If you’re a teacher working with students who are struggling to read, you know it can be a very frustrating experience for both you and the student. And if you’re the parent of a struggling reader, you’re frustrated as well. You realize how important it is to develop a strong foundation in reading early on, but you may not know what to do to help.
Though there isn’t a definitive explanation as to why some children struggle to read while others find it easy, part of the reason is the brain in a child who has difficulty reading is different than the brain of a proficient reader. These children may have reading disabilities (though that isn’t always the case) and will need extra support to catch up.
However, all children will benefit from the following strategies.
What Parents Can Do
One of the most important things a parent can do is to read to their child. But simply reading to them isn’t enough. When a child is struggling to read other strategies are needed.
If comprehension is a problem, make sure you ask plenty of questions as you read the story. “How do you think the boy feels right now? Look at his face. Does he look sad or happy?” This can help with understanding that pictures often give clues to what is going on in a story.
When shopping point out words to your child. Pick up a carton of orange juice and say, “What word do you think says juice?”
Give your child magazines and have them circle certain words like “and” and “the” every time they appear on a page.
Remember patience and understanding is critical. If children feel you’re disappointed or think they aren’t trying hard enough, they’re likely to stop trying in your presence. This can carry on to the classroom as well.
A Teacher Strategy –Working With Phonemes
It’s now widely accepted that proper phonics instruction is crucial to reading. Here is a fun activity that involves manipulating phonemes.
Review with students that all words are composed of letters and these letters make individual sounds (phonemes.) Explain to students they will be playing a listening game and the goal is to change a word by taking out or adding different phonemes to parts of the word.
Call out a word. For example, take.
- Ask students to remove one sound (the k sound, for example) and add another sound (like the l sound) to what’s left over creating the word tail.
- Say the new word tail together and ask students to remove and add another phoneme sound (change the t to j and create the word jail.)
- Continue playing until all the letter sounds have been replaced.
This game allows children to “hear it for themselves” and recognize that changing letters in the word not only creates a brand new word but creates a brand new meaning as well. The word take not only looks different than the word jail, the two have entirely different meanings. Just another way to reinforce the core principle of the written language – that letters have sounds, that sounds make words, and that words make meaning.