7 Must-Haves for Effective Interventions

As interventionists, we have to advocate for what we know will help our students attain the most progress in the little time that we have to work with them.  Research has shown correlations between the following key factors and successful interventions.

1.  Small group size

When considering the intervention group size it is important that we do not sacrifice quality for quantity.  If we try to put as many students as possible into our intervention blocks our students will not be able to make gains in a timely manner.  In What Really Matters in Response to Intervention (2009), Richard Allington writes that the most successful interventions, where students made accelerated progress, had a group size of 1 teacher to 3 students or smaller (p. 78).

Even when we work with a group of students we need to be teaching for the needs of each child in the group, not the group.  When we are responsive to each child’s needs we are able to make speed up student progress, exit students in a more timely manner and take in new students sooner.

If interventionists see fewer students there may be a concern about the students that are not being picked up for intervention.  Besides providing direct support to students, literacy specialists can also provide indirect support to students by meeting with classroom teachers to help with analyzing data and planning the next steps.

2.  Consistent Lessons

On top of providing students with intervention, literacy specialists often have many other responsibilities.  They may need to attend or lead many meetings/professional development, administer assessments, and work side by side with teachers. Despite all of these other responsibilities we need to guard the time we have to spend with our students. Anytime we are pulled-away from our work with children we need to questions whether it was time well spent away from students, whether the interruptions could have been done at a different time or even by a different person.  It is important to have conversations with our school’s administration to help them to understand the ramifications of regularly missing lessons with our students.

3.  Responsive to students

Once our groups are put together and we have started our teaching we need to have a system for analysis and data collection.  Within each lesson, teachers need to be well trained in making moment by moment decisions based on our observations of students.  After lessons, we need the time to jot down any last-minute notes that will help us with future planning and time to thoroughly analyze our running records.  It is also helpful to have at least one day each week where you are able to look closely at a student by pulling out 3-5 running records to look for patterns of responding over a period of time.  Our data analysis should guide our planning, not our assumptions about what our students need.  This will ensure that students are taking the quickest clearest path to their end goals.

4.  Preserve tier 1 instruction

The intervention should be in addition to tier 1 instruction.  The children we see for intervention need to read more than their on-grade level peers to close the gap.  If they receive their intervention time during their classroom small group instruction time or their independent reading time their time spent reading texts will be decreased.  A team approach to scheduling can help interventionists with keeping their students in the classroom during tier 1 instruction.

5.  Include specific components

Being responsive to our students’ needs means steering clear of pre-packaged scripted programs with claims that they will magically fix all of your school’s literacy needs.  There is no evidence to support that any one program will be suitable for all students that require intervention.  According to Allington, “schools that simply view intervention as requiring all struggling readers to spend 30 minutes each day working with a single product or material will leave many students behind.” (p. 33)  Scripted programs not only take the responsiveness out of teaching but also take the professionalism out of the teacher.  Mary Howard (2009) recommends that we, “intensify support with high-quality resources and teacher-designed instruction aligned to each student’s needs” (p. 61).

All lessons should include time for developing fluent reading, comprehension instruction, systematic phonics instruction, word study, time spent on authentic reading and writing.  During our lessons, the majority of the time should be spent on the real-world task the child is working to improve – reading and writing.  Texts should be carefully chosen texts that will motivate and interest students while providing opportunities for working on the reading behaviors that we are teaching for. While isolated letter and word work are important it should be the smallest portion of our lesson.  Our focuses within these components will vary based on each student’s needs.

6.  Collaboration

Interventions are not as effective when they are done in a bubble.  Regularly scheduled collaboration with the child’s classroom teacher is a must.  It is helpful for the interventionist and the classroom teacher to know what their student is working on in each setting in order for both teachers to echo the learning.  If a child receives pull-out services it is helpful to occasionally visit the classroom to support the transfer of learning from one setting to the other.

7.  Delivery by expert teacher

The term “expert” teacher, in this case, refers to a teacher who is very knowledgeable about how children learn to read and write and how children’s reading and writing behaviors change over time.  Expert teachers know how to notice and analyze behaviors in order to make informed decisions about future teaching.

Intervention lessons need to be taught by certified teachers who receive on-going high-quality professional learning in the area of literacy.  Unfortunately, to save money sometimes schools provide intervention through non-research-based options such as the use of paraprofessionals or computer software programs.

The studies on the impact of having an intervention taught by paraprofessionals show little to no effect (Allington, 2009, p. 107).  The question needs to be asked whether it whether we should have our most difficult to teach students working with our least trained staff?

Howard (2009) suggests that we take the money spent on computer software and spend it on supporting teachers in becoming more expert reading teachers (p. 85).  Research does show “that every dollar spent on teachers’ professional development yields greater student achievement outcomes than any other expenditure of school dollars” (2010, Johnston, p. 253).

In Summary

It is up to the teachers who provide interventions to have conversations with our administrators about how we can provide the best intervention supports for our students.  With these key features in place, our literacy interventions can help students make faster progress which will enable us to support more students and have a wide-reaching positive impact on the literacy lives of the students in our schools.



Allington, R. (2009).  What Really Matters in Response to Intervention:  Research-Based Designs.  Boston, MA:  Pearson.

Howard, M. (2009).  RTI From All Sides:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Johnston, P. (2010).  RTI in Literacy – Responsive and Comprehensive.  Newark, DE: International Reading Association.


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