Some students can’t read well and avoid doing it (the struggling reader) while others can read and choose not to (the reluctant reader) and this problem affects learning in other areas.
As a seasoned reading advocate, author, literacy intervention specialist, EAL specialist for new arrivals and primary teacher, I have a list of tried and tested ideas which have supported my young struggling readers.
Organise a comfortable book nook in the classroom
Encourage quiet reading and relaxing with books in a comfortable book nook with pillows and beanbags. Have comics, photobooks, graphic novels and cool chapter books of low ability and high interest - kids love a mixture of fiction and non-fiction.
Encourage reading other books too, such as the favourite, The Guinness Book of World Records. Encourage talk about illustrations, use describing words and link books to other books. Sit in the nook with your students and connect with them.
Play with the letters and sounds during lessons
Plan short, regular and uninterrupted experimentation with the letters in a child’s name and then, adding common letters such as ‘s / t / n / short ‘i‘. Introduce one new letter a day over a fortnight (revisiting each day). Once a child knows the sounds of these letters, with your help, they might begin to learn the special codes that are needed to read.
By manipulating letter order, they can try to read the words ‘is / it / in / tin /its /nit. Then they can add letters and decode new words; ‘nit / not, in/on, tin/tins, is / his’. It is about using known letters and sounds to new letters and sounds. Find these letters in all the books you share or go on a word and letter hunt around the room.
Reading is all about learning special codes and it’s not easy!
Did you know that there are 44 sounds in the spoken English language from only 26 letters? Some sounds are represented by one letter, two letters or even three letters. Consider the words ‘nice/ buy and might’ all have different letters and combinations to represent the long ‘i’ sound.
These codes are not easy to learn but once a child knows all the sounds, they are ready to ‘decode.’
Decodable books are a good first step because they have words where only one sound is represented by one letter. e.g.: ‘h-i-t’ is a decodable word; with three letters and three sounds.
Semi-decodable and phonics books are the next step if the child has mastered all 44 sounds and their corresponding letters. Use songs/verse to help them read. Link reading to writing.
Link their reading focus to home reading
Always sign home reading records to show that you are working with parents and are monitoring the books they take home.
Kids like being ‘The Boss’ of their reading
Kids like to be trusted and be ‘the boss’ of their own reading. They know if the reading sounds ‘smooth like talking’ (fluency) or if they haven’t understood the story or information. Make a point of having a book talk (one-on-one).
Try using a ‘thumbs up or thumbs down’ symbol with them if they enjoyed the book, if it was too hard, too easy, just right, liked the illustrations or if they would recommend the book to another student.
Kids like to be heard, but it doesn’t need to be a long conversation.
Engagement is everything!
Find out what interests the child. Go to the local library as a class, find out when the free story-reading sessions and tell parents, or find reading apps which might suit.
For older students, introduce the topics of natural disasters or famous people. Start them off and hook them in. Ask the student about their favourite movie or book, and work with the theme.
Mix it up.
Set up a book club in the school library and have a stash of ‘special books’ just for the club. Treat it as a privilege. Swap and share books during the session.
Ask the kids to bring in their favourite books and talk about why they like it. Oral language, vocabulary and comprehension are key parts of reading.
Audio books are not cheating, they should be part of all struggling readers’ collections. Listen to audiobooks as a class.
You don’t have to spend hours at a time, just when you can grab ten minutes. It relaxes students to just listen and visualise. If you have fidgety kids, give them a drawing task to do while they are listening.
Read in front of your kids for enjoyment
Read a book, an iPad, a newspaper, an email. It will feel contrived at first but showing reading as part of your routine is being great role model.
Pre-plan and collect a list of cool information to share with your students
Kids will realise that reading gives us interesting information. In time, they will learn to question what they read, developing critical thinking.
They can still question what you read to them without being able to read it themselves. If a child has learning difficulties and is seen to be a ‘low progress reader’, it doesn’t mean they can’t think outside the square and have a valid opinion.
Make it fun. Use the senses to learn rhyme, letters, sounds and words
Not all kids move easily from spoken sounds to print. They need a variety of ways in which to connect with sounds and corresponding letter combinations.
- Hearing: have a double up day when you say rhyming words as part of everyday language. E.g. ‘Can I go to the park/dark?’ Rhyming games help kids to manipulate sounds in words and prepares them for reading.
- Touch and taste: use sandpaper or fabric to trace and cut out letters or words. Say the sounds or words as you feel them with your hands and feet. Perhaps cut letters out of biscuit dough and say sounds as they eat. Say ‘sssss’ while placing a skipping rope on the group in an ‘s’ formation and think of a word with s in it. Remember, focus sounds can be at the end of a word, e.g. ‘kiss’.
- Hearing, moving and seeing: outside, demonstrate writing letters with large sticks in the sand or paint the letter with water and a paintbrush, or giant chalk on the concrete.
Work with your teaching peers and ask to see their reading lessons/classroom set up and tweak what works for them to fit your class.
Time can be an issue but the reward is worth the extra organisation and effort. Behaviours should improve as a result of improved student engagement.
If a struggling reader can read well at the end of the year because of your commitment, then you have done them a huge service. You have set them up to do well in life.