Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Education


School of Education


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Supervisor

Dr Lorraine Hammond


Students with oral language impairments are at significant risk of experiencing early literacy difficulties, and both poor language skills and early literacy impairment may jeopardise a student's future academic success. Early intervention may be the most effective way of preventing literacy and subsequent academic failure. This study describes some of the challenges and benefits of a program to help rural Western Australian schools provide effective early intervention for students with oral language impairments.

Oral language factors including phonological awareness, vocabulary, and discourse level comprehension are believed to contribute to literacy development. In this study, the relationship between these skills and literacy acquisition is examined. The role of oral language competence in literacy development is considered within the framework of the simple view of reading. From within this framework, a model of early intervention has been developed by the researcher, which involves both explicit and embedded instruction in three areas considered crucial for emergent literacy; namely, phonemic awareness, print knowledge (concepts of print and letter-sound knowledge), and vocabulary.

A trial of this intervention program, Words and Letters, was undertaken in four rural Western Australian schools. Education assistants in pre-primary classes were trained to teach emergent literacy and oral language skills to small groups of students with early indicators of oral language impairment. The program involved four 30 minute sessions per week over 15 weeks. Results indicated significant improvements for the intervention group in all three areas with a corresponding reduction in risk for subsequent literacy failure. The effectiveness of the intervention is discussed in terms of outcomes for the students and for the schools. Case studies are used to explore the characteristics of students who made good progress as well as those who proved resistant to remediation and therefore remained at risk.