Helping Poor Readers Improve
Reading and Writing Skills
Johnny can read anything aloud, but seems
to miss the point. On the other hand, Mary hates
to read, but she follows class discussion intently, contributing
salient points. Reading is made up of both decoding, (sounding out
words) and comprehension skills. Some students labeled
Learning Disabled, excel in one of the reading components
and not in another. The ideas suggested below are
non-traditional, but the target students have
failed with the traditional methods. I have used all of the following
ideas in one form or another, and I can tell you that some previously
unsuccessful readers have had some success.
Writing is a wonderful avenue into reading. When it comes to writing,
the hardest thing for poor readers to understand is that they can still
think and interpret, and that their ideas have validity. If they are
encouraged to write their ideas down on paper, ignoring spelling at the
beginning, they are on the road to breaking through the block. A good
way to start is to have the student dictate his story. When it is read
back, the student is often startled that this good piece of work came
from his mouth. The next step is to encourage him to put his ideas on
Build sight vocabulary slowly, by encouraging kids to write. They will ask
for the words they need and build their own dictionaries. It's much easier than
forcing them to participate in a basal reading lesson. They've been there
and done that and failed.
You can build a good reading/writing program with a lot of movie watching,
writing activities, and interaction with the teacher. Many good books
have been made into movies and are now available on video. Some examples
include The Outsiders, Of Mice and Men, and Freak the Mighty. Many Shakespearean
plays are also available. Some movies offer different formats of
the same story, such as West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet, or Oliver Twist
and Oliver, the musical. The teacher can have students identify all the
literary elements in the story, such as protagonist, antagonist, setting, theme,
conflict, climax, and denouement. By using both the written form and the
video, many students who were previously left out can build their interpretive
Books on tape are very effective. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
kids often will sit for movies or listen to books on tape while they read
along. Teachers can even record their own books on tape so their students
can listen independently. The advantage to a book on tape is its ability
to be slowed down and repeated as necessary.
Another good source is the lyrics of a rap song (printed out). Students are
interested in reading that material. Kids like to move to the beat. Why not
read while they're at it?
Many so-called learning disabled kids are good artists. Go for alternative
assessment by letting them display their understanding through illustrations.
Acting is another good way to improve comprehension while keeping
students moving constructively.
By teaching students that reading is composed of two basic elements, decoding
and comprehension, they often gain self-esteem, because they are usually
pretty good at one of these elements. The teaching of reading can be
approached in countless ways, and I have found that activities that move
students beyond the text -- writing, acting, illustrating, reading lyrics,
watching films or reading along with audio tapes -- provide learning
opportunities that we can't afford to miss.
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