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Teaching Strategies for Struggling Learners

Janelle Cox

As a teacher, there’s nothing worse than seeing a student struggle when learning. When learning becomes too difficult for students they tend to withdraw, or for some, they act out. To prevent this from happening, and help students gain motivation and clarity, we can use teaching strategies to simplify concepts to help them better understand them. Here are a few teaching strategies to help you.

Teaching Strategies: The Chunking Method

Teachers have used the “Chunking method” to help simplify concepts for quite some time, and they use it because it works. Chunking is breaking down the word or concept into smaller parts. For example, if a student was struggling with the word “Irrational,” you could start by having the student clap or tap the syllables of the word, then break the word into chunks so they can visualize it.

Another example of how you can break down a concept is to teach it in isolation. If the students don’t understand what the word “Irrational,” means then you need to explain it them. Once they understand what it means, then you can reintroduce it in context.

You can also try using the concept of sequencing. Students can first learn how to sequence by using picture cards, then they can move on to sequencing a story. By breaking it down one by one, the student will slowly begin to understand the concept. Once students can master sequencing, they’ll have an easier time being able to master the “Chunking method” on their own.

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Use Visuals

When struggling students are having a hard time, visuals are one of the best tools that you can use to help them understand a concept. They are great because they can turn an abstract concept into a concrete one. Manipulatives, graphic organizers, charts, and posters are all wonderful visuals that can help turn a difficult concept into an easy one. Manipulatives like tiles and cubes can help students who need to touch, feel, and see what you are talking about, while graphic organizers, charts, and posters can all help with any other subject that students are finding difficult. Whenever possible, be sure to always use a visual.

Teach to Student Learning Style

The best way that you can help a struggling student is to figure out how they learn best. If you know your student is a kinesthetic learner, then you can have them use manipulatives to learn a difficult concept. If they are more musical, then you need to find a way to incorporate music into the concept they are having difficulty understanding. Every child learns differently, and it’s up to you to figure out how they learn best. Once you know this information, it can help you simplify the difficult concept for the child.

Help Define Concepts

A lot of the time when students are stuck, it’s because they don’t understand the vocabulary. In order for students to understand a word, you’ll need to define it, or rephrase it into an easier term. If it’s not the term they don’t understand, then maybe it’s the rule. If they don’t understand a certain rule, then you’ll have to define or rephrase that as well. A lot of the time, the students who are struggling in math or science don’t understand the vocabulary word or term. The best way to help these students it to define the word in order for them to really grasp and understand the concept. If word problems in math are the issue, then you can hang a poster with the “Key” words on it for student reference.

Use Real-World Examples

Children need to be able to relate to what they are learning in order for them to truly understand it. By using real-world examples to help simplify a concept, you are essentially helping students make connections to what they are having a difficult time understanding. For example, let’s say that your struggling student is having a hard time understanding probability. You can use the example of the tossing of a coin or the rolling of a die to help them make that connection. Another example is if a student didn’t understand that a duck was, in fact, a bird. You can help them connect these two facts by showing them photographs of what all birds have in common, as well as have them look up bird facts. The more real-world examples that you use, the better they’ll understand the concept.

When you use any of the teaching strategies mentioned above, be sure to have students use these methods over and over again. The more they practice, they better they will be able to use them on their own.

How do you help your struggling learners understand difficult concepts? Please share your teaching strategies in the comment section below, we’d love to hear what works for your students.


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 Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.