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10 Excellent Techniques to Help Struggling Readers

Every middle school teacher realizes this within the first few days of their very first classroom. They have lots of great readers, and a few expert readers.  And then they have a few struggling readers.

There could be several reasons for this, but at the end of the day,  the teacher needs to figure out the best, most meaningful ways to reach those struggling readers.  And that teacher also needs to remember that every child is different, so each struggling reader could use different tools than the others to get on track.

In this article, I will show you the best of the many techniques that teachers use to help their struggling readers find their footing and discover a love for reading.  We will cover these points:

  1. Choose their favorite topics.
  2. Dig deeper to find their learning styles.
  3. Speak to their parents about what they have learned works well.
  4. Implement some new concepts once you know what does work well.
  5. Have extra methods to back up the points you really want to communicate.
  6. Find out what their strengths are and add snippets of them to your reading program.
  7. Back up just a little bit in their reading level to find their comfort zone.
  8. Once you find their comfort zone, read more instead of less.
  9. Compliment every step they make in the right direction.
  10. Ask them, “If you could do anything in your reading class, what would it be?”

So now that we have the bare bones tackled, let’s take a look at how each one actually works to help your struggling readers.

1.  Choose Their Favorite Topics

I do realize that we can’t choose one or two students’ topic choices above the rest of the class.  But especially as the year goes on, you will be able to find several ideas that work well for the majority of your students that will also work especially well for the interests of the students that need a bit more reading encouragement.

What you can do first is find a topic that you know will work with the vast majority of your class. Then  choose a few books that you know they will really latch onto.  I actually wrote a list of ten of the most well-loved books for middle schoolers.  In that list I also included a good size description of each book.  You can access that article by clicking here.

I know that for the vast majority of middle schoolers I taught, their two favorite topics were fantasy novels (especially if a movie had been made) and books that allowed them to relate to the characters on their level (struggles, strengths, weaknesses, family issues, culture, etc.).  There is no shortage of those kinds of books to choose from!

One thought regarding this step is to choose a book that has plenty of program material available to draw from unless you plan to formulate your curriculum from the ground up.  Of course, the most popular books are going to have the most resources online and in stores to build your reading program with.

2.  Dig Deeper to Find Their Learning Styles

This step actually doesn’t take too much digging to figure out.  A couple of casual conversations with them and a couple of classroom sessions using several different learning styles should be just about all you need to discover their primary learning styles.  The vast majority of students that struggle in reading find more help in visual and tactile areas.  The biggest reason for this is because those two styles use multiple senses at a time. That allows them to multiply their ability to take in the information.

There is an article here on Complete Literature that goes into more detail about the Seven Styles of Learning.  It also includes a great printable chart that you can use to record the strengths of each of your students. This will make it easier to decide which types of learning styles you should use most in your current classroom.  You can access that article by clicking here.

3.  Speak to Their Parents About What Can Work Well

In the vast majority of cases, nobody knows more about your students than their parents.  Add to that the fact that the issues your struggling readers are currently having did not just spring up in time for them to be in your class.  So chances are the parents have already had this discussion before.  There may also be some medical or other issues that they can shed light on for you. And they will most likely be able to give you some tried and true ways to work with their children.

They will most likely also be able to tell you how far their child has come along with the help they have received thus far.  And that can help you formulate how you can help those students continue to improve.   Thus, hopefully by the end of the year, you could be able to help your struggling readers to actually be just about caught up with the rest of the class.  At the very least, they will be caught up to where their own best reading ability will be.

I do want to note here that we can never expect all students to be all things.  There may be some students that for whatever reason never get to the level of the other students.  And we must be careful to not do anything that could discourage them and cause them to give up.  I will have more on that in point 9 below!

Anyway, to conclude this point, just keep in mind that the parents can almost always be a wealth of information to you in lots of ways.

4.  Implement Some New Concepts Once You Know What Works Well

Once you start to see your struggling readers’ eyes light up at certain activities that you do,  it will be much easier to implement those types of things into your program.  This works with all of your subjects, and not just reading.

Let’s say your students need more visuals to drive a point home. Just  google and print up a few extra papers with concrete examples of the lesson for them.  Then allow them to actually hold the papers and talk about the connections they are making.  With just that one exercise (which works for every subject you teach), you just used most of their senses: sight of what was on the paper, sound of discussion regarding how they apply it, touch with the paper and possibly whatever was on it, maybe even the smell of the paper or ink.  Believe it or not, there will be some students whose sense of smell is that strong.  I was actually one of those kids.  And it still drives my own kids crazy to this day!

If you have struggling readers that are more activity driven, you could do some hand motion activities that drive some points home.  And then you could follow up with a P.E. class that emphasizes some of the activities in the book, but through a game, race, or other physical activity.

This is if you actually teach P.E. to your middle schoolers.  I realize many schools have dedicated P.E. teachers as well. And in that case, maybe you can talk to them about somehow collaborating their program with yours to tie in perfectly!

There are endless possibilities for adding concepts to your classes.  And that is actually a wonderful thing!  (Now if we could figure out how to make enough time to fit everything!)

5.  Have Extra Methods to Back Up the Points You Really Want to Communicate

This works exactly the same way as catering to the five senses at once.  Except that now it is exponential.  For each of the methods you use, you can be using multiple senses.  Thus you can end up with dozens of little trails back to the point you are trying to make!

Putting This to the Test

For example, you could start your reading class with a snack that is somehow related to the chapter(s) you are going to read in class.  It could be a specific food that was mentioned, or something related to the culture or time period. So in this case, you have already catered to the senses of sight, smell, taste, and probably touch.

Next, you may have a dramatic reading of the passage you are using.  That will appeal to their sense of sight (reading) and sound (recording).  You could also have the students do the dramatic reading, depending on their level of reading proficiently.  Obviously, the older the grade, the better the ability to really make the drama stand out.

Next you could do a related game.  That can use most of the senses as well, depending on the game.  In order to keep in step with the theme, it can be a game that was played in the chapter, or a game that would be appropriate for the setting/time period of the book.

And for one final project of the day, your art class can be a related theme to their reading as well as the art concept you are teaching.  This uses most of the senses as well (but make sure they aren’t tasting the paint!).

How It All Stacks Up

So for the examples I just gave, there were up to 18 senses used.  That is a whole lot of application that can drive home your points.  And because you were able to tie some of the activities in with other subjects, it wasn’t expanding on class time that you are already short on to start with.

And it is this constant reinforcement that allows you to help  your struggling readers to make the connections that they need to that will allow them to progress.  Because most of these activities are things that middle schoolers love, you’re not only growing their knowledge base, you are satisfying their need to be reached in multiple ways simultaneously.

6.  Find Out What Their Strengths Are and Add Snippets to Your Reading Program

This was sort of covered in the fifth point.  You chose the activities above based on the senses that appeal to your students the best.

But this step goes a little bit farther in that it allows you to choose specifics in your themes or projects based on your students’ preferences or experience.

To be more specific, you could choose certain books to read based on the strengths or weaknesses of your students.  You would also choose specific crafts, foods, games, or whatever other flexible details you can change based on the needs of your class.

I do want to emphasize at this point, that while you are choosing activities that you  know will be more helpful to your struggling readers, you also want to make sure you are covering the needs and interests of the majority of your class at the same time.  Sometimes that looks like circles. Or you could have an assistant come in to help the students that need a bit more attention.

If you do not have the resources for an assistant, I know of schools that have parents that are able to volunteer for a couple of hours weekly.  The kids generally love having one of their parents come in to see what is going on in school.  And you can usually easily find enough parents to enjoy doing this a couple or few times a year, which allows you to have some help just about weekly.

7.  Find Their Reading Comfort Zone

It is generally best, especially at the beginning of the year, to back up enough to help struggling readers to be in a comfortable reading zone.

If they aren’t afraid that the level is too much for them, they will be more willing to read in class or to contribute to discussion or other parts of class that encourage their participation.

Making them feel confident enough to participate actively in class will do wonders for how far they are comfortable pushing themselves when the concepts become harder.

Between this confidence and the fun they are having with projects that reinforce what they are learning, you are already miles ahead of exclusively academic reading projects.  It may seem like you are foregoing academics for play. But as the year progresses, you’ll see the difference it made in how much more the whole class has retained.

8. Read More Instead of Less

Once you have been able to help your struggling readers find their comfort zone in reading, you can encourage them to read more instead of less.  Generally speaking, as they gain their confidence, they will be eager to read more.  You can start by having them read in small groups.  Be careful not to make an obvious group of struggling readers that get pulled aside from the rest of the class.  You will undo any encouragement that you had given them if they feel like they are being set aside.

One of the ways I was able to do this with my students was to remind everyone that they all have strengths and they all have weaknesses.  And one of the main points of school is to grow stronger in the things we are learning.

Once the kids see this in action, they will feel comfortable working on those things that they find hard in classroom life.

And that is where reading more comes into play.  The more the read, the more confident they will become in reading. And they will get better by default.  Win win for all!

9.  Compliment Every Step They Make in the Right Direction

This may be the biggest way you can help  your struggling reader to succeed!  If they constantly feel overwhelmed by what they are trying to learn and never feel like they can master the material, they will have absolutely no desire to continue to try.  So it is our job as teachers to motivate them.  And the best way to motivate them is to notice every time they make a step in the right direction.

The tiniest steps are probably even more important than the bigger ones.  That is because they will never want to try to make those bigger steps without the victory seen in the smaller steps.  And your confirmation of those little daily victories will play a huge part in their motivation to keep on moving along.

Before too long, you will be able to give them a pretty long list of what they have been able to get through.  And when you help them to look back and see how far they have come, you will get the pleasure of watching their faces light up as they realize they can keep on going to bigger and better victories!

It is these moments that we get to savor as teachers and realize why we have chosen to work in this most demanding profession.

10.  Ask Them What One Thing They Would Do

So, of course, be prepared for their initial answer to be something ridiculously crazy.  You can have a great time dreaming about that with your struggling reader.  Then you can ask them to seriously tell you what one “do-able” thing they would do if they could.

It could be something you have already done in class that they enjoyed so much they want to do it again.  Or it could be something similar that they want to tweak.  Or it could be something totally different.  Maybe it is something that they did with their family.  Or it could be something they did in a previous class.  Finally it could be just something random that they came up with all by themselves.

And because of their creativity, you just got a totally awesome new idea for free without a whole bunch of research!

Conclusion

I realize this looks like a whole lot of information and very complicated to implement and keep abreast of.  But once you start working with a lot of these concepts, you will find that they progress very naturally.  And that will encourage and enable you to continue to implement them as you help your struggling readers to be the best readers they can be!

Please feel free to comment and tell me what concepts worked well that  you have used to help your struggling readers.

This Post Has 55 Comments

  1. Nyxinked

    Great advice. Although I was always a good reader, my partner isn’t. I’m the one in the house who has anything to do with reading contracts etc. I’ve tried to get him into reading more, maybe to help him practice abit as he can be embarrassed, but he swears that he’s too old to learn to read well.

    I beg to differ. These tips would help so much if I could just get him to accept my help.

  2. Amber Myers

    I love this. My kids did struggle a bit, and now they are doing much better.

  3. I have three sisters. We are all passionate readers (and writers) except for one. She never picked it up, despite the abundance of books at home. She was brilliant in school. She had no problem reading schoolbooks. But she really wasn’t into leisurely reading. I think some people just don’t develop the same affinity.

    As soon as I started to read, my mom would buy me books. It was something I truly enjoyed and I would frequent the library for more. I would love for my children to love books, as much as I do.

  4. Cristina Pop

    These are some amazing tips! I will share them with my cousin… she is a teacher, and she struggles sometimes with her kids.

  5. StephJ

    My parents thought that I struggled with reading when I was young but the truth was I just didn’t like any of the topics. I read all the time now and have always loved it but when you are young it is more important to have genres that are fun and encourage kids to dive into those topics.

  6. I’m really hoping my nephew finds love in reading and I’ll keep this in mind in case he needs help. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

  7. Candace Hampton

    Interesting article! I think that choosing a topic of their interest is a big step like you mentioned. Thanks for the tips!!

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!!<3

  8. brianmayroam

    Yes, not all children have the same learning style. As a hands-on learning, being lectured to was often frustrating!

    1. Marie

      I agree, Brian. Everyone always thought I was so smart because I got good grades. But I was working so hard behind the scenes to get those grades. I always had to be actively taking notes or studying later in order to supplement the lectures because I have never been good at auditory learning. I think there are a lot of us out there!

  9. crisshex88

    I have to say that as a child I had the same problem with reading and if I had had a teacher like this I would have started reading books much earlier!

    1. Marie

      I hope that over time more students are helped earlier so they can learn to love reading! Thanks for sharing, Cristina.

  10. Amber

    I love these ideas. My daughter isn’t always the best reader, so she could use these tips. Mostly I have to remind her to slow down, because she wants to finish, so she hurries through.

    1. Marie

      I had a daughter that was the same way. She was too busy trying to rush through to pay attention to what it was really saying. Over time it got better.

  11. Lisa

    I remember my principal in elementary school talking to us about how she struggled to read and how hard it was for her. No one understood what she was going through. I’m so glad that there are so many resources and help for kids now.

    1. Marie

      There are tons of options! And now parents can help get that ball rolling as well. Honestly, helping kids out works much better one on one in the home than it does in the classroom.

  12. Chad

    I don’t have any kids of my own so I never faced such problem but a friend of mine is currently struggling with her child. Amazing tips, THANK YOU.

    1. Marie

      Thanks, Chad. I hope these can help her.

  13. Marriah

    These are such great tips! There’s nothing worse than reading something you’re 100% not interested in, I’m sure it makes the struggle even more difficult.

    1. Marie

      I remember how much that felt like torture. And I loved to read. When someone doesn’t love to read and they have to read something they have no interest in, it has to be so much worse! You are right, Marriah.

  14. Shruti and Delta

    Great advice. Especially the part about knowing their interests and using that to help. If interest is there, half the battle is already won. Rest of the journey does not seem so tough anymore.

    1. Marie

      Very true!

  15. Nyxinked

    Great post! My partner is a terrible reader and tells me he was never pushed or encouraged at school. Furthermore it’s come out that he’s dyslexic as well but this was never picked up until he was an adult, which meant that while in school he was made feel stupid because he couldn’t read well. Yet he can count in his head faster than anyone I’ve met and is very creative. It’s great that you’re encouraging struggling readers rather than making them feel slow.

    1. Marie

      His story is not unique, unfortunately. I do know that in recent years this has been recognized and improved on significantly. I hope that trend continues!

  16. Hollie

    This is a great post. There are so many struggling readers out there and I know I did as a young child.

  17. Erlene

    I love that you share several tips on helping a struggling reader. I dislike cookie cutter teaching and I think it’s so important to take a look at each child individually to really help them learn.

    1. Marie

      So true, Erlene. When you teach all kids the same, most do not learn well.

  18. Cindy E Ingalls

    Learning to read and enjoy reading is so important to other learning. I’m an avid reader I passed that on to my kids.

    1. Marie

      That is awesome, Cindy! About half of my kids went on to be avid readers, but they all have grown to be good readers and writers.

  19. sri

    I am a very lazy reader when Im in school but I started improving by the time Im into college!I will keep these in mind and use it when my daughter joins in school!

    1. Marie

      That is good sri! At least you go things going well when you needed to!

  20. Amila Wickramarachchi

    These are great tips.With my kid I practiced some of these tips from his toddler age.He started reading his own very soon.However I want to practice these tips with his mother tongue learning as he is still not a confident reader for that.

    1. Marie

      That would be awesome, Amila! I bet he will do well!

  21. Hannah Marie

    These are all incredible tips and ideas. I, sometimes struggle with reading specially if there’s too much info. All of these are really really good to practice.

  22. Ronnie

    Thank you for this concise break-down! It will help us guide students into finding the right literature so they too can enjoy the many adventures brought on by reading.

  23. Brianne

    I really love how specific you were with each way to help and how you broke it down. I think i can use these to help my son.

  24. Bright snow Loveland

    Very nice Techniques… I love point 5. Thanks for sharing

  25. the joyous living

    i would be very curious to hear what your students responses are to the question of what’s one thing they’d like to do.

  26. Fantastic advice! And such an important topic. Literacy and reading comprehension are so important and valuable. Working on making sure your students are on the right track by focusing on their individual needs and learning style is such a huge help!

  27. Steven Morrissette

    I guess when you say find the reading style you mean the style a book or a literature or like the genre?

  28. Ivana Mearns

    I like what you are saying about trying to understand different learning style, that is so important!

  29. Lyosha

    Great tips! I agree reading is very important and it’s a great hobby bt getting on it might be a little hard for a child

  30. This list is incredibly helpful not just for educators. Parents and childcare people could benefit tremendously. I taught my kiddos how to read. Sometimes it was frustrating. But I tested a few tools, and they’ve become great readers.

  31. tweenselmom

    These are really excellent tips! These will surely be helpful for those having difficulties, thank you for sharing this with us!

  32. Kimberly Caines

    These are some helpful ideas to help kids learn to read. Teachers and parents should read this. Thanks for this.

  33. Akriti

    This is a very detailed and helpful article for people having issues with reading.

  34. Elle

    The first tip is absolutely spot on. Let your kids read books on their favorite topics.

  35. Sarah M

    These are amazing tips for the teachers and even for the parents who want to help their children. Thanks for sharing!

  36. Konstantina

    Unfortunately I used to be like too. Always trying to rush things and move on. Thankfully my teacher helped me a lot.

  37. Emman Damian

    I think you need to determine their learning style. Also, suggest topics that interest them. Those that they genuinely like.

  38. Tina Basu

    This is such an incredibly helpful post. I have been reading to my son since he was less than 1 yr old to grow an interest in him. Now he’s going to be 5 and can read on his own.

  39. Rose Ann Sales

    I will definitely do this when I teach my nephew,he would benefit from these.

  40. “If you could do anything in your reading class, what would it be?”….that right there, is the real MVP! Feeling involved in the entire process is what every learner would love to be happening.

  41. Bindu Thomas

    Loved this. Great post Great advice. Thank you for sharing this

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