Phonics - the literacy technique of learning to read by building up sounds - is to be tested in a 200-school pilot project from September.
There will be 200 primary schools in a phonics pilot scheme
The findings of these pilot projects will become part of the review into the teaching of literacy, ordered by the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly.
There have been concerns that too many pupils are leaving school without the basic skills in reading and writing.
The pilot schools will mostly be in inner-city areas.
Announcing the project, Schools Minister Lord Adonis said that there needed to be extra efforts to assist those pupils who were underachieving, particularly from deprived backgrounds.
The literacy strategy was delivering "rapid improvements", he said, with 78% of pupils reaching the expected level at the age of 11.
"But we need to do more to narrow the gap between the attainment of children from lower and higher income families," said Lord Adonis.
"Pilot schemes which examine the practical questions of building on the phonics teaching already present in primary schools will also provide the [literacy] review with further valuable evidence from the classroom," he said.
Lord Adonis also highlighted a "reading recovery" programme - which will provide individual catch-up lessons for 4,000 children with severe difficulties with reading and writing.
The Shadow Education Secretary David Cameron, responding to a speech by the education secretary about supporting children from low-income families, called on the government to put "synthetic phonics" at the centre of literacy efforts.