Improving Reading Skills in Students with Reading Difficulties

Improving reading skills in students with reading difficulties is an essential task for classroom teachers.

Reading is a participation sport!  It can’t be emphasized enough that if we want children to become strong and capable readers, they must READ – plain and simple. 

Think about it.  How would you do it if you wanted to improve at your favorite sport?  First, you would ensure that you had any equipment needed (books), and then you would ensure you had time to practice (reading).  If you wanted to get really good, you would probably find someone good at this sport to keep you company (friends to talk about books with). Finally, you might also hire a coach (a good reading teacher) to help you improve your abilities. 

What Does the Research Say About Improving Reading Skills?

Researcher Anderson and colleagues reported that students in basal-dominated classrooms spent up to 70% of their reading instructional time completing worksheets instead of actively reading. Researchers found that time actually spent reading is what correlates with higher reading competency. The more students read, the more capable readers students become.

It seems logical that the more someone practices, the better they become at doing what they have been practicing. Unfortunately, what seems logical is not always what happens in classrooms nationwide. The research indicates that students perceived as “low” or struggling readers in many classrooms spent less time reading than their better-performing peers. What’s that about? 

Teenage girl relaxing on a bed with a book.

The greater the need, the more it stands to reason that those with the greatest need should be doing more reading – not less. Take the time to assess how much actual reading goes on in your class and find ways to increase it. Remember, reading is a participation sport which gets better with practice.

Reading is a fundamental skill that serves as the cornerstone of academic success. However, not all students develop the skills they need to become successful readers. Some students struggle with word identification, while others can speak the words but cannot make meaning out of the words they have read.

To address this issue, teachers must employ effective strategies that cater to the diverse needs of these students. This report outlines eight essential ideas that help students who struggle with reading become more effective readers.

Idea 1: Build Background Knowledge

Background knowledge plays a pivotal role in comprehension. The more students know about a topic, the better they can understand what they read. To build background knowledge, educators can leverage nonfiction texts and articles written at an appropriate reading level. Teachers should encourage students to explore multiple sources related to the subjects they are studying. This knowledge can reinforce their background knowledge and help them grasp challenging concepts more quickly.

Idea 2: Providing Feedback

Provide Regular Feedback: Offer constructive feedback to help students identify areas for improvement. Please encourage them to set goals for their reading skills and monitor their progress. Collaborate with Specialists: Work closely with special education teachers, speech therapists, and literacy specialists to create individualized plans for struggling readers.

Idea 3: Allow for Student Choice

Empowering students with choices in their reading materials is a powerful motivator. By offering a diverse range books and materials, including those on the grade level, teachers can provide equitable access to content that suits individual preferences and learning needs. This approach reduces stress and emotional frustration and encourages students to take ownership of their learning. Allowing students to choose what they read fosters a sense of independence. It encourages them to engage more deeply with the material.

Idea 5: Offer Multi-sensory Reading Techniques

Multi-sensory reading techniques are helpful for students struggling with reading. Some examples are using manipulatives, gestures, speaking, and auditory cues, which can provide the scaffolds students need to learn letters and sounds. Elementary children can use techniques like “say the word, touch the word, and spell it” to increase their awareness of how letters and sounds go together to make words we know and use regularly. Combining visual, auditory, and tactile neural pathways strengthens written language learning.

Techniques like using a marker to highlight the text as it’s read can visually connect the ideas and spoken words. This synchrony between written and spoken language enhances comprehension and bridges the gap when fluency is still developing. Human-read audiobooks with students following along in printed text are powerful tools to improve reading comprehension, as they support auditory and visual learning preferences. These audiobooks expose students to new words and phrases and provide explicit modeling of word reading and fluency. As students listen to these audiobooks, they naturally encounter a more comprehensive range of vocabulary, which positively affects their overall reading proficiency.

Idea 6: Differentiated Instructional Strategies

Use differentiated instructional strategies that meet the needs of each student.  Tailor your teaching approach to meet the unique needs of each student. Recognize that struggling readers may require additional support and modifications to reach their full potential.

Idea 7: Strengthen and Expand Vocabulary

Vocabulary acquisition is a crucial aspect of reading comprehension. Researchers have reported that the size of a student’s vocabulary significantly predicts reading success. To strengthen students’ vocabulary, educators can expose students to new words by playing word games in the classroom, highlighting new words, and using them frequently in classroom conversation. Exposing students to morphology helps them learn new words in smaller chunks. How many of us passed those achievement tests we had to take in high school to get into college by tearing words apart into their prefixes, suffixes, and root words? Using word parts to determine word meaning is a life skill that most adults use regularly when they come to words they don’t know.

Idea 8: Open the Door to Discussion Between Students

Discussion and dialogue about what students read are essential for enhancing comprehension. When students are engaged in discussion about the content of what they are reading, talking about their insights and understandings is a meaningful way to connect with their peers and the school community. Access to the same materials their peers use builds students’ confidence and self-belief. This leads to a stronger sense of belonging. Discussions allow students to clarify their understanding, ask questions about any areas of confusion, and gain insights from their peers.

Young girl with classes reading a book.

Building and Supporting Strong Readers

Teaching students who struggle with reading requires a multifaceted approach that incorporates building background knowledge, offering student choice, providing multi-sensory reading experiences, strengthening vocabulary, and fostering meaningful discussion about what students learn from their reading. By implementing these strategies and best practices, teachers can empower struggling readers to improve their reading skills and succeed academically.

You Might Also Enjoy Karen’s Book: Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading

Or These Articles:

How to Enhance Student Reading with Audio Books

Struggling Readers Learn to Read