Post: How do you teach struggling readers to read?



How do you teach struggling readers to read?

Most classes include at least a couple of struggling readers, but how can teachers offer support to improve their literacy skills?
Struggling Readers

Most classes include at least a couple of struggling readers. Whatever their reason for it – frustration, language or visual processing difficulties or never finding a book of interest these students can leave teachers wondering how to help. Story Seekers books offer support in improving literacy skills among this group. 

Learning to read is a complex process 

Many reluctant readers pick up enough skills to get by in reading for the first couple of years at school. However, by Year 4 the wheels start falling off the reading comprehension wagon. According to Chall, Jacobs and Baldwin (1990), some possible reasons for this change are that students are encountering texts with fewer picture cues and an abundance of new vocabulary. They are also expected to absorb information rather than simply read for plot.  

When students read, they need to both decode and linguistically comprehend, where they interpret meaning from spoken words and sentences. Decoding is where they apply their knowledge of lettersound relationships, including knowledge of letter patterns, to correctly sound out words. Accurate reading comprehension cannot happen unless both decoding skills and linguistic comprehension ability are strong (Gough and Tunmer 1986). 

struggling readers

What ‘struggling readers’ are struggling with?

The challenges of decoding and/or linguistic comprehension can cause problems for struggling readers. 

Decoding – more than just ‘sounding things out’

Struggling readers often compensate for poor decoding by guessing at a word based on the first letter, looking for picture cues or using wider understanding of context. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. To increase reading accuracy, students require a good understanding of the English alphabetic code. Many students develop this understanding through direct instruction and self-made connections in their early years of learning to read. Unfortunately, many other students don’t make these connections. Unless direct intervention makes the alphabetic code explicit, a knowledge gap remains for these students.  

After two years of research and development, the team behind Story Seekers determined that reinforcing the alphabetic code was an integral part of improving the comprehension skills of struggling readers. They created a collection-wide phonemic and phonological scope and sequence. Every Story Seekers title in series 2 has a phonics focus with an accompanying 10-minute phonics lesson plan plus post-reading decoding questions.  

literacy resources

For many teachers, the alphabetic code lesson plans are just what they have been waiting for. Now with Story Seekers, teachers are equipped with a comprehensive understanding of sounds and word patterns. And they can support students working towards reading printed words quickly and accurately.

Story Seekers Literacy

Linguistic comprehension = making meaning

So, what about the other necessary part of the reading comprehension puzzle – linguistic comprehension?  

Linguistic comprehension includes “receptive vocabulary, grammatical understanding, and discourse comprehension” (Catts, Adlof and Weismer 2006). A student can have strong linguistic comprehension skills – that is, they can perceive the meaning in what they are hearing. Yet they can be a poor reader due to weak decoding skills.

Comprehension comes from:

  • having sufficient content knowledge of a topic
  • and higher-order thinking skills like reasoning, imagining and synthesising

These enable students to make meaning from words, sentences and ideas.  

Imagine if a mechanic spoke to you for five minutes about the fuel injection system in your car. If you have little knowledge of fuel injection systems or engines in general, your comprehension will likely be poor. Unless you have a high level of thinking skills to link what you are being told to another mechanical process. Or can identify vocabulary items with similar roots or connections. You would probably find yourself lost. This is what it is like for readers who struggle with linguistic comprehension.

struggling readers

The Story Seekers books address such problems with comprehension in multiple ways:

  1. Topics for both fiction and non-fiction books are based on an understanding of the interests from students (8 to 12 years). Students already have some knowledge and interest in the selected topics such as space, parts of the body, modes of transport and sustainability.
  2. Vocabulary is chosen based on the level of the text. Although the topics are suitable for older primary students, the language is at the reading level of those aged 7- to 7.5-years.
  3. Unfamiliar vocabulary is explicitly addressed, both as part of the text and within the teacher book vocabulary questions.
  4. An independent low-level comprehension activity at the end of each book helps to establish students’ level of basic understanding of the text.
  5. Higher-order thinking questions throughout the text in the teacher book provide many opportunities for rich discussion. 
  6. The images in each book have been carefully chosen or created to provide cues for interpreting the meaning of the text.

Story Seekers Books

Teach struggling readers using Story Seekers 

The integrated approach of developing decoding and comprehension skills is what makes Story Seekers such an effective resource. Story Seekers fills in gaps for struggling readers’ literacy knowledge and understanding.

And, for those students who don’t read because they have never found a book that interests them, place a selection of Story Seekers titles in front of them. The fun stories, fascinating topics and attention-grabbing imagery may be just what they need to get started! 


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