Are you unsure how to help your struggling readers? You’ve done every trick up your sleeve and still your readers are struggling to make the connection. Reading is complex. Transferring the knowledge of spoken word to written word is challenging. It’s learning a new language, a new code. Reading is part instruction, part developmental. With direct, explicit, consistent instruction and time your struggling readers will soon find reading a breeze!
Children want to do well, including struggling readers. These readers are often lost in whole group instruction. You arrange an independent reading time for your class and these students often stare into space, pretend to read, or start showing unexpected behaviors like rolling around on the carpet, or putting books on their heads. It is hard to read for extended periods of time, if you don’t know how.
Imagine I gave you a book in a foreign language. You don’t know the words, or even how the letters and sounds work, so you can’t figure out what the author is saying. You can use the pictures, if there are any, as somewhat of a guide but you’re still missing the “meat” of the story. Seems boring, right? Your struggling readers are experiencing this everyday. Getting books in the hands of struggling readers is vital, but our expectation of how they use those books must be developmentally appropriate for both age and skill. Be sure to check out all the ways you can support your struggling readers!
How to Help Struggling Readers
Struggling readers weigh on every teachers mind. Am I doing enough? How do I know my instruction is working? Every child is different, so they each learn a little differently. How can you make sure you are meeting each child’s reading needs? Small group instruction. Small group instruction is your key to helping struggling readers. With small group instruction you are able to isolate and target specific skills each child is working on, gain a deeper understanding of their knowledge and misconceptions, and guide them through the reading process.
Use Small Group Instruction
Your small group instruction should be direct and explicit to help struggling readers. There is an old saying: you can go deep or you can go wide, but you can’t do both. To help kids read: go deep. Dive so deep into your phonics students can read or spell any word simply based on their etymology (study of words). Before you begin your small group instruction, make sure you’ve done a variety of assessments to have a clear vision of what your child needs to succeed in reading.
Struggling with classroom management during small group instruction? Here are 5 strategies you can use now!
More often than not, it’s a phonics based problem, however if your data shows they are reading but not comprehending the strategies you use in your small group instruction may look different. You cannot help struggling readers without a roadmap. Use your assessments to create a roadmap for your small group instruction so you can dive deep into the skills your struggling readers need.
Strategies for Struggling Readers
The best strategy for helping struggling readers is to relate the new skill with a familiar skill. This allows the brain to build a connection faster because it already has an idea to hold onto. The second strategy is explicit practice. The more that connection in the brain is used, the stronger it becomes and the quicker the brain fires. Reading is neuroscience!
Having an understanding of how the brain, and memory, works helps you create the best strategies to help struggling readers. Here are some places you can read about working memory!
To support struggling readers, make your instruction predictable. Find a few key games you can use for a variety of skills. This way, your struggling readers can focus on the skill and not learning a new game or expectations. Some of my favorite small group games include: matching, find the word, find one that’s the same/different, erase the word…the possibilities are endless with a whiteboard! This way your readers are able to relate the new skill, to a familiar game, building those pathways more efficiently in the brain.
Books for Struggling Readers
The best books for struggling readers are the books they want to read. Their reading level is not the focus when reading. While it is great if kids can apply their phonics and sight word knowledge when reading, that should be saved for your direct instruction during small groups. Your goal is for struggling readers to enjoy reading. Once they find the joy, and the meaning, the rest of it clicks into place.
Talk with your reader. What topics do they like learning about? What stories do they like listening to? Use their interest to guide their book selection.
You can also work different, more decodable texts, into your small group instruction when working with struggling readers. A book a child may not have been interested in at first suddenly becomes the best book in the world when they can read it independently. Seeing a struggling readers face light up the first time they read a challenging book must be one of the best feelings in the world. Search for that light. Guide your readers to it. The best books for struggling readers are the ones they are interested in that allows them to shine.
Are your readers struggling with sight words? Be sure to learn how to teach sight words effectively!
When planning activities for struggling readers, ask yourself two questions: what are they interested in and what skills do they need to work on? Using these questions you can guide your instruction to be the most efficient and effective for struggling readers. There is no rule about where your instruction must take place. For those active learners, get up and get moving! Have them run around the room while finding a picture to answer a comprehension question, or finding the letters to build a word, or a word that matches the phonics sound you are teaching.
The activities you create for struggling readers don’t have to be extremely complex. In fact, the almost shouldn’t be. The similar the activity the quicker the student can become familiar with it and focus on the target skill.
Your activities should be short and sweet. Think about where your child is developmentally – what is the best length of time they can sustain active learning? It’s most likely pretty short, no longer than 10 minutes. When creating and implementing activities think about quality, over quantity. What one skill can they master in 10 minutes? At least for the day. When your struggling reader leaves your instruction, anyone should be able to ask them “What did you work on?” and they can answer in a single phrase or word. The more focused your activities for struggling readers, the more successful your activities will be.
When looking to provide reading interventions think: how often and how long am I (or other professionals) meeting with this student? While you want to focus on the quality of the intervention over the quantity, the amount of time the student is working on reading, or pre-reading, skills is important as well. You may find it best to provide interventions to struggling readers at 2-3 strategic intervals throughout the day. Morning arrival is a great time to run a 5-10 minute intervention block with your students who need extra reading support. Your other students are busy getting themselves situated, or working on morning work, and you can focus on connecting with your students while providing quality interventions.
All interventions should be targeted and specific. Remember: you can go deep or you can go wide but you cannot do both. Start with the most fundamental skills and build up from there. Do not focus on how many days/weeks you focus on a skill, each child grows at their own pace. The important thing is that the struggling readers masters the skill before moving on to the next. To turn a struggling reader into a successful reader, you need to build a strong foundation.
If you find your schedule does not allow multiple intervention blocks, or you are still finding a hard time creating interventions for your students – reach out for support! Who in your school is a reading expert? Do you have an experienced member on your teaching team? A reading specialist or Title I coordinator for your district? A grade level special educator? These people are vital resources for your struggling readers. Sometimes, a child needs a skill explained by a different person to grasp it. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher! In fact, reaching out for support for your students shows how dedicated you are to their success. It really does take a village, so use it!
Accommodations for Struggling Readers
You can’t always be in a small group or one on one instruction with your lower readers, so how can you best accommodate them in the classroom environment? There are several quick, no prep, easy things you can do to easily create accommodations for struggling readers.
When creating accommodations, ask yourself: what is the one thing I want this child to gain from this activity? And build your accommodations around that. Using highlighters, limiting work, and working with parents are just a few simple accommodations you can make for struggling readers in your classroom.
What Really Matters
It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the data, and the different interventions you can use. But, all this boils down to one thing: what really matters for struggling readers? The answer: you. You matter. You make a difference in the lives of the readers in your classroom. When you care, they notice. When you try, they notice. Build relationships with your students first, then worry about the instruction second. The phonics will come. The reading strategies will come. Your struggling reader will learn how to read when he or she is ready. And the relationship you build will be at the core of it all.
Worksheets for Struggling Readers
Okay, so everyone loves a quick and easy worksheet to support readers, right?! There are so many options out there. How do you know which worksheet is the best fit for your student? To help your struggling reader look for a worksheet that is:
- Focused on a single skill
- Research based
- Repeatable for multiple skills
These worksheets and decodable readers are perfect for struggling readers because they focus on the things above and your kids will have fun doing them!
Share your experience working with readers below!