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Teaching Strategies to Assist Struggling Readers

Janelle Cox

In the early grades, the main focus of language arts is teaching students how to read. Later on, this shifts into reading comprehension. As students climb the ranks in grade level, the subjects and texts climb equally in complexity—and students still struggling to read tend to fall behind. It’s because of this that catching the problem as early as possible—and fixing it—is absolutely essential in order for students to become competent readers.

The reasons some students struggle with reading are many and varied. Some may have trouble decoding words and sounding them out, while others might have a learning disability, or struggle with comprehension. Whatever the case, researchers have found that with the right instruction, an estimated 95 percent of students struggling with reading can be helped.

Fortunately, educators do have a number of teaching strategies at their disposal to help students bolster their reading skills. Overall, reading is a process that involves three stages: Pre-reading, reading, and post reading.

Teaching Strategies for Pre-Reading

Active Prior Knowledge

Arguably one of the most effective pre-reading teaching strategies is to activate students’ prior knowledge beforehand. By doing this, they will be able to connect new information back to what they already know, in addition to generating a level of interest. Many find it less confusing as well, because it sets a defined purpose for what they’re reading.

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Try giving your class a graphic organizer to help provide a clear visual of their purpose. Additionally, a concept map or KWL chart can be beneficial to get students thinking about what they already know about the text.

Skim and Scan Text

Comprehension is another major problem plaguing those that struggle with reading. The skim-and-scan technique is another pre-reading strategy, helping students think about a text’s title, major headings, introduction, and so on—all before they even begin reading. Direct your class to read with a purpose by posing them questions prior: Ask, “What do you think this text is going to be about?” or “What can you conclude by looking at the cover alone?”

During Reading

ReQuest Strategy

The ReQuest strategy also assists with comprehension by helping students to analyze what they’re reading. Pupils will read a passage silently, and stop after each sentence (or paragraph) to answer questions about what they’ve just read. The teacher can ask these questions, or another student can ask them as a peer activity.

Cloze Strategy

This strategy works to increase reading speed, accuracy, and critical listening skills. Start the exercise yourself—read the first section of the excerpt and stop at targeted words or phrases. After discussion, go around the room and allow each student to pick up reading aloud while others continue reading silently to follow along. This will allow each child to take turns “clozing” the text.

After Reading

Concept Map/Think Links

A concept map, or think links, directs students to write the main topic of what they have read in the center of a piece of paper, and then build on that with details (links) around that topic. It’s taking the information from the reading, and organizing it visually to improve understanding.

Reflection Journal

A reflection journal provides students with a creative way to reflect upon what they have just read using their own words. Have your class copy a question or quote from the text, and respond to it in their journal—alternatively, they can free write what they have just learned in the text.

Jigsaw Cooperative Learning Strategy

The Jigsaw learning strategy breaks the text up into smaller chunks. It allows students to teach their peers what they have read, as well as consult with others that read the same section. For this post-reading strategy, break your class up into small groups. Each group member is assigned a specific section of the text to read—when they have finished, they must go back to their group and teach their peers what they have learned. They can also consult with others who have read the same section as them to gain insight and get ideas.

Each of the three reading stages is equally as important for students’ reading success. The key to helping a struggling reader is to continue to add effective strategies during the course of the school year—connecting to prior knowledge, questioning, and working with peers, have all proven to be highly effective.

How do you help struggling readers in your classroom? Do you have any tips that you would like to share? Feel free to leave a comment below, we would love to hear your ideas.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.