences per page). The state target for students like Toni’s, who have completed the first year of school, is to read at book level 10.

Most of the students were easily distracted and frustrated with their own progress. Additionally, the needs of those two or three students who could read fluently were not being met because of the greater demands of others in the class.

By the end of Term 2, Toni was exasperated by the lack of progress in reading. The class could be described as four quartiles: the first group could read at level; the second quartile could read at about book level 10; the third quartile, comprising four students, formed the case study group for our reading intervention; and the fourth quartile were students with special learning needs who received literacy instruction outside the classroom.

I became involved in the volunteer tutor program that Toni and the school set up with expert retired teachers and others in the wider community, like me—a literacy researcher.

The reading intervention program consisted of intensive literacy support for the case study students in the following ways.

  • Tutors: 30 minutes of one-to-one instruction per week

  • Buddies (Grade 6/7 students): one-to-one instruction three times a week for 15 minutes

  • Using the right type of books: high-interest books, scaffolded with controlled sight words and phonics

  • Documenting progress: tutors and buddies noted what the students did and recorded progress

  • Consistently using the five 5s approach to teaching reading strategies (Clay, 2005a, 2005b)

Five Minute Reading Strategies That Work

  1. 5 minutes discussing with students what's happened since the last meeting and how they feel about their books

  2. 5 minutes of talking through a book

  3. 5 minutes of the student reading the book (sometimes this takes longer)

  4. 5 minutes to write, make and break words, or create books with the iPad

  5. 5 minutes to document progress: the title of the book, the teaching focus for the buddies. At this time the student rereads the book, completes an activity or selects a new book.

(Clay, 2005a, 2005b)

As you can see in the table, after six months of the reading intervention program, at the end of Term 4, the students had made amazing reading gains.

Case study students' progress

Name* Age at the end of Term 2 Term 2
Book Level
Term 3
Book Level
Term 4
Book Level
June 6.2 3 9 14
Kon 7.3 3 7 14
Kayla 6.8 2 3 6/7
Johnny 8.2 2 6/7 14

*Names have been changed.

Toni observed not only a noticeable improvement in reading skills but also in the students’ behavior.


Allington, R.L. (2013). What really matters when working with struggling readers. The Reading Teacher, 66(7), 520–530.

Clay, M.M. (2005a). Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals. Part One. Why? When? and How? New Zealand: Heinemann.

Clay, M.M. (2005b). Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals. Part Two. Teaching Procedures. New Zealand: Heinemann.