Friday, June 24, 2011

My Top 5 Tips for Working with Struggling Readers

This is my 2nd post this week about working with struggling readers. My focus today is a list of my top 5 tips for working with struggling readers.

My Top 5 List
1.  repetition

2.  specific order for teaching vowels

3.  strategies

4.  long vowel survival rules

5.  time

#1 Repetition
Kids who struggle with reading need repetition, repetition, repetition.  My favorite reading researchers suggest that our struggling readers need lots and lots of repetition to be successful.  In my experiences working with struggling students and their teachers, we often don't give struggling students enough repetition in the classroom.  I suspect it is for two reasons. We either feel like what we are doing is not working, so we try something new when a student probably just needs more repetition.  The second reason is that the rest of the class/group has "moved on" and it's difficult to dedicate the time needed to provide our struggling kids with repetition.

When I work with struggling readers, I do a handful of specific games/activities over and over.  The games/activities stay the same, but the words, the focus, or maybe just the clipart changes.  That allows my students to feel successful right away when they sit down at a center or activity.  Reading might be hard for them, but they say things like, "Oh, I know how to play this!" or "I love doing sorts!".  It also prevents me from having to spend my limited amount of time with my struggling readers teaching new rules to games each day. We do lots of sorts (which are suggested in the most current reading research), games and activities that provide lots of repetition. The trick is to have the students do the activity and to make sure I take the time to listen to the student read the words from the activity/game and/or explain why they sorted things a certain way.

I just posted a new set of short vowel centers on Tpt this week.  The product includes several word family sorts, games, word family crosswords.  I used a variety of clipart to create the activities that could be used at any time of the year.  So many times, I want to use an activity or game with struggling students, but the clipart matches a specific seasonal theme because that is the time of the year when the "rest of the group" used that activity.  I don't want to give my struggling students a word sort activity with pumpkins on it in January, but the reality is that they might not be ready for a specific vowel pattern until January.  You can click on the picture below if you'd like to check it out.

#2 Specific Order for Teaching Vowels
When working with all of my students (in my 1st grade classroom and with my struggling reader groups), I teach the vowels in a specific order.  We even recently revised the spelling list in our building to match that order to help our struggling readers.  Let's face it, strong readers and spellers will do well no matter what order we present the words.  But, our struggling students need all the help they can get.

We start with short vowels and teach them in this order:  a, i, o, e and u.  Why is e not right after a?  The sound for short a and short e are so close together, that most at risk readers really struggle with differentiating between the two.  In our 1st grade spelling program we teach 4 new dolch words each week plus a word family of the week that contains the vowel pattern we are working on.  We start with a few weeks of specific short a patterns, then move to a few weeks of specific short i patterns and so on.  When we finish the short vowel patterns in our program, we move to long vowel patterns in the same order (long a, long i, long o, long e and long u).

I also have two different packets of word sorts (short and long vowel) on Tpt.  I use these for extra practice with my struggling readers.  I made them so I could either have the students cut out the words and glue them in the appropriate column or write the words.  When each student is finished with a word sort, they are expected to read the words to one friend, to one adult and then take it home to read to an adult at home.  You can click on the image below if you'd like to check them out at my Tpt store.

#3 Strategies
While lots of the strategies that teachers teach are the same, we tend to all use different language from classroom to classroom.  The most important strategies for struggling readers are the things that I call "good reading habits" and the decoding strategies.  The "good reading habit" strategies that I want my students to use include: pick a just right book, touch the words and cross check (cross check - Does it look right?, Does it sound right?, Does it make sense?).  Some of the decoding strategies that I teach my struggling readers include:  say the beginning sound, look for chunks or parts of the word that you know,  hop over the word to read the rest of the sentence and reread.

#4 Long Vowel Survival Rules
I just made that title up... I'm referring to the two long vowel rules that are critical for beginning readers to know and common for them to struggle with.  Those two rules are magic "e"  and 2 vowels go walking.   I also teach them the difference between magic "e" and silent "e" - which I could post about if anyone is interested... but this post is already way too long.

#5 Time
Current reading research suggests that teachers in general are spending way too much time talking/teaching during their "reading time" and not providing enough time and opportunities for students to actually read at their just right level.  As I was preparing for a presentation for the Michigan Reading Association a few years ago, I came upon some research by Richard Allington that suggests that elementary age children should spend (brace yourself...) 90 minutes each day practicing reading at their just right level.  I wasn't quite so alarmed until I pulled out my schedule and started reflecting on the actual number of minutes I was providing time for my students to read at their just right level.  Then I started to freak out.  The classrooms in my school have a literacy block, but the amount of time students are actually reading at their just right level when you take out some of their center work, transitions, discussions and small group instruction is usually no where near the recommended amount. It forced me to rethink the way I was spending my "guided reading time" with students and reorganize my schedule to provide multiple opportunities each day for kids to read.  I really see a difference in my students now that I have made some changes in my own classroom. Our struggling readers need even more time...

Oh dear... sorry this was so long.  Hope it was helpful to someone.  Thanks for taking the time to read it.  Happy Friday!


  1. This is awesome! Thanks for sharing all is so true!
    First Grade Blue SKiES

  2. Wonderful post filled with terrific information. I have found all the above to be true after just finishing a summer school session with struggling readers. I would be most interested in knowing how you reworked your schedule to provide more on-level reading time.

  3. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this info- I would be interested in any more tidbits and resources to reach those struggling readers as well. Our district requires a 90 min reading block and 120 minute for struggling kiddos.

    Primary Connections

  5. Very useful information. I enjoyed your "long" post. Thank you. Sometimes we just need reminding or confirmation that we are doing the right things.

    First Grade Factory

  6. P.S. This topic would be good for a Linky Party!!

    First Grade Factory

  7. Thank you for this post. I'd love to hear the details on how you teach "magic e" and "silent e". So thankful for all of the wonderful teachers that share their amazing ideas and thoughts. I am blessed!

    :) Shelly

  8. Thank you so much for posting this. You have given great ideas and tips. I couldn't agree with you more about the repetition issue. I teach special education, and my students need A LOT of repetition. I also have to figure out a way to get more independent reading into our day.


  9. Thank you for sharing! These are wonderful tips (and your vowel sort is already in my shopping cart on TpT!). This is exactly why I'm so glad I joined the Wonderful World of Blogging! :o)

    So Then There Were 2

  10. Oh, and I would love to see your difference between the "e" rules - please share! :o)

    So Then There Were 2

  11. I know this post is almost a year old but I just read it and learned/was reminded of so many things. I really like your vowel ordering, I have never thought about that before. I am just starting out my blog and would love some love over there if you have time! :)

  12. My school has a very short literacy block--completely out of my control. Do you have any suggestions for working with a one hour literacy block? I have 45 minutes for writing three times a week as well. I'm working with low readers, and need to find ways to optimize their time.

  13. We are almost hoping to look forward to such kind of the evident principles which does used to put some better impact upon certain other regarded abilities, so it will bringing around every good cause. ghost writer resume