Toe By Toe is a highly structured reading manual that teaches basic literacy skills to learners of all ages, using a phonics-based method. The programme is a series of step-by-step activities, contained in one book, with instructions for the teacher or coach provided for each activity. The programme is designed for specialist and non-specialist instructors so parents and reading mentors can operate the programme.
This NBSS resource provides an overview of commercially available programmes and resources that teachers in NBSS partner schools have used successfully to support the development of reading, learning and literacy skills.
This NBSS resource provides information on high interest/low readability fiction and non-fiction texts, as well as titles related to subject specific topics.

Level 3: Implementing a 1:1 Reading Programme - Toe by Toe

Teacher as Researcher - Action Research Project


NBSS research has pointed to the association between failure with reading and behaviour difficulties. For example, an exploration of the reading ages of students (N=2187) receiving NBSS Level 3 behavioural support from the Spring Term 2009 to the Spring Term 2012 revealed that 66.3% (N=1450) of students were reading three or more years below their chronological age. Additionally, 4.3% (N=96) of the students receiving NBSS Level 3 support had reading ages of 7 years or less.

The negative effect of poor reading skills are well documented and wide ranging, for example poor academic achievement, low self-esteem, lower motivation to read, disengagement with learning and school, and behavioural problems.

Greg Brooks (2007) in his review of ‘What works for pupils with literacy difficulties’, noted that ‘although good classroom teaching is the bedrock of effective practice, most research suggests that children falling behind their peers need more help than the classroom normally provides. This help requires coordinated effort and training’. For some students, a tightly focused group intervention will be sufficient to allow them to develop their reading skills and build their confidence to engage more actively in the learning process, while other students need intensive and individualised interventions.

The diversity of student needs, learning style, teaching style and classroom conditions that exist in any school means that no one ‘right’ strategy or programme holds the answer to addressing literacy difficulties. However, using evidence-based programmes as ONE element of targeted support can play an important role in a school’s repertoire of prevention and intervention supports for students. Toe by Toe is one of several interventions that NBSS partner schools implement to support reading and literacy skills development - other interventions include, for example, the use of Corrective Reading; Catch Up Literacy; Acceleread Accelewrite; Rapid Plus; Vocabulary Enrichment; Bridge to Vocabulary; SNIP Literacy programme; The Wordsworth programme; Spell Write Right, among others.


Toe by Toe is a highly structured reading manual that teaches basic literacy skills to learners of all ages, using a phonics-based method. The programme is a series of step-by-step activities, contained in one book, with instructions for the teacher or coach provided for each activity. The programme is designed for specialist and non-specialist instructors so parents and reading mentors can operate the programme.

It is recommended that the programme is used daily for 20 minutes and implemented exactly as described in the instructions. It takes approximately five to six months to complete the entire programme, however it has been implemented over shorter periods of time.


The quantitative and qualitative data below is from teachers in three different schools who used Toe by Toe with students who were experiencing serious difficulties both in their behaviour and literacy skills.


One teacher piloting Toe by Toe in the Behaviour Support Classroom provided pre and post intervention reading ages for the five students with whom she worked. It would need to be noted however that other literacy programmes (such as Flip for Comprehension and Read Me) were also used in tandem with Toe by Toe.

The table below  presents this teacher’s findings:

Chronological Age Pre Intervention
Reading Age
Post Intervention Reading
15 -9.0 10.8
14 10.6 11.7
15 10.4 11.7
13 9.0 10.1
14 10.1 10.9


Semi-structured interviews were conducted by the NBSS with two of the teachers who had used Toe by Toe as an element of their students’ Student Behaviour Plan in the NBSS Behaviour Support Classroom.

The following is a selection of the comments and observations they made about implementing Toe by Toe:


"I did find it was very good… they have to be on their own while they are here. It is too embarrassing for them. They think it is real primary school. They think that it is too easy even though it is not. They need to do it. You need to tread carefully I found… But you can see an improvement. Very slow. But you can see their progress. I think on the first few pages it is hard to work with the letters on their own and if you don’t get them to do it every day…I found I needed to take notes every day, take notes of where they were…even though you have boxes to tick I like to have my own notes of what he couldn’t say and what he was struggling with all the time. It is quite tough when there are other students around. "

"…what was in Toe by Toe was specifically what she needed. The ah’s, the ba’s …those kind of sounds. So that is really what she needs. She needs to practice those sounds before she can start reading whole words. And she would find an awful lot of words very difficult. So it was just to try and get her used to those sounds. So now hopefully by the time she is doing her Junior Cert she might be able to maybe tackle some of the Foundation papers..."


"He has dyslexia. He is a great lad. But oh, the Toe by Toe. I could nearly see the frustration in his eyes when he was doing it. So then I just did the sports with him on the computer. Writing about and learning new words that way. Because I felt that he felt that he was a bit silly…This is like primary school. Why are you making me do this? So with the Toe by Toe I think we are a bit restricted in how we can do it. I don’t know…if you could get the parents to do it at home where there is no one around."


"Toe by Toe was brilliant... It was excellent… there was one student who I worked from page one with the a, the b, the c and the d and took them slowly with her because she found it very difficult. A lot of words and some of the letters she found very difficult. And then moving on to the two letter sounds. But it was very, very good. And again I think they do that at primary school as well… But it was just marking down you got that right, you got that right. It was not a spelling test and not a reading test but it was just sort of practice over the weeks. So Toe by Toe is very, very good. Now again it still just depends on the student’s mood. Whether they are going to be… how they are going to react to it… Sometimes it is when you catch the student that makes a big difference."