12 Ways to Help Struggling Readers

So, you have some kiddos that read effortlessly and a couple that just can’t “take off”. What to do? In this post, I’ve listed 12 steps to help striving (struggling) readers make progress. Read on.

HELPFUL TIP #1: Analyze the Reading Assessment

First of all, you have to figure out what your student already knows and doesn’t know in order to determine what to teach next. I’m a reading specialist I truly believe this. I spend my days analyzing student data before I proceed with teaching. A doctor runs tests before concluding what your diagnosis is, right? Benchmark your students and progress monitor as you go through the year.

HELPFUL TIP #2: Multisensory Learning Works

Multisensory teaching techniques help break down learning barriers by making the abstract more concrete, by turning boring word lists into movements, sights and sounds. Using multiple neural pathways helps students access words for better retention. Try sand/salt tray, shaving cream words, tracing letters on sandpaper, tapping out sounds, word building with magnetic letters… there are SO many fun ways.

HELPFUL TIP #3: Sight Word Mastery

 This is an easy way to build fluency for striving readers! The more sight words students know with automatic recognition, the more fluent they’re reading will be. Be sure to let parents know what sight words you’re working on each week, so they can practice with their children at home. There are many fun ways to practice sight words, including the FREE Sight Word game below!

Games are an effective way to learn sight words

HELPFUL TIP #4: Focus on Word Families

Go all the way back to word family study. Start with short a word families (-at, -an, -ag, -am, etc.). Practice reading word families both on their own and in sentences. When students master short a word families, move on to short i word families, then short o families, and so on. My students enjoy Boom Cards (like the deck below).

Boom Cards are digital task cards that give student feedback

HELPFUL TIP #5: Go Back to Basics- Memorize Phonics Sounds

All of my literacy stations focus on phonics sounds. Students that know the phonics sounds (digraphs, vowel pairs, diphthongs, etc.) can easily decode most words they come across. Sure, there are outlaw words that don’t follow rules, but most of the words 1st and 2nd graders encounter will have sounds that follow rules. Nailing foundational skills into place will set students up for success- now and when they run into multisyllabic words down the road.

This Boom Cards Phonics Bundle is a student and teacher favorite

HELPFUL TIP #6: Model fluent reading for your students

Be sure you’re reading high interest picture books aloud to your students every day! Use expression and enthusiasm. Kids love being read to and it’s so beneficial for them so make sure you are reading regularly.  It’s easy to leave out with everything teachers have going on but try to work it into your daily routine.

If you can’t schedule a read aloud into each day, Listening centers can come to the rescue! There are a lot of great books on CDs students can follow along with as they listen too.

HELPFUL TIP #7: Add reading practice everywhere

Students should be reading all day. When starting the new activity, read the directions together. First, give students a moment to read the directions quietly to themselves. Next, have the whole class read it together. Some of your kids won’t need the first step but it allows your striving readers the opportunity to sound out words they may not know so they’ll be more confident when you read it together. Whenever you can, include short sentence directions with decodable words as much as you can.

HELPFUL TIP #8: Read sentences adding one word at a time

For students who are really struggling, have them read sentences adding one word at a time.

If the sentence is “The fat cat sat on a mat.” the student would say, “The. The fat. The fat cat. The fat cat sat. The fat cat sat on. The fat cat sat on a. The fat cat sat on a mat.” It may seem repetitive but there are many kids that need this and it’s a great way to build fluency.

HELPFUL TIP #9: Students should always be reading OUT LOUD

It may make the room a little louder but it’s worth it! Teach students how to whisper read. They’ll be quiet enough to not disturb others but you’ll know they’re actually reading and can listen in if you need to. Don’t let them “read in their heads”. They may skip words or even pretend to read or just look at the pictures. Young readers need to read aloud.

HELPFUL TIP #10: Reread the same text until mastery

I often hear, “I’ve already read this story.” My answer is “Its so good, let’s read it again!” Rereading the same text over and over for mastery is a great way to build fluency. The more times they read a passage, they better and faster they will get. Reading fun texts like Dr. Seuss are motivating.

HELPFUL TIP #11: Read MORE Books

Obvious, right? Well, sometimes crazy schedules get in the way and you may not realize all the reading opportunities you’re missing. When in doubt, READ!

HELPFUL TIP #12: Motivate

Know your students. What motivates them? Make sure you know what they like to do and make learning fun! I use a variety of strategies, games and digital task cards. Below, are a couple of my favorites.


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