Three Ways to Help Struggling Readers in the Classroom

At different points during the year, any good teacher will take time to reflect on their reading and mathematics program.  We decide what is or is not working, what we think we need to keep and what needs to be changed or tweaked in some manner. Today I wanted to share with you three strategies that keep my struggling readers engaged in the classroom.

 #1: Increase Common Vocabulary
Literacy study after literacy study has proven that having a high vocabulary is a key indicator in the reading ability of students.  We all have vocabulary that needs to be taught in our classrooms. Sometimes this is content or story specific, but recently, I found this great LIST from Flocabulary that I plan to use with my new fourth grade class.  These are common vocabulary words that students should know at every grade level. When I teach vocabulary, I like to have my students create vocabulary slides.  We use Google Slides, and I assign each student or pairs of students specific words.  They create a document slide that contains the vocabulary word, definition, two synonyms, and an antonym.  I always like to have students include two synonyms because it gives me an opportunity to teach and discuss shades of meaning with students.  I try to challenge them to use to find synonyms.  These slides provide so many opportunities for conversation because we can really discuss whether a word is really meant to reflect a similar meaning.  When we finish, we add the word to our vocabulary/spelling dictionaries, so we have a spot for further reference. The vocabulary section is set up with a Fray model for vocabulary similar to the slide, so our shades of meaning synonyms are always included.  My students use these during our writing block as well.

#2 Use Audiobooks as Reading Partners
I was so happy to read a recent article  in the ILA's Literacy Today magazine that discusses the use of audio books as companions for struggling readers.  Just as the author, Lisa Trottier Brown comments, having struggling readers use an audio book and follow along, reading aloud themselves increases the reading rates of students. This can also be done with a strong reader and a weaker reader.  BOTH students read at the same time from the challenging text.  It allows the struggling reader the opportunity to hear speech patterns and inflections, which is effective when scaffolding difficult text. Audio books in the classroom are perfect for this.  You can often get audio books from Overdrive which is through the public library system, or Audible which is from Amazon if you know several of your students will be reading similar books.
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Just be sure that the book is read by a real person, NOT a computer, because a computer generated voice will not provide the weaker student with the important voice inflections etc. that they need to hear.  Having a paired reading experience is also a great way to use your volunteers in your classroom.  Especially if you can get Dad's in to read.  The importance is for your weaker reader to be reading at a more rapid rate, sitting together using a challenging text. 

#3 Have Students Leave Tracks in Their Reading
Reading Notice and Note by Kyleen Beers and Jeff Probst this year was so affirming for me.  I needed a fresh set of ideas for helping my students leave tracks in their reading.  Many of them were blowing through books and not remembering a single part of them, or remembering just enough to take an AR test.  They weren't sharing their reading experiences or talking about books in ways that made them become better readers.  By teaching my students about the Signposts, and following up with picture books, excerpts, and videos that helped them see how monitoring their comprehension made them better readers, my students gained a deeper level of understanding in their independent reading books.  I saw them choose books to read together, and then while reading series of books have conversations about where a character had had an AHA Moment, or how an older character showed signs of being a Words of the Wiser.  They began to discuss books much more frequently, and read more books on their levels, rather than easy books they could forget quickly after AR points were achieved.  To help them keep track of Signposts, I used a tabbed booklet which students kept in their Reader's Notebooks.  It gave examples of each Signpost as an anchor chart with the anchor question as well as picture book and video examples that would help keep them focused.  The anchor charts were especially helpful for my struggling readers, because it gave them something to refer back to.  I put the videos I used to teach the Signposts in our Moodle account, and they could also be an easy reference if those students were really stuck.

Do you have reading strategies that may help struggling readers?  I would love to hear about what you incorporate into your classroom!
Have a great day!


  1. These are great strategies, Michele! I don't teach vocabulary outside of words from the stories we read, but I use the Flocabulary lists as a good reference. And I check a grade higher and lower, too. It's a good way to make sure I fit those words into my language so that students get familiar with them, at least by hearing me use them. Great article!

  2. I love your idea of students having anchor charts in their reading journals to help them remember questions they need to ask themselves when they reach a signpost. I plan on using this idea in my classroom. Thank you for sharing your ideas! Have you read the nonfiction sign post book?


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