Becoming a Good Reader

Reading to Learn – Not Learning to Read

Becoming a good reader in the primary grades is an important goal for primary students. When students get past the primary grades, they are expected to use reading as a tool for learning. There is little time to spend on mastering the skills of reading. Yet, many students still struggle with fluency and comprehension after third grade.

The two most significant needs of students in grades 4-8 are building fluency skills, strengthening and expanding their vocabulary, and strengthening meaning and comprehension of what is being read.

Becoming a Proficient Reader Takes Practice

Reading is a participation sport. Just like a golfer has to practice hitting the golf ball on the golf course or a tennis player has to practice playing against a worthy opponent to improve their skills, students need to practice their reading to become more fluent and powerful readers.

Practices like “Drop Everything and Read” time (DEAR time) or other sustained independent reading times are helpful ways to encourage more reading. Allowing students to choose books and participate in book clubs or book circles is another way to encourage sustained reading.

Students must actively READ – not talk about reading or complete skill-drill worksheets about discrete reading skills. Students must practice their reading skills by reading authentic text. The more time children spend actually reading, the better readers they become.

When reading is effortless and enjoyable, children can truly lose themselves in the characters’ plight or in learning about content in which they have an intense interest. Good readers often report “getting lost” in a fascinating novel. Or, they might lose track of time while reading about topics they they find interesting. This is when reading takes on a special significance for students. They are now reading to learn important content rather than learning to read.

Building Fluency in Readers

A way to build students’ fluency skills is by re-reading a specific text to practice and refine it. Readers can use audiobooks while following along in a print version of the text. After reviewing the text a few times, they can read it to a peer or teacher to show their proficiency. Kids love it, and fluency soars!

Another fun way to encourage children to practice re-reading and building fluent reading is by using plays and Reader’s Theater in the classroom. A quick internet search will provide many Reader’s Theater scripts for classroom use. Children can also write their own Reader’s Theater scripts and create podcasts of the material for others to enjoy.

Using Reading to Learn in Grades 4-8

Helping Students Increase Reading Speed

Once children can read with good phrasing, expression, and intonation, the next step is helping them increase their reading speed. Research tells us that slow readers often lose interest in reading because it is an uphill struggle that reduces their stamina. Readers who can read fluently have more cognitive energy to devote to making meaning out of the words they read.

Timed reading passages where children practice fluency can increase reading speed and practice with the material at an independent reading level. Practice with appropriate material increases reading speed as children become more comfortable readers. Again, as fluency increases and effort decreases, the brain has more time to process the meaning of the text. This makes reading more enjoyable.


Helping students become proficient readers is the key to helping students experience success in the classroom and enjoy learning. By helping students improve their fluency and expand the number of words they can access quickly and easily, teachers can help students become more proficient readers who can use reading to learn and grow their background knowledge.

If you liked this article, you may like: Helping Struggling Students Meet Reading Standards

Learn more in my book: Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading

Making Connections – Seeing Relationships

Students who have difficulty seeing relationships may also have trouble drawing conclusions, making predictions or drawing inferences. Teachers can help students develop their abilities to see patterns and relationships by giving students many opportunities to classify and visualize data. Classification activities can be as simple as asking students to create a simple wheel with spokes to generating a complex concept map. Once students have organized the information, be sure to have them explain the relationships and why they organized the data in the way they did.

Struggling Readers Learn to Read

Reading Support for Struggling Readers in Reading

Although learning to read with proficiency is a fundamental skill that is essential for success in many areas of life, some older students struggle with reading. This makes it difficult for them to succeed in school and beyond.

While the pandemic was certainly a disrupter for academic success in many content areas student skills in reading proficiency have been less than stellar even before the pandemic.

Average reading scores on the 2022 NAEP test of reading performance fell for both 4th and 8th grade students by 3 points as compared to NAEP scores for 2019.

This has resulted in widening gaps between readers who can read fluently and those who struggle with reading performance.

Decoding Problems for Struggling Readers

Many reading specialists have wondered how best to help these struggling readers. Should they be taught to decode by using phonics programs developed for primary children?

We all know that when students have to spend too much mental energy on decoding, there is little mental energy left for making sense of what has been read. For this reason, comprehension suffers. While students may be able to read simple, one syllable words, they may struggle with multi syllabic words.

As a result, it is vital that older struggling readers learn to read more fluently so that they can spend their mental energy on understanding what they are reading rather than decoding the words they see on the page.

Does Phonics Still Apply for Older Struggling Readers?

Phonics instruction teaches the sounds that letters make and how these sounds combine to form words.

While phonics programs are vital for young readers, there has been much controversy over whether or not these programs are the best way to help older, struggling readers.

Most phonics programs are designed for K-2 students. Since the programs are designed for beginning readers, the emphasis is mostly on decoding basic one syllable words.

The materials may also be more geared to lower elementary students. Older readers may resist this work as”baby work”

Frustrated student saying "to heck with it" in front of a book

Strategies to Help Struggling Readers Learn to Read

Researchers have found that adults use patterning extensively when they read. For example, if you know the word “beak,” you can easily identify the pattern words “leak,” “teak,” and “peak.”

Wylie and Durrell (1970) identified 37 common rime patterns that make up over 500 common words. By teaching struggling readers these patterns, they can use this knowledge to decode new words they encounter while reading.

Additionally, helping older students break words into known word parts can also be a helpful strategy for older readers. Using a knowledge of morphology, or word parts such as prefix, root words and suffixes to decode unknown words is the most common strategy that adult readers use to decode new words while reading.

By teaching struggling readers to break words into parts, they can better understand the structure of words and how they are formed. When students understand root words and the meanings of prefixes and suffixes, they skip fewer words while reading.

These effective practices include:

1: building vocabulary,

2: increasing comprehension through repeated readings of interesting passages

3: paraphrasing what they have understood from the passage

4: constructing and deconstructing word stems, prefixes and suffixes to identify word meaning.

As a result of these findings, some experts argue that phonics instruction is not necessary for older struggling readers. They suggest that struggling readers should instead focus on four key reading skills that include vocabulary expansion, repeated readings, paraphrasing to clarify comprehension, and using morphology to break words into comprehensible parts.

If you liked this article, you may also like: Teaching Word Families and Rime Patterns or Why Students Struggle and What to Do About It