MSL Multisensory Structured Language at St. Joseph's

Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) at St Joseph’s 


At St Joseph’s, we are committed to providing all our students with high-impact, evidence-based literacy teaching. Our school-wide implementation of the Multisensory Structured Language (MSL) approach to teaching and learning literacy skills highlights this commitment.


Our journey with MSL began at the beginning of 2018, with our Literacy Leader attending intensive training in this approach to teaching. Our teachers have scrutinised the research and with the support of our Literacy Leader have gone from strength to strength in their literacy pedagogy. What a joy it is to witness our students flourish with their reading and writing!

Teachers in each year level are mentored, coached, and supported in the implementation of this approach, along with our team of learning support officers. Our teachers and LSOs are provided with rigorous professional development to enrich their teaching practices.



What Is MSL?

MSL is a thoroughly researched, evidence-based approach that applies proven knowledge of how the brain works, how students learn and how students most effectively learn to read and write. It incorporates the 5 essential steps to reading and writing success: identifying letter sounds, sounding out words, fluency, accuracy and comprehension.

Our teachers provide students with clear explanations of the relationships between phonics, spelling rules and the meanings of word parts (morphology) whilst simultaneously using multiple senses (auditory, visual and kinaesthetic-tactile) to form stronger neural pathways in the brain. This helps to embed learning in long-term memory.



  • Systematic and cumulative – basic to more advanced concepts, incorporating practise over and over again. Ideally, the teacher works at the rate that a specific group of students requires, ensuring that they understand one skill before moving onto the next.
  • Comprehensive – all levels of language are sequentially addressed including phonemic awareness, sound, symbols, word parts (syllables), word and phrase meanings and morphology
  • Direct instruction – plain language, directly expressed, clearly stated NOT merely implied. The sequence of teaching is: I do, we do, you do
  • Cognitive – the ‘how’s and whys’ of language. MSL explains the reasons for and rules of the English Language to students
  • Simultaneous, multisensory – The MSL approach uses the 3 learning pathways of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic to enhance memory and learning. For example, when learning to write the letter ‘m’ students watch the letter being formed (visual), say the sound the letter makes (auditory) and write the letter (kinaesthetic).

Dispelling a Popular Myth


Despite the popular myth that the English Language is very difficult to learn and does not follow any rules or conventions, only 10% of the English Language is made up of irregular words and the other 90% are words that follow spelling rules and patterns. MSL allows students to be taught the spelling rules and patterns, with a logical and easily understood explanation of why the word is spelt that way.  From the beginning of Prep students are taught the correct language such as ‘consonants’ and ‘vowels’ as well as ‘closed syllables’ and ‘open syllables’ to explain each concept.

Students are also taught the difference between irregular words (words that follow no spelling rule or pattern and just need to be learnt by memory) and decodable or regular words (words that can be sounded out using a spelling rule or pattern).  In many cases, in the early year, a word might be categorised as an irregular word during a lesson, because it does not follow the rule they are currently learning. However, in later years, the students will be taught another rule that this word follows.  This distinction is an important part of MSL as students don’t become frustrated by words that they can’t spell if the rule can be explained to them or they can be told that it is an irregular word. The explanations are very powerful for the students. 

At St Joseph’s, we use decodable texts in the junior school to support MSL instruction and enhance reading success. These decodable texts mostly contain words that incorporate the letter-sound relationships that students have been taught. They encourage students to apply their decoding skills instead of relying on pictures or guesswork. Decodable texts increase in complexity as the student learns more of the phonetic code.



MSL Benefits ALL Students

The MSL approach to teaching literacy skills has proven benefits for all students at our school. The MSL approach is used to teach spelling rules and morphology across all year levels and is used a the foundation practice in Prep to Year 2. Synthetic phonics and spelling rules/patterns are the major focus in Prep-Year 2 and morphology (prefixes, suffixes, root words and word origins) is a major focus in Years 3 – 6.

Students from Year 2 to Year 6 spend the first half-hour of each day with their spelling teacher, working with the Spelling Mastery program targeted at their individual level.

MSL is used widely across the school in small intervention groups, with students who require additional assistance with their understanding of the English language.



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