08 December 2023

Early identification of literacy learning needs

Identify difficulties with learning to read as early as possible. Students with dyslexia display uneven achievement.

On this page:

Take action early

Take action early

If the persistent achievement gap between dyslexic and typical readers is to be narrowed, or even closed, reading interventions must be implemented early, when children are still developing the basic foundation for reading acquisition.

Emilio Ferrer, Bennet Shaywitz, John Holahan, Karen Marchione, Reissa Michaels, and Sally Shaywitz

What to look for

What to look for

Notice those students who are having difficulty with phonological awareness tasks, learning letters, basic sounding out of words, and word recognition.

This is part of a larger video.

Recognising reading and writing difficulties

Recognising reading and writing difficulties

The simple view of reading and writing is a useful way of identifying learners with dyslexic traits. The New Zealand Dyslexia Handbook (pp 61–75) outlines three steps in screening for dyslexia and associated tests.

Teachers are not responsible for the formal identification of dyslexia.

Identifying learners needing support

Identifying learners needing support

The initial trigger for action is the child needing noticeably more reading support than his or her peers.

Step 1: Notice those making slow progress despite receiving high-quality literacy teaching – especially in teaching word recognition and language comprehension in keeping with the simple view of reading

Step 2: Undertake further assessment, planning, and intervention with parents, whānau, and carers. Teaching is likely to include Tier 2 and/or Tier 3 interventions. It is reasonable to expect most children to respond well to these.

Key elements of early intervention

Key elements of early intervention

  1. Explicit teaching in phonological awareness – teaching the ability to hear, recognise, and manipulate sounds that make up spoken words, for example, identifying rhyming sounds and clapping out syllables.
  2. Strong focus on phonological decoding and word-level work.
  3. Supported and independent reading of progressively more difficult texts.
  4. Practice comprehension strategies while reading texts.
  5. Systematic, focused teaching.

Source: Identifying and teaching children and people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties (opens in a new tab/window)

Useful resources

Useful resources


Signs of dyslexia

Descriptions of learners in early years, primary school, secondary school, and in adults.

Publisher: The British Dyslexia Association

Visit website

Guidelines indicators of dyslexia

Guidelines/indicators of dyslexia

These indicators can be used to determine if a student exhibits dyslexic type tendencies.

Publisher: Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand

Download PDF


Three steps in screening for dyslexia

The New Zealand Dyslexia Handbook outlines three steps in screening for dyslexia. This screening approach is recommended by the Ministry of Education. The steps and tests listed on pages 61–75 are listed with links to the tests.

Download PDF (70 KB)

Next steps

More suggestions for implementing the strategy “Support early literacy development through a structured literacy approach”:

Return to the guide “Dyslexia and learning”

Guide to Index of the guide: Dyslexia and learning

Strategies for action: