Struggling Readers

How to Teach Reading Skills to Struggling Readers - Help for Desperate Parents & a List of Reading Strategies for Struggling Readers! (Tips: How to Teach a Struggling Reader)

If you need to know how to teach a struggling reader, check out this article to get started on knowing how to teach reading skills to elementary students & struggling readers (of any age for reading!).

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This article explains more about how to teach reading skills to struggling readers, in particular. If you would like additional or more general strategies, check out this page on how to teach reading. However, these reading interventions for struggling readers are ideas to keep in mind for all readers!

If you have asked yourself, "I need to know how to help my child read better," or find yourself with a student who struggles in reading, there are actionable, specific things you can do to help.

Before trying to search for a solution to help your student, first consider what the struggle looks like when your child actually reads (or tries to read).

1. Your child cannot sound out the basic letter sounds very well, and doesn't seem to know what sound some letters make together.

If so, then this could be a problem with their basic phonics knowledge as it relates to letter recognition, letter-sound recognition, and phonemes/blending.

  • What you can work on: 
    1. Review the SOUNDS of the alphabet (not the just the names of the letters, although those have importance too).
    2. Review basic phonics instruction with emphasis on phonemes and blends. Find fun, ACTIVE ways to ingrain the blends of letters for your child. Instead of spinning your wheels "sounding out" words endlessly, go back a bit and solidify learning of phonics blends. You can even integrate educational apps like ABCmouse to learn phonics skills.
    3. Begin to introduce and drill a few sight words each week to their vocabulary so they can see some bit of success with high frequency words in between words they don't know.
    4. Continue reading to your child out loud.
    5. Check out this more in depth article > about how to teach letter sounds to struggling students, which includes a link to some flip cards to strengthen phonemic letter skills.
  • Encouragement:  Even if you have an older child who is struggling with this, simply taking the time out with them individually to solidify his learning of letter sounds and blends can really boost his reading. Even though it seems too late to go back to the basics of sounds, since your reader has been exposed to text for longer, it is possible that he'll pick it up quickly if you both take the time to go back to phonics.

2. Your child cannot read the individual words easily. He has to sound out every.single.word.

This is similar to the problem above although in this case, your child does seem to grasp the letter sounds and blends, but just cannot seem to pull them together to sound out words easily.  

  • What you can work on:
    1. Continue to solidify phonics instruction with rhyming games while reading similar sound poems and books each day.
    2. Add 3-4 new memory sight words to their vocabulary each week to give them a set of words they don't feel like they must labor over.
    3. Help them "chunk together" parts of the word. As your child reads, slide your finger across the word stopping at different "chunks" of sounds. It is similar to sounding out the word but in a slightly different way. Teach your child how to break down segments of words.
    4. Allow them to use a pointer or ruler to slide over the words as they read. Through time and practice, they'll start "chunking" the words together as a habit and the reading will start to come! Continue to read aloud to your child as often as you can.
    5. Encourage him to look at the words as you read aloud to him.
  • Encouragement: You are not alone! Many children get stuck at this point in the process. Don't give up on your student. It takes time, but it will happen with practice! Let your child see you enjoying reading. Encourage your child to try words when you are out and about (restaurant menus, street signs, instructions on games they play or the Netflix menu)

3. Your child does not want to read.

Your child can read, but she just doesn't want to! This can be so frustrating, especially for a parent who is an avid reader and wants to help their child read at home.

What you can work on:

    1. Most importantly: Read TO your child to take off the stress and get them to WANT that next chapter. And as you read out loud, do it with great EXPRESSION and make it fun!
    2. Determine if your child has an underlying struggle or difficulty reading that makes reading more work than fun. (Read on for more ideas to find out what that could be).
    3. Provide great reading material. Get on Pinterest and type in keywords for what you are looking for. (funny books for boys, mystery books for girls, whatever your child might have an interest in. People put collections of books for kids on Pinterest all the time so this could be a goldmine!)
    4. Require a set time of reading each day but don't make it a long time. Reading can be a muscle that needs to be stretched with practice. Particularly during long empty days, set aside a time they need to read and let them choose the reading material. Comics or magazines are a great start for older kids who might be a bit intimidated by a long novel.
    5. Monitor screen time. Aside from the fact that we all should be doing this anyway just for the sake of our kid's health, if your child has a set amount of time each day when she is not allowed to be attached to a screen, she may drift toward books if she is looking for something to do!
    6. As an addition to #4 above, make sure you have plenty of FUN reading material laying around (in the car, in their room, on the coffee table, in a book basket by the fireplace..)
    7. Consider the points on this article for further reading about improving your child's comprehension skills.


  • Encouragement:  You are definitely not the only one. From my point of view as a parent, bookworm type kids are now a minority in this day and age. But that doesn't mean we give up on books and don't keep working on our kids to love reading! Just know that you are surrounded by other parents trying to accomplish the same goal in a sea of digitization. Even for kids of older ages (all ages for reading count!), don't stop reading aloud to them!

4. Your child can read the text very well, but cannot tell you a thing about what she just read.

Instead of having a problem with the mechanics of reading, this student has trouble comprehending the text. The way to work on this problem is to focus on comprehension activities to boost understanding in reading.

  • What you can work on:
    1. Have your child retell in their own words or summarize often for you as they read, by paragraphs or sections of text.
    2. Ask lots of questions frequently about what he is reading.
    3. Discuss the story/text in lots of different ways. (Predicting what will happen in a story, asking why a character is doing things, talking about what the story means, discussing how it makes you feel).
    4. Focus on activities that reinforce comprehension skills. (Retelling the story in creative ways, such as reader's theater or recreating on video, re-telling with puppets.)
    5. Work on memory skills with mnemonics (a technique used such as a very short poem or a special word used that can help a person remember something: ) Help your student learn how to retell or summarize after each paragraph or chunk of text in a story.


  • Encouragement: The skill of comprehension gets better with practice, practice, practice! Eventually you will see improvement in your child. Just keep reading with and to your student, adding in these valuable discussion strategies.

***Looking for a robust reading program for your struggling reader?

I recommend taking a look at the All About Reading curriculum. Check out my full overview and review here! ***

5. He can read the words, but it sounds boring, slow and choppy.

This problem points to the fluency of the reader. Fluency is an ability to read text proficiently, quickly, and with proper expression.  There are several ways to continue building fluency in struggling readers.

  • What you can work on if your child has fluency reading difficulties: 
    1. Become an amazing storyteller and read to your child often.
    2. Listen to books on tape together. (Even better if your child can follow along with the text.)
    3. Focus on activities that reinforce fluency skills. (Reading to a partner, )
    4. Have your child copy the way you read a sentence. Practice reading with expression.
    5. Continue working on groups of sight words, even into the upper grades for easy word recall, particularly with the most high frequency words.  
    6. Begin teaching reading activities such as games to improve speed of reading, whether with sight words or short passages.
    7. Allow your students to record themselves as they read an expressive passage. Then have them listen to themselves and see if they can improve the way they sound. 
    8. You can also read this article >> about reading fluency to improve your child's reading in this area.

***VIDEO for help with Reading Fluency

And.. you can play THIS VIDEO that I found on YouTube by GoNoodle to get them to read with EXPRESSION. WARNING though, this song might be in your head all day.

Side note! If your child struggles, forcing him to read silently or out loud for 30-45 minutes each night is not helpful at all. Have him practice in short increments - maybe 10 or so minutes at a time.

Otherwise you are in danger of creating a hatred of reading. It's true that kids need to practice reading often in order to become better readers. BUT do so wisely with a struggling reader. 

If your child's teacher insists upon large chunks of reading at night, and this is torture for you and your child, I would suggest you spend a good majority of that time reading aloud TO your child (or having them listen to an audio book or another family member). 

And make sure while you read together, your child has a nice hot mug of cocoa or a cozy blanket to cuddle in. *wink, wink!** But - you get the picture! Make it a time that is looked forward to every day, not dreaded.

**VIDEO: The effects of reading just a small amount each day to your child can make an incredible difference.

(I encourage you not to let this video make you feel guilty, but to be inspired to READ!)

Other considerations:

These are but a general overview of general reading struggles to keep in mind as you are teaching reading strategies to your beginner.

Each child is a different individual with unique ways of learning, and there will be different methods of teaching reading in primary school & every homeschool.

Although every child needs similar basics (like boosting them with the best breakfast foods for readers in the morning), the way you approach your child will be dependent upon the struggles that he or she encounters. There are many other additional factors that can affect the reading level of a child, such as:

  • The age of your student (Pushing reading too early, when a student isn't ready. Or, possibly overlooking an older student who had skipped the basics of reading with little phonics instruction). A first grader not reading may or may not have the same issues as an older elementary child not reading & a deeper look may help.
  • Possible brain-centered issues, such as dyslexia, ADHD or processing difficulties.
  • Visual processing issues (This is more of a problem with the way eyesight is transferred to the brain. Even if your child has been screened and has 20/20 vision, there are 17 visual processing skills needed that could be a underlying cause of reading problems.) To see if your child has any of these issues, you may need to have them seen at a behavioral / developmental optometrist for a comprehensive evaluation (different than just a regular optometrist). Check out this page >> Vital Visual Skills to learn more. Also this Facebook Group >> Vision Therapy Parents Unite has a lot of helpful information if you think this could be a factor for your child!
  • Other physiological issues (eyesight- needs glasses, hearing, anxiety, etc.)
  • Psychological issues (anxieties or other conditions)

As you seek to understand why your child struggles, keep these ideas in mind.

Consult with your pediatrician to eliminate possible factors.

Seek the help of a hired or school reading specialist to have your student evaluated.

Ask other parents online and in your community who have dealt with the same struggles that you are facing. This is what I have worked on so hard this year as I've learned alongside my son.

You are fully capable of knowing how to teach an ADHD child to read, as well as a child with dyslexia, vision problems, or other issues. You can do it!

There is always the resource of Google to find initial information, using search terms like "How to teach a child to read with ADHD". Just be sure to take internet knowledge with a grain of salt. Always seek the advice of a credentialed specialist for a true determination.

So.. how to help a child who has reading difficulties or how to teach a struggling reader?

Find the answer by keeping in mind the above points as you listen to your child read and as you listen to what your child has to say about reading. Investigate the source - your child!

Ask him what he finds difficult about reading. Ask specific questions. Once you have an idea of what the problem actually is, you can then begin to try different ways to fix the underlying issues.

There are many great activities for struggling readers that you can tailor to your child. Remember and be encouraged that there are plenty of reading intervention activities for kids with ADHD, dyslexia, and all of the struggle-issues mentioned above!

Methods of teaching reading in primary school will vary from school to home. But these type struggles in reading are fairly universal and your child most likely fits into one of these categories. Figure out what their specific struggle is, and you can begin to overcome it!

Reading is a long game. Daily persistence and reading to your child will pay off over time. Be your child's best advocate and cheerleader, giving lots of praise for every single one of your child's successes, and take it one day at a time.

You can do this!

Forever a reader for life, 


P.S. - Did you grab your free reading milestone progression chart? Don't forget to grab those here for the freebies and a great limited-time discount for parents of struggling readers!

More information for teaching struggling readers:


More information for teaching beginning readers: