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In classrooms around the country, you may find “Heggerty” written on a classroom schedule.  Teachers who use the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curriculum in their classrooms each day have many different names for this short instructional time - Heggerty, Ear Exercises, Word Play, and Phonemic Awareness, to name a few, but not everyone knows the person behind the curriculum. 

The Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curriculum was written by Dr. Michael Heggerty and was first published in 2003.  Michael Heggerty was a 1st grade teacher for 28 years and was a teacher that most students have not forgotten.  While teaching first grade, Michael learned about the DIBELS assessment and attended a training about its administration at the University of Oregon.  After assessing his students, his results showed that his students were lacking phonological and phonemic awareness, despite his consistent instruction with a core literacy series.

Seeing this need, Dr. Heggerty decided to create lessons that would meet the needs of his learners.  He researched the importance of phonemic awareness and began drafting lessons that would provide repeated practice and instruction each day.  His goal was to create a curriculum that was engaging, as well as systematic, so that all of his students would be phonemically aware.  The lessons he wrote focused on rhyming, phoneme isolation with initial, final and medial sounds, blending, segmenting, adding, deleting and substituting, and progressed in instruction from working with larger units of language (phonological awareness) to hearing individual sounds (phonemic awareness).  He found that providing practice with all the skills everyday was the best way to provide consistent instruction.  The lessons were fun and engaging for his students, as he brought in hand motions and silly sentences and nonsense words rhyming, joining the ranks of Dr. Seuss with word play.

The oral and auditory lessons worked alongside his phonics lessons and reading instruction.  These lesson plans were soon shared throughout his school and district.  As word spread about these engaging lessons, the lesson plans were compiled into a book, and in 2003, the first print copy of the Primary curriculum was published and Literacy Resources was born. Many school districts throughout Illinois were early adopters of Michael’s work, Phonemic Awareness: The Skills That They Need to Help Them Succeed.  In 2005, the first version of the Kindergarten curriculum was released, and in 2010, in collaboration with a fellow 1st grade teacher, the first version of the Pre-Kindergarten curriculum was released.  All three levels of the curriculum provided systematic instruction in 8 phonological and phonemic awareness skills in each daily lesson.

2003 Heggerty Book Cover

Dr. Heggerty left his role as a classroom teacher and took a position as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum in a suburban school district.  When Michael worked as an administrator, he made an effort to know every teacher by name, and many of the students as well.  Michael provided professional learning opportunities for all teachers, not just about phonemic awareness, but reading comprehension, vocabulary and his 5-Day writing plan.  He worked tirelessly to provide teachers with the knowledge and materials they needed to be successful. His goal was to equip all educators with the knowledge and resources needed to impact student learning. He had no ego, instead, only drive. He was driven to ensure all children would become readers. He knew it was possible, and did the work to help make it happen.

Michael created a team of dedicated reading specialists to provide support for students in both the elementary schools and middle school, so that all students had the opportunity to be successful.  His mission was to “fill the gap” and his goal was to equip each reading specialist with the resources needed to create small group lessons with effective and engaging instruction.  He provided the Reading Specialists with instructional materials to teach decoding, comprehension, and fluency, including student materials such as decodable texts to apply their learning in connected text reading. Michael provided multiple resources for instructing students as well as professional learning opportunities to further their knowledge in reading.  He created a book club for this reading team with Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Schaywitz when it was first published.  I’d like to think that Michael somehow knew that his inspiring work was preparing two of those Reading Specialists with the knowledge to one day lead professional development sessions about his curriculum, and continue his work.

Dr. Heggerty also provided professional learning and training for teachers across the state of Illinois through Reading First training, focusing on Phonemic Awareness.  His passion and knowledge were contagious, and his professional development sessions provided teachers with foundational knowledge that could immediately be applied in their classroom instruction.

He has inspired many educators to be leaders in their field, encouraging teachers to pursue degrees in administration and leadership, and many are now principals, assistant superintendents and superintendents in school districts.  His depth of knowledge and his passion transformed a district with curriculum, knowledge, and insight that helped many students be successful, and his work impacted teachers across the country.

Since Dr. Heggerty’s passing, Literacy Resources has continued to grow throughout the United States and the curriculum is now being taught in tens of thousands of schools and more than 10 countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Michael’s knowledge and passion for teaching students to read is something that is still impacting classrooms everywhere.  The systematic curriculum he created was ahead of its time - working with phoneme manipulation activities and advanced phonemic awareness skills in each level and in every lesson.  And even though the lessons are oral and auditory, the skills transfer into print as students read and write words, matched to the sounds they hear.  You would often hear Michael say, “The best evidence of a child’s phonemic awareness is in their writing.”  And this is so true.

The future for Literacy Resources is grounded in the attributes that made Michael Heggerty so special.  We continue to be committed and passionate about our role in helping educators and students in classrooms everywhere.  We strive to provide high quality materials that meet instructional needs, including providing digital products for the very first time this school year. Our commitment to equip teachers with the knowledge they need to provide effective and engaging classroom instruction is reflected in every professional development session we offer.

It is difficult to put into words how amazing Dr. Heggerty was.  Dr. Heggerty’s depth of knowledge and his commitment to helping all students learn to read are just two attributes that made him so special. Through the publication of his curricula, educators across the United States and around the world have witnessed the power of systematic phonemic awareness instruction, and its impact on teaching students to read.  To every educator, parent and student who has taught or participated in a Heggerty Phonemic Awareness lesson...thank you for honoring Michael’s legacy.


  1. Linda June Pisano 4:14 pm on September 21, 2020

    When the work by Dr Michael Heggerty first hit the scene I recognised it’s value instantly as the tool I had been needing to take all children into successfully reading writing and spelling whether the learner be young or a failing reader writer or speller. Alisa has been brilliant in spreading the word internationally through conferences videos and developing resources,taking it to teachers and showing how it can be so easily done. I am in Northern Australia and have attended conferences more than once and returned with teacher friends to convert. At the same time I picked up something new each time. Many teachers and parents are ‘at sea’ about how to take kids into Literacy. Marie Clay’s writings revealed to me almost 30 years ago that literacy is extemely complex & bewildering to many children. When I view the beginning process through a child’s lense I understood their anxiety and struggles. The Heggerty programs offer a logical engaging pathway for all teachers to provide empowerment and success with literacy.

  2. Denise Laurich 1:28 pm on January 24, 2022

    I absolutely loved Michael Heggerty and his programs. I am desperately looking for this 5 day writing. Can you help me find it?

    • Alisa VanHekken 9:59 am on February 18, 2022

      Thank you for sharing your appreciation for Michael and his work! Unfortunately, since his 5-day writing plan was never published, we do not have a copy to share. I used it as well when I was teaching! 🙂

  3. Kristi Adell 5:03 pm on February 18, 2022

    Thank you Alisa for continuing Michael’s passion and legacy. I appreciate reading this detailed summation of his work. I believe Michael is proud of your efforts in growing Literacy Resources.All the best to you and your Team in your continued endeavors.

  4. Pat 4:03 pm on June 6, 2022

    Could you tell me why rhyming words was left out of the current K, 1, and 2 assessments? It seems like an important skill.

    • Megan Colburn 12:54 pm on June 21, 2022

      Hello Pat,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. We do not include rhyming in our assessments because it is not the most meaningful indicator of reading outcomes. For many students, it can almost become an obstacle to receiving other more targeted phonemic awareness instruction. This snippet from Reading Rockets on rhyming provides a nice summary of this idea: “Rhyming ability is predictive of later reading achievement, but it had the weakest correlation of any of the phonemic awareness skills. Being able to segment words into single phonemes or to blend phonemes together into words, were significantly better predictors of decoding.”

      Instead, rhyming can be practiced and reinforced throughout the day with music and some read-alouds. Our assessments assess skills that are better predictors of literacy outcomes and are more discreet skills than rhyming. Vocabulary, onset vs. rime, and substitution are all factors of rhyming skills.

      Thank you!

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