Strategies to Help Struggling Readers

April 4, 2016 Updated April 2, 2016

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

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:

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 piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • Literacy
  • Teaching Strategies
  • English Language Arts

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