Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy (SKILL)


Narrative language skills are an important instructional focus, as language arts curricula in the primary grades typically include high levels of narrative texts. Previous research shows that students who are at risk for language difficulties typically demonstrate weak narrative skills.

The Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy (SKILL) program was developed through a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to address the narrative language needs of elementary students at risk for language and literacy difficulties. Results from four pilot studies provide initial support for the SKILL program’s promise for improving narrative language. 

Through continued support from the Institute of Education Sciences, The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, in partnership with researchers at Utah State University, conducted research to further test the efficacy of the SKILL program for improving language, reading, and writing outcomes for students in grades 1 through 4 who were at risk for language and literacy difficulties.


Instructional Approach

The SKILL narrative instruction program consists of three phases: (1) Teaching Story Structure and Causal Language, (2) Teaching Strategies for Creating a Situation Model, and (3) Teaching Strategies for Integration Into Long-Term Memory. Phase 1 contains 20 lessons that provide students with an understanding of the main story elements, including characters, setting, initiating event, internal response, plan, actions, and consequences in the context of wordless picture stories. Each story element is associated with a representative icon, which is situated on a sequenced storyboard that serves as a graphic organizer. In Phase 2, students are taught linguistic structures, concepts, and vocabulary in more elaborate, complex stories. Finally, Phase 3 provides students multiple opportunities to retell, create, tell, edit, and revise their own spontaneously generated stories with and without icon and graphic organizer support. 


The research team measured the efficacy of the SKILL program in a randomized controlled trial. Students were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: (1) SKILL intervention or (2) business as usual. Students were identified for participation based on performance on standardized reading comprehension and narrative language screeners. Students received 36 SKILL lessons over 8 to 12 weeks. At the end of instruction, students were assessed on their narrative and literacy understanding and skills. Several standardized and researcher-developed measures were used to assess student growth at posttest and follow-up (2-month follow-up and 6-month follow-up). Main treatment effects were evaluated at the student level by comparing conditional posttest means for the SKILL group and the business-as-usual group in the context of the nested model.

SKILL Curriculum and Professional Development

The SKILL curriculum can be ordered online. To learn more about the SKILL curriculum and/or purchase a teacher manual, visit the Utah State websiteContact Dr. Sandi Gillam with questions or to schedule a SKILL professional development session for your school district or organization.