Struggling Reader Road




This page is dedicated to all of teachers, parents, and instructional assistants who work with struggling readers on a daily basis. You deserve all of the accolades and awards that are available to you, but aren't always given. Unfortunately, there aren't enough language arts specialists to go around and many school districts are cutting those kind of services. This page includes tools and tips for prevention, intervention, and remediation for struggling readers and writers. The suggested strategies are meant to enhance reading and language arts instruction for students who continue to struggle. If you have ideas to contribute to this page, please send them to and they will be posted here with credit to you. Educators have to be the most sharing people in the world and hopefully, this will provide a venue for doing so.

Download and refer to the 31 page Instructional Intervention package for suggestions for specific issues.

Instructional Intervention

Thirty-one page booklet includes issues with sight words, context clues, self-monitoring, one-to-one matching, sound-symbol relationships, decoding and word attack skills, comprehension, inference and drawing conclusions, main idea, structural analysis, vocabulary, fluency, and reversals.

Before beginning intervention and remediation, the obvious first step is the assessment of student skills, strengths and weaknesses and developing a plan for recording and sharing assessment results. For information and thoughts about authentic assessment, please go to:

Assessment Alley






Reading Matters:
Supporting Struggling Readers

The teacher's knowledge matters: knowing which skills to teach and when, teaching reading skills in balanced reading programs.

Classroom organization matters: access to books and writing materials, classroom routines, community reading, "just right" reading, "on your own" reading.

Reading choices matter: levels of difficulty, genre, topics, cultural representation, task difficulty and achievement.

Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics matters: effective word study instruction, assessment, building decoding fluency.

Explicit and strategic instruction in comprehension matters.

Response to reading matters: types, contexts, purposes and assessing reader response.

Assessment matters: frequency, context and type.

The amount of text that children read matters.

Fluency matters: correct words per minute, tone, phrasing.

Adapted from a power point presentation by Dr. Jeanne R. Paratore of Boston University. If you are interested in reading the entire document, it is available at:








Fine Motor Skills

If the child has difficulty with handwriting and/or fine motor skills . . .

Handwriting problems are frequently the result of neurodevelopmental dysfunctions and their associated information output and integration problems. These occur in children who have: a) fine motor-coordination problems; b) trouble expressing their thoughts on paper; and c) short attention spans with impulsivity. In my experience, I have seen many different reasons for handwriting difficulties: sensitivity to paper due to a neurological side effect of chemotherapy, and vision or eye disorders. If you believe that your student has a "handicapping condition," contact your administrator about a 504 plan for modification of work and support from the school.

The following are some suggestions that may help improve the writing abilities in children with severe problems:

Always encourage the child while avoiding public criticism. We adults may need to change our attitudes based on a proper understanding of the reasons for the writing problem.

Minimize or modify written work. Such an agreement may remain private (i.e., not known to the child's peers, who will frequently tease the child for problems they do not understand). You may want to assign an Alphasmart keyboard to the child or allow them to do written work on the computer in the classroom. If you have a strong feeling of "community" within the classroom, other children will understand the modification. Contact your student's parent about accepting computer generated homework as well.

Increase time allowed for written task completion. By reducing pressure and anxiety, the child frequently responds with better written output.

Vary priorities required during writing. On one task, emphasize organization, good ideas, and legibility, while on another, stress only the mechanics of writing (e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization). Many children with developmental dysfunctions can only effectively concentrate on one or two priorities at a time - they may "come unglued" when expected to handle multiple tasks they have not yet mastered.

Stage long-term tasks. For example, a book report or research project could be broken down into units, with the child turning in a summary of each chapter, note cards, outline, etc. This will also teach study skills that will be a benefit throughout school.

Grade to allow for success. Comments should be positive. The child who thinks he can't tends to give up.

As soon as possible, introduce the child to typing and/or word processing. School typing should be allowed to completely replace written work, if needed in severe cases.

If an ink pen is difficult or to messy to use, try alternative writing tools such as pencils or felt-tip pens. Graph paper for writing math problems helps with the organization and alignment.

Allow printing if cursive writing is too cumbersome and frustrating for the child.

Try placing a rubber pencil grip on the pen or pencil. Teacher supply stores have a wide variety of styles, colors and composition (some are softer than others). Find one that works!

Reteach the pencil grip. Many children (and adults) have acquired an awkward pencil grip. 

Adapted from "Developmental Variation and Learning Disorders" by Melvin d. Levine, M.D.  1987. Educator's Publishing Service. Cambridge, MA.






Second Language Learners

If the child is a second language learner he/she. . .

should hear stories read frequently in small groups in order to hear many different types of stories;

observe verbal and nonverbal cueing strategies (pauses, exaggerated intonation, gestures, and so on);

hear thought-provoking questions to promote interaction during story reading;

be exposed to predictable books and be encouraged to "read along;"

hear and read well-illustrated books so that the pictures provide additional clues to meaning;

 reread favorite stories to reinforce vocabulary, language patterns, and awareness of sequence;

do follow-up activities using different formats and materials;

use story grammars to analyze story elements;

write and illustrate language experience stories that access prior knowledge;

participate in dramatizations and have direct experiences with concrete objects and activities;

have vicarious experiences (films, filmstrips, puppets, pictures, etc.);

develop functional oral language;

be exposed to the Language Experience Method of teaching reading;

have opportunities and materials for primary language reading practice for those who can read in their primary language;

experience realia and apply lessons to real life situations;

have teachers who preteach a concept (into);

experience fill-in-the-blanks (word substitutions/cloze);

use pictures first and then replace with words;

have access to technology and videos for building schema in the content areas;

and learn to use graphic organizers for summarizing and/or retelling(the Five W's Chart  is just one graphic organizer example that is available on this site).






Resources for Struggling Reader Instruction

Allington, Richard L. (2000). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Program

Allington, Richard and Patricia Cunningham (2002). Schools that Work: Where All Children Read and Write, 2d Edition .

Beers, Kylene, et al. When Kids Can't Read—What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12.

Dudley-Marling, Curt and Patricia Paugh. A Classroom Teacher’s Guide to Struggling Readers.

Harvey, Stephanie and Anne Goudvis (2000). Strategies that Work: Teaching Comprehension to Advance Understanding.

Hoyt, Linda. Revisit, Reflect, Retell: Strategies for Improving
Reading Comprehension.

Lyons, Carol A. Teaching Struggling Readers: How to Use Brain-based Research to Maximize Learning.

Moats, Louisa Cook (1995). Spelling: Development, Disabilities
 and Instruction

Optiz, Michael and Michael P. Ford. Reaching Readers: Flexible
 and Innovative Strategies for Guided 

Pikluski, J. (1994). Preventing reading failure: A review of five effective programs. The Reading Teacher, 48(1), 30-39.

Reynolds, Marilyn. I Won’t Read and You Can’t Make Me:  
 Reaching Reluctant Teen Reader.

 Rhodes, Lynn Knebel and Curt Dudley-Marling (1996). Readers and Writers With a Difference: A Holistic Approach to Teaching Struggling Readers and Writers

 Strickland, Dorothy, et al., Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers: Strategies for Classroom Intervention 3-6.

Walker, Barbara J. Supporting Struggling Readers

Essential Strategies for the Struggling Reader: Activities for an Accelerated Reading Program:





Programs for Struggling Reader Instruction

 Project Read

Reading Recovery®


Soar to Success at

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