Five Tips to Help a New or Struggling Reader

toddler girl wearing long sleeved top reading book while sitting on bed
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Teaching reading was one of my favorite things to do as a teacher. It is incredibly nuanced and complicated to teach a child to read and it can be hard to explain. However, throughout the years I have identified some keys to reading success that I would use when teaching kindergarten and first grade and especially for any struggling readers.

1. Sight Words and High Frequency Words

There are certain words that can’t be sounded out because they are irregular. These are called sight words because you need to know them from sight. If a child had to stop and figure out various sight words they would not be able to read with fluency and certainly wouldn’t have any understanding of what they were reading. These are words such as, “the, because, from, she.”

High frequency words are typically regular in pattern but are so frequently occurring that it would affect the child’s fluency and comprehension if he was to stop and sound out each one. These are words such as, “in, like, see, much.”

There are wonderfully made lists of sight words and high frequency words separated by age. Typically I would make flash cards with these words or play games.

2. Patterns (Phonics)

When learning to read, we don’t want kids to be sounding out each word from scratch, even the ones that are decodable. It can be very helpful for kids to work with commonly occurring patterns, also known as phonics. Some common patterns would be: an, at, in, sh, ap, ing. There are MANY more. I would work on 1-3 patterns each week. Some kids may need the very basics such as the ‘at’ pattern and some kids are ready for more advanced patterns such as ‘ow, oa, igh.’ You can play games with the patterns, sort pictures by pattern sound, sort words by pattern or simply list as many words as you can think of with that pattern (hat, mat, sat, rat, chat, cat, bat). Great phonics programs I have used are Words Their Way and Letterland.

3. Strategies

It’s not enough to simply say, “sound it out.” Kids don’t know how to do that and we often don’t know how to explain it. How can I make that even simpler? Just sound it out! There are in fact a great deal of strategies that assist kids in decoding (sounding out) unknown words. It can be very helpful to have a list of strategies (with picture clues) next to your child as he reads. Then, when your child gets stuck on a word, you can refer him to the strategies that can be used. I would use the strategies linked above in my classroom. They have very cutesy names such as ‘stretchy snake,’ and ‘chunky monkey.’ Be sure to have a firm understanding of each strategy and discuss how to use each one with your child. For example, ‘chunky monkey,’ involves looking for the phonics patterns we discussed above. If I am decoding the word ‘lap,’ I can use the ‘ap’ pattern and chunk the word into l-ap, instead of l-a-p. It allows your child to decode quicker. The picture cues are very helpful and make it fun!


Ugh. I cannot stress this enough. You are not helping your child by reading the unknown word for her. Instead, prompt your child to use a strategy (see #3). You will not be around every time your child reads and he needs to be able to independently decode unknown words. Guide your child to look at the strategy sheet and try various strategies until she is able to decode the unknown word. Sometimes it might take just one strategy and sometimes your kiddo will need to go through all of them! In the classroom, the only times I told a student an unknown word was if it was one that is irregular and cannot be sounded out, is not a learned sight word and cannot be determined from the context of the sentence. It was rare. I know it will take more time to not read the word for your child, but I promise it will be worth it!

5. Model 

One of the most helpful things you can do is to model using sight words, phonics patterns and reading strategies. Grab a children’s book and model how to read. Pretend to be stuck on words every now and then and model for them what it looks like to use one of their strategies to work through it. Teaching this metacognition is important, this is think aloud time where your child can hear your thought process out loud and use it when it is his turn. This might sound something like, “Hm. I’m stuck on this word. I’m going to use one of my strategies. I’m going to try chunky monkey first. Sh-ip. Ship. I know ‘ship’ is a word. Let me check to see if that makes sense in the sentence. The family walked onto the ship for their vacation. Yup, that makes sense!” You may feel silly doing this, but it won’t sound silly to your child who views you as his/her biggest role model of all!

Leave a comment and let me know if you have found any of these tips helpful with your young reader! I will talk to you soon for the Sunday Seven!


Five Tips to Help a New or Struggling Reader

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An education blog created by Kim. A former elementary school teacher turned stay-at-home mom. Useful tips and tricks from a teacher to parents.

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