5 Tips for Teaching Struggling Readers that You've NEVER HEARD BEFORE

Feb 02, 2024

by Aja McNair

Most readers become struggling readers simply because they are lacking foundational skills in phonics. And that is why our first tip is to teach children how to break down unknown words into syllables.

When a struggling reader is reading a passage or a sentence and they come across a word that they do not know, they will often try to figure out how to “sound it out”. If they are lacking those foundational skills, they do not have the tools they need to do just that. And sometimes when you're teaching fifth grade or upper elementary, you don't have all of the time built in your schedule to go back and teach  letter sounds; No worries, help is here! There are 5 tips you can use to help any struggling reader.


  1. Tip 1: Teach Explicit Phonics (Syllable Division)- Dedicate 15 minutes per day to teaching explicit phonics instruction. Teach what readers need to know in order to break down unknown words into syllables. They then can decode and break down any unknown words they come across.

Tip 2: Reading Rewards for Student Motivation-Implement reading rewards. Build a struggling readers confidence and persuade him to buy into reading by allowing him to read easy text. He needs to hear and see himself successful. Celebrate each milestone.

Tip 3: Independent Reading Level- let the reader begin with an easy book and learn to enjoy reading then gradually increase the level of complexity. For example: easy reading—> independent level—> instructional level. Invite a student to “book and breakfast” or “lunch and learn”. You will do this one-on-one so as not to embarrass but build confidence in the reader . You will listen to them read without any interrupting; look engaged. When child is finished, compliment them on how well they did. Point out that they ___ stopped for a punctuation, read with expression, or decoded an unknown word. The more you listen and find things to compliment the reader on, the more you will do it .  The more they are celebrated, the more they will enjoy it , see their success, and gain confidence. Then they will buy into reading.

Tip 4: Decoding & Comprehension Strategies- if you want strugglers to become fluent readers make sure they have all the tools needed. Teach them to tackle unknown words by Decoding Strategy, using other clues such as  pictures or beginning sounds. 
Teach comprehension strategies allowing children to determine unknown words by internalizing and understanding the context of the word in a sentence. This is most important when trying to teach referencing or main idea that are not explicitly stated in the text.

Tip 5: Use Movie Clips to Teach Common Core Standards- Put yourself in the mind of a struggling reader. Reading gives them anxiety and makes them feel lessened, it gives them all sorts of insecurities. Do not make a struggling reader read. Put the books away for a moment and simply build their confidence. Teach grade level standards by using video clips or commercials without ever opening a book. You can actually get a child to master concepts of main idea and supporting details. Once a child understands the theme, the main idea, supporting details, and all of the grade level standards then you will take those skills and slowly start to implement actual text. For example, if you’re teaching main idea you can share with the child, “hey, you just mastered how to identify main idea! “ So now we’re going to try to do that with a story. Then you will apply the exact same questioning technique that you used in the video with the actual story.

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