Supporting Readers at Risk

How to Give Struggling Readers the Help They Need

Teacher observing student read
Getty Images/Sean Gallup

Early success in reading is a proven indicator of success in school in general, but not all children come to school with the skills necessary to read. Some children are at increased risk for reading difficulties. They may have a disability that makes reading difficult, or they lack models for literacy at home. Some students are English language learners who lack reinforcement outside of school. For all of these students, differentiation and extra support may make the difference between positive school experiences and the low self-esteem brought on by early failures.

At-Risk Readers in the Inclusion Classroom

Students with lower level reading ability will naturally be part of an inclusion classroom. It's up to the teacher or teachers to find ways of bringing the lesson to the students in a way that they can access it. Below are some ideas for differentiating readers and reading activities in a classroom where some children are struggling.

Preparing for a Supplemental Reading Program

Assess the needs of the students in your classroom. Identify the students who fit the profile for at-risk readers. Your group should not be larger than seven students. Create a space in the classroom where this group can meet while other students are doing more independent work. Routine and consistency are a must. Set aside 20 minutes each day for your reluctant readers, and meet at the same time each day. Establish routines for the other children in your classroom: for example, silent reading, journal writing, puzzles or challenge activities.

Reading Program Topics

Your group will need to master the basics of reading. The program should include opportunities for:

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Phonics
  • Comprehension
  • Spelling and sounding out words aloud
  • Developing a vocabulary of sight words
  • Making connections between reading, writing and speaking
  • Exposure to quality literature that encourages children to read 

    Reading Program Activities

    Below are suggested activities for your group.

    • Select a story or poem for repeated readings 
    • Select individual words from the story for phonetic awareness.
    • Use some of these words to develop phonemic awareness. Ask students to say the word, then isolate each sound in the word, and then brainstorm other words that sound like cat.
    • Develop word family charts and review them often. 
    • Maintain a list of the books that read in the group, and encourage students to practice these books at home.
    • Develop a word bank. Print them out on cards and review them frequently.
    • Focus on letter-sound correspondence.
    • Separate two- and three-syllable words into sounds.
    • Review digraphs and blends: ch, sh, pl, bl, etc.

    Assessing At-Risk Readers

    How well are your students performing at reading tasks? Use this checklist to identify strengths and weaknesses within your group.

    • Knows initial sounds
    • Knows final sounds
    • Self-corrects
    • Is able to isolate sounds
    • Uses structure cues
    • Demonstrates recall
    • Increased sight word vocabulary
    • Beginning to write known words correctly in written activities

    The Parent's Role

    Parents or caregivers should be encouraged to play a role in their child's supplemental reading program.

    Merely asking parents to read to their children and listen to their children read isn't enough. Provide a workshop or two for parents or caregivers to support the program. Make sure to give parents concrete examples of how they can reinforce reading acquisition with at least 15 minutes a night. Working together, teachers and parents / caregivers can make a positive impact on reluctant readers, giving them the early opportunities for success that they need.