|Helping Struggling Readers
Struggling readers present a different set of challenges to
teachers. It is important to recognize that children learn
at different rates and that the environmental factors can
play a role in readiness for reading. Teacher-directed
instruction is especially useful if we notice a child is
falling behind the others, isn't getting it on his/her own,
or is losing confidence. Fortunately, we can address these
problems in a variety of ways that have been shown to be
successful. Here are some ideas you might want to try out in
One of the most important ways you can get started is to assess
the student's needs. Early identification of reading and language
difficulties can be accomplished through listening to children
talk and read. Individual conferences centering around a shared
piece of literature, running records, and guided reading groups
can help you identify the students who are lagging as well as
the specific areas of need (see
Grouping for Guided Reading).
Key components of a successful program include:
- weekly or monthly anecdotal records of progress
- frequent running records
- supervised practice on a daily basis
- re-reading of familiar text
- charts reminding students of strategies to figure out
- prompts to attend to semantic, syntactic and grapho-phonic
- use of leveled text
- careful matching of student to text.
Struggling readers in particular need daily instruction
that is direct and focuses on specific reading strategies.
Direct, focused instruction in individual or small group
situations should be followed by opportunities to practice
Children who are having problems decoding and using
cueing systems would benefit from instruction and practice
in using the following strategies:
- Using pictures, syntax, and grammar for support in
figuring out words.
- Cross-checking the words and letters to see that they
- Cross-checking for meaning.
- Asking if the text is making sense.
- Asking if it sounds right.
- Asking if it's all right to say it that way.
- Re-reading to correct errors.
- Skipping an unknown word and coming back to it.
- Using known spelling patterns and chunks to figure out
- Taking off inflected endings.
- Re-reading to increase fluency.
Young children who are just learning to read and are sharpening
their skills as readers often learn a good deal about reading
from writing. Many teachers use writing as a means of getting
to phonics, pausing to ask children to help stretch out words
and attach letters to sounds (see
Using Shared Writing to Teach Writing Skills). They might
also ask children to help them compose a piece of writing based
on a shared experience using their own language. These kinds
of shared writing approaches provide phonics instruction and
repetitive, predictable text children can use to practice reading.
Such text can also be re-written on sentence strips and put
in proper sequence on a pocket chart by students to further
build decoding skills.
Many early childhood classrooms use word walls with high
frequency words so children will learn to write them
correctly. Children can also spend some time "reading the
wall" to learn to read these high frequency words. They also
can make a booklet of the words and use word lists when they
are writing. Mini-lessons on how to use onset and rime, or
word families, teach children to read as well as to write
words and to build on their knowledge and skills in an
authentic setting. Such a mini-lesson might require the
initial consonant to change (ring, sting), or the ending to
change (sling, slap, slip).
As children become more fluent readers, comprehension
becomes the focus of instruction. Individual reading
conferences and small group instruction enable teachers to
determine whether students are reading for meaning and
comprehending the text. The information gathered in this way
can be used to model reading strategies during read aloud
and shared reading. Struggling readers need to see
demonstrations of how to read for meaning:
- How to stop and think at certain points in the text.
- How and when to re-read confusing parts.
- How to attend to text.
- To ask questions as they read.
- To listen to their own reading both to monitor their
accuracy and to gain meaning from text.
- To make predictions based on their knowledge of story,
plot, and characters.
- To use prior knowledge in gaining meaning from text.
Struggling readers need instruction in reading
comprehension on a daily basis. They need to be matched to
text that will support them and that will present few
comprehension challenges. Selection of material is very
important if they are to be successful in developing as
independent readers. Teachers use guided reading, shared
reading, and individual reading conferences to teach
children to choose appropriate reading material, to think
about the elements of story and characters, and to return to
the text to substantiate ideas. Graphic organizers provide a
useful framework for struggling readers to keep track of
text, analyze literature, appreciate author's style, and
understand the elements of story. It is very helpful for
children to be able to talk about books with their teacher,
a reading buddy, a peer, or someone in their reading group.
Writing about the text enables children to reflect on their
reading and build on their comprehension and enjoyment of
As a teacher I found there are three components to being
successful with struggling readers:
- On-going assessment of student needs;
- Match children to text;
- Provide daily, on-going, direct instruction in reading
based on student needs.