George Lucas Educational Foundation

Strategies to Help Struggling Readers

Strategies to Help Struggling Readers

More Related Discussions
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Reading: Engaging with complex text. Understanding & Analyzing Texts

Many of our struggling readers have a difficult time reading and engaging with complex text. There are several strategies that can help them to engage in actively reading the text as well as applying critical thinking skills while reading to later engage in writing.

Identify Fiction vs Non-Fiction

One way to help struggling readers to engage with complex text is to first understand the difference between a non-fiction and a work of fiction. We can do this by creating a classroom chart and brainstorming the differences on each side, with some examples.

The chart can include all the elements that make up a story: Setting, characters, themes, etc. As well as the components that make up a work of nonfiction: Thesis statement, evidence, diagrams, labels, research, data etc.

Vocabulary/Terminology Comprehension

Many of our struggling readers shut down when there is unfamiliar vocabulary, terminology, or concepts in the reading. Familiarizing students with non-fiction by introducing vocabulary and terminology that might appear in non-fictional text can help to eliminate reading road blocks.

This may include elemental and content terminology such as:

  • Thesis statement
  • Evidence
  • Concluding sentence
  • Literary techniques

Brainstorm & Categorize Genres, for example:

  • Drama
  • Poetry
  • Short Story
  • Documentary

By helping students become familiar with content specific vocabulary, we are helping them identify which keywords are important to distinguish, and engage with critically, and which words to skip when skimming the text. There are many vocabulary building activities that you can do with the students to help them to remember and understand certain terminology:

Grouping vocabulary words together into categories can help students to understand the different elements of fiction versus non-fiction.

-For fun vocabulary activities, think about using social media with students to help them learn vocabulary words.

-One activity can be for students to create funny videos or tweets of definitions.

-Another strategy is to ask students to locate specific elements in text that define the vocabulary words related to the content of the genre, ie:identify where the evidence is? Underline the topic sentence, etc.

-Have students create their own memes of their favourite literary strategy: Metaphor, irony, etc.

Activate: Pre-Reading Activities

“Struggling readers often have a difficult time transferring old knowledge to new situations.” ~ (Kelly, et al)

Spend the first 10–15 minutes of class to engage readers with subject of the text they’re about to read.

Consider the following when designing pre-reading activities:

  • What’s the students’ background knowledge about the subject/text that is being discussed?
  • What is their interest level? (This can be gauged by asking students in the beginning of the lesson or the day before)
  • What would they like to know about the topic?
  • How can this text/subject be connected to their everyday life?
  • Is this topic relevant to them?

Some suggestions for pre-reading activities:

  • Fiction: Show a short clip of a video that relates to the subject/theme of the text. Ask students to share or record their initial thoughts about it.
  • Fiction: Share a photograph or an image with students and ask them to reflect on what it may symbolize.
  • Informational text: share a tweet or a Facebook post related to the reading, and have students discuss the topic.
  • Informational text: have students debate both sides of the argument presented in the text before reading. Then compare and contrast their points with the ones the article makes.

Activate students’ Prior Knowledge on the topic:

What is one thing you know about…

When did … happen?

Can you recall…?

If you were to describe … in two sentences, what would they be?

What is one thing you want to know about…?

Reading: Scaffolding Reading of Complex Text:

  • Read text aloud with students.
  • Make sure to revisit vocabulary words you discussed/introduced in the beginning of class.
  • Define other vocabulary words that you came across when reading. Provide examples outside of context of the text.
  • Use chunking as an effective reading strategy to scaffold complex text.
  • Ask students comprehension questions that can only be answered if they read the text closely.
  • Make sure to ask for evidence to prove the answers to the comprehension questions.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (12) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Elean P's picture

Thanks a lot Rusul, I look forward to trying this suggestions. Up till now he's been reading contemporary summaries of the different chapters which have helped with understanding but he gets stumped when he has to explain a quote from the story and how it relates to the storyline.

Lisa_MCcoy's picture
Parent. Teacher. Budding Writer

Nice post! I would try and use a few of these ideas in my class

Martin Diaz Alvarez's picture
Martin Diaz Alvarez
Business Consultant

Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas. This will surely helps me a lot and other readers out there.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

That is usually a difficult aspect of analysis. One tip that might help is to try and identify what the theme of the quote is, then explain how this relates to the overall larger theme of the play. Here is a writing resource website that you might find helpful for him too: I share this with all my students as it contains a lot of information relating to writing, research etc.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Thank you so much, I really appreciate your kind words.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Thanks so much, let me know if I can help in any way!

alextobin's picture


I just read your post about the importance of annotations in text and could not agree more! Not only is annotating important but also for students to be able to explain their annotations and give reasons behind why they wrote them is huge! As a 3rd grade teacher, students will face complex text on our End of the Year reading test. Student's who have mild to moderate disabilities in reading are also expected to take these tests. I think we are doing them a huge disservice if we do not expose them to complex text as well as give them strategies for getting through it on a regular basis! When they annotate their text or discuss their annotations with their table partners, they are reiterating what the text is saying as well as making other connections and listening to their partner's thoughts...ultimately gaining comprehension!

Renea D.'s picture


Thanks for sharing! I am always searching for new strategies to assist my struggling readers. I conduct read aloud think aloud daily. Prior to reading any text, fiction or nonfiction, I attempt to activate prior knowledge. I have used K-W-L charts in the past to help students make a connection. Are there any other engagement strategies that you can suggest when opening a lesson?

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Hi Renea, what grade do you teach? I use something similar to the KWL chart, but a bit more complex since my students are older. When opening lesson you can try to engage in a discussion about the topic/theme: ask them to write down their thoughts on topic theme and have them share it with a small group, then get volunteers to share their thoughts with the rest of the class. Another idea is to get them to brainstorm what comes to mind when they hear the theme/topic. Another strategy that I use but sparingly so it doesn't get too repetitive is to get them to watch a short clip that's related to theme/topic text/ and have them discuss it or write a short reflection about it after.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.