Teaching Strategies to Effectively Support Struggling K-12 Readers

Reading is one of life’s most essential skills. It improves memory and focus, helps boost communication skills, enhances mental health and improves the ability to learn and retain new things. As a result, reading is vital to success in school and work and crucial to nearly every facet of life.


Introducing reading skills to children before they are speaking can lay the groundwork for fundamental language use. Books expose children to vocabulary and grammar they may not hear otherwise. Reading doesn’t come easy to everyone. Some students are reluctant readers because it’s difficult and they associate it with frustration. Others might have competing interests or activities.


In the online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Reading Education program from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), students learn how to support and inspire struggling readers in their literacy journeys.


Supporting Reluctant Readers

Researchers have identified three main types of struggling readers. There are students with specific-word, specific-comprehension and mixed-reading difficulties. Teachers can help students access books with vocabulary that matches their ability by employing popular strategies to help struggling readers. Reading problems can affect student performance in school and everyday life.


Building reading skills in the classroom starting at an early age is considered a critical first step in education, according to researchers who found students with poor reading comprehension often have poor grammar and understand fewer spoken words than others. Educators suggest teaching thinking skills and building vocabulary beginning in preschool to have fewer reluctant readers down the road.


Learning to Read and Reading to Learn

At the end of third grade, after gaining a foundation in learning to read, students should be reading to learn. That is a high expectation and especially stressful for students who may not have mastered critical foundational reading skills. Experts say without these fundamental skills, students may never become confident readers and often disengage from learning without help.


A special report from Education Week implores educators to support students’ social-emotional needs, especially as they get older. “By the time kids hit 3rd or 4th grade, if they’re still having a tough time [with reading], they view it as a failing on their part,” writes Elizabeth Jaeger. “Reading is such a core part of being successful in school, and they see themselves as not being able to do that … ‘All these other kids just like me are doing just fine, and I can’t seem to get it together.’ That’s just a really heavy burden, I think, for a lot of kids and that’s the heart of their vulnerability.”


Reading Intervention

When struggling readers reach middle school, many have low self-esteem and are angry at their teachers and themselves. Researchers say it’s rare for struggling students to ask for help, making it all the more important for educators to intercede with support. Reading support should be offered to students as early and often as needed.


Teachers have many classroom strategies to help struggling readers. In a diverse classroom, these ideas will help teachers get started.


  1. Learn about students’ interests and incorporate them into teaching.
  2. Get to know families and be sensitive to individual lives and schedules.
  3. Inspire literacy at home by lending books to students overnight.
  4. Expose students to tutoring services before, after and outside of school.


It is necessary to point out to students that reading and writing are fun and part of every person’s life. The more students that experience this message, the easier it will be to understand the importance of learning to read.


Impacting Future Readers

In an article about reading disabilities and reading difficulties, Kathryn Drummond, Ph.D., writes that students wage many different battles with reading. Experts estimate there to be more than 10 million struggling readers in K-12 schools at any given time. On a positive note, more than 90% can overcome these struggles and succeed as readers with appropriate early intervention.


Educators are needed to help build foundational knowledge and teach reading to students who need special assistance. FGCU’s online M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction, Reading Education program prepares graduates to inspire diverse populations of readers with difficulties. Courses such as Issues in Comprehension, Cognition & Content Reading or Instruction for Struggling Readers train educators to assess and improve student performance through effective instructional strategies.


This FGCU online program teaches the foundations of curriculum and instruction and educational research and design. The program also helps graduates pursue careers in positions such as reading specialist, curriculum and instruction coordinator, curriculum specialist or reading instructional coordinator.


Learn more about FGCU’s online M.Ed. Curriculum & Instruction, Reading Education program.

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