Literacy Strategies for Students with Disabilities

Language Comprehension: Language Structure

A teacher helping a middle school student with downs syndrome use a microscope.
An overview of the research on language structure is included in this section.  
  • An understanding of syntax, how sentences are constructed, and semantics, how words and phrases are related, are required skills for students to become proficient readers.  The ability to make the text cohere or stick together is not always natural.  Readers must be able to make connections between and across words, phrases, and sentences.  Just because students can decode all the words on the page does not mean that they will comprehend what they read.

     Students can get lost when reading complex sentences that contain many ideas or text that contains a lot of pronouns and phrases.

    Syntax is basically the grammar of language. Consider the following example:

    A dog is a mammal.
    If students understand the syntax of the sentence, even if they cannot decode the word mammal, they know that the word has to be a noun because it follows an article and is the last word in the sentence.  Students would be able to answer this literal question without decoding the word mammal:  What is a dog?

    Semantics is an understanding of how the meaning of a word or phrase can change depending on the language around it.  Consider the following examples:

    We can fish. 
    Depending on the other words around this sentence it could have different meanings.

    • We can fish with our new fishing poles at the river this afternoon.
    • We can fish to store in the cellar so we have fish to eat in the winter.


    Visiting strangers can be dangerous. 
    • Are the strangers that are visiting us dangerous?
    • Is the act of visiting strangers dangerous?

    Students must know how to use the surrounding language to clarify the meaning.  

    John is a snake in the grass.

    Does the author mean this literally or metaphorically?

    • John is the name of a pet snake., or
    • John is a deceitful person.?


     After work, Trisha and Claudia went to the store to get supplies for Ed’s birthday party.  Although it was just down the street, they decided to drive because the celebration was less than an hour away.

    • What does it refer to?  
    • What is the celebration?
    • When did Trisha and Claudia go to the store?
    • Who are they? 
    • What role does the word although play in the sentence?

      It is easy for students to get lost in the phrases and references included in sentences.  They have to understand that words do not work in isolation and are always connected to other words in some way. 

A laptop with an image of books on the screen.  One book looks like it is coming out of the computer screen.
This section includes a library of instructional strategies that help students understand the structure of the English language.   
  • Activities will be listed here as they are completed.
HIgh school students interviewing another student outside.
Videos show how instructional strategies look in the classroom.  These videos focus on the structure of the English language.
  • Videos will be uploaded as they are completed.
This section contains additional resources related to language structure. 
  • Resources will be added as they are completed.
  • Project Managers, Inclusion in Texas Network

    Cara Wyly
    (210) 370-5413

    Bianca Cole
    (210) 370-5452