How to Help a Struggling Reader

How to Help Your Struggling Reader

One frequently asked question I tend to have by clients and friends with children is, “How do I help a struggling reader?”  Or better yet, “How do I help my struggling reader succeed at home?”  This seems to be the central question on the minds of those who have children or grandchildren who are trying to “survive” in the classroom, as well as during homework time.

Frustrated Reader
Trying to survive during homework time.

There is no “one” set way to help every frustrated child who is attempting to learn to read, or to read more fluently.  Every child is equipped with strengths. These are our God given gifts.  The key is to capitalize on each child’s strengths so that he/she will gain a greater self esteem.

This will, in turn, enable them to want to tackle those tasks that don’t come as easily to them.  These are their weaknesses.  We all have them.  The main goal is to know how to help these struggling readers overcome their limitations and thrive while learning!  The earlier we can intervene and help these frustrated readers, the easier it will be to get them caught up, and hopefully, flourishing while reading, instead of merely trying to survive.

Having Fun Reading
We want our kids to thrive while reading!

Something Your Child May Have Missed Out on in School

In a previous post, I shared with you my 1st year teacher’s nightmare!  And believe me, it was a nightmare, as I tried to teach my 1st graders to read without the help of any kind of phonetics program whatsoever.  I was frustrated and ready to give up by the end of the year.

Total Stress
Teaching a child to read without using phonics can be stressful.

I’m not saying that phonics works for every single child,  However, it has been proven over and over again that children who have a solid phonetic base, learn to read faster, and comprehend what they are reading at a much higher rate than children who are only taught using sight words.

Many of the kiddos I have tutored over the last 10 years have not been exposed to phonics of any kind.  It’s disheartening when I start tutoring a child who is in middle school, but find out that he/she can only read and comprehend what they are reading on a 3rd or 4th grade level.  This happens more than you can imagine.  They have missed out on key elements that can make them successful.  The great thing is that it is not too late for these kids!

It’s never too late to teach a child to read!

It is ideal for a child to be reading fluently by the 2nd grade, but I believe that children can learn at any age!  Actually, adults can even become successful readers, if they’re just taught the right strategies!

Some Simple Things You Can do to Help Your Child at Home

When I sat down to write this, I had to stop and think of some “easy” ideas to share with you, so that you, as parents and caregivers of children, can help your children learn to read more easily.  I have been teaching kiddos to read for almost 31 years now!  I think I could even do it in my sleep!  In fact, I think sometimes I actually do while I’m dreaming!  So… I would like to share some simple strategies for teaching reading that will, hopefully, be easy enough for you to understand and implement!

Below, I have listed some simple things, italicized and highlighted in dark blue, that you can do at home to help your child get up and going with the reading process!  I have partnered with an awesome publishing company, Carson Dellosa Publishing.  I have literally been buying their materials since I began teaching!  If you’re interested in checking out some of their products, please feel free to click on one of the words highlighted in dark blue.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Affiliate Disclosure

I would like to be open and transparent with you, as parents and caregivers. When you buy something from the websites listed on my site, I may receive an affiliate commission.  I never recommend poor quality products, or create false reviews to make sales.  The opinions I express are not representative of the companies that create these products.  It is my intention to explain products in such a way that you can make informed decisions on which ones best suit your needs.

What Every Child Needs to Know

When I start working with a beginning reader, the 1st thing I do is test them to make sure they know each letter of the alphabet, and the sound that each letter makes.  That’s a given.  This is where reading begins.

I then begin teaching word families.  These are basic 3 letter words that end with predictable letter combinations, such as: (-at, -an,-ad), (-et, -en, -ed), (-it, -in, -id), etc.  I go through all of the vowels with this same sequence.  For example, the -at words would be: bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, and so forth.  Once the child can read these words, I will then add letters to these words, such as bats, cats, scat, chat, etc..  I use letter tiles to put the words together.

Letter Tiles
Kids seem to enjoy using letter tiles to build and read words!

The kids really seem to enjoy making their own words after they have it down!  Some of my younger kiddos even use colorful bathtub letters that stick to the side of the tub or the bathtub wall to practice making and reading these basic words!  I have a more detailed explanation of this strategy in another post, if you’re interested, or you can check out this video by HSC-Teach!

A 2nd strategy that I teach is the “Two Vowel Rule.”  My kids all know this by heart.  It’s funny when I even see my older kiddos reciting this silently when they come across a word they don’t recognize that has 2 vowels together!  It’s very simple, and goes like this…”Two vowels go walkin’, the first one does the talkin’.”  (Can you tell I’m a Texas girl?!)

When you encounter a word that has 2 vowels together in the middle of the word, such as “soap,”  the 1st vowel does the talking. So, the “o” would say it’s name, and the a would be silent.  Again, for the word “peace,” the “e” says its name, and the “a” is silent.

Two Vowel Rule
Two Vowel Rule

It doesn’t work for all words that have 2 vowels together, but it does work for a majority of them.  I know that it may sound silly, but it has truly worked for my struggling readers!

A 3rd strategy I like to teach my kiddos is the “sneaky e” rule.  This works when a word ends with an e, such as the words, “cake, bike, rode, etc..”  If there is a “sneaky e” on the end of the word, then the 1st vowel says its name, and the “sneaky e” is silent.  (This is why I call it “sneaky e,” because my kiddos see the e, but it’s just sneaky enough to remain silent!)

Sneaky e rule
Sneaky “e” Rule

Again, this will not work with every single word that ends with an “e,” but it does work with a huge amount of the words, and has been a tremendous help with my frustrated readers.

Other Important Phonemic Skills That Kids Need to Learn

There are so many phonemic skills that many kids may have missed out on in school, but that are definitely needed in order to decode words.  Some of these include blends, such as -bl, -br, -cl, -cr, -dr, etc..  These form the beginnings of words like: blade, brake, clam, crab, drip.  (I think you get the picture!)

There are also many other phonemic combinations such as -ack, as in the word “black,” -ale, as in the word “stale,” -ick, as in the word “sick”, and ug, as in the word “shrug.”  Oh, and we can’t forget the -ing, -ed combinations that many words may end with!  It’s amazing how many skills there are to learn that you and I may take for granted.

I went to an elementary school that highly believed in teaching phonics. And, thank goodness they did!  I don’t think I would be the voracious reader that I am today if I hadn’t learned these valuable skills head on.  For those of you who feel baffled by all of this, let me introduce you the Spectrum series of workbooks!  This may help to simplify things a bit!

Spectrum Workbooks

These are workbooks that I have used for many years when I am teaching a struggling reader the different phonics skills needed to read, write, and spell certain words he/she may find difficult to pronounce. They are easy to navigate through, and my kids have found them to be fun and helpful in so many ways.

The Spectrum series not only comes equipped with phonics books, but also language arts, spelling, vocabulary, writing, math and science, as well.  They begin with Kindergarten, and go through the 8th grade.  They teach all of the basics, including sight words, consonant blends, digraphs, and much more.

As your child progresses, he/she will also be given the chance to read passages and answer comprehension questions that go along with each passage.  These are extremely helpful, especially if they have to take an end of the year assessment in order to advance to the next grade level!

My Review of the Spectrum Workbook Series

I can’t say enough positive things about the Spectrum series of workbooks to do them justice!  They provide the basics that beginning readers need in order to grasp phonics, as well as implement and review other important skills that the older kids need in order to become even more successful at reading.

These workbooks have really made a huge difference in the lives of the children I tutor by giving them a jump start at whatever level they may happen to be on, as well as providing them with a more positive self esteem, when they see that they can read!  It’s wonderful to see my former struggling readers smiling when they accomplish a difficult reading task that would have seemed impossible several months earlier!

Excited Readers
Kids can learn to read, and love it!

If you are interested, I would invite you to check out the Spectrum series of workbooks.  You may find what you have been looking for all along!  I hope and pray that it will help you to help your child learn to read better, and to learn to love reading.  After all, reading can take us places that we have never been before!

If you ever have any questions, please feel free to leave me a comment below, and I will be more than happy to get back with you as soon as possible!  And, as always…Happy reading to you and your child!












6 Replies to “How to Help a Struggling Reader”

  1. I still remember learning to read when I was a child! Not sure how old I was, but I remember even the book about ‘spot’ ! Now I have a grandson and he’s just 18 months, but his mama reads to him daily, so I know he’ll read at an early age. How rewarding for you to teach!! Thanks for the great post. I love the tile idea!!

    1. Thanks so much, Jackie, for your sweet comment! I am so glad that your grandson is being read to everyday:) You’re right! I think he will definitely be reading at an early age, and will, hopefully, love books for the rest of his life! The letter tiles work great! My kids seem to enjoy them, and what a huge difference it has made in their ability to read and spell words at very early ages. I love to use these, as well, for my struggling readers. It seems to pull everything together for them:) I think that children are some of God’s greatest gifts:) And yes, it has been so rewarding being able to work with children for the last 30 years! Thank you, again, for your beautiful comment:)



  2. Hi there. Great post. I am reading with grandchildren at the moment which is proving tough after a break of a few years since I had to do such things. I liked a lot of your ideas which I can put into practice. Will see how things go and then invest in one of those books if needed. Too much tv and computer games today so reading is a struggle. I have always loved words so hoping my enthusiasm with books will rub off. Best wishes with the site. Regards, Chris

    1. Thanks so much. Chris, for your insightful comment! I wish you all the best as you work with your grandchildren! Thank goodness that you have the time and willingness to help them:). They are definitely blessed to have a grandfather who cares about their education! And yes, I totally agree with you that too much time spent watching television and playing computer gamescan be detrimental to them becoming successful readers. I wish you all the best as you continue to work with your grandkids:)



  3. Hie Suzi, i’m glad i came across your site, sneaky e, iv been taught to call her magic e, because she changes the sound of the sound of the first vowel to making a rather long sound, but the truth is, i have followed most of these strategies, phonics, blending, but there are still some kids who still fail to automatically recognise words after significant practise time thereby failing to read smoothly, how do i help those particular ones, iv tried the flash card method as well.

    1. Hi Ashley:) Please forgive me for taking so long to respond. I have been trying to relocate to the Dallas area, which has proved to be more challenging that I had thought! I completely understand where you are coming from, as far as noticing that some kids still fail to recognize a word, even after teaching phonics. The truth is, that not all children learn to read the same way. Most of the kiddos that I’ve been privileged to work with over the last 30 years have learned to read easily using the phonetic way. However, some kids may just need more reinforcement, or even a different way of teaching, such as whole language. This is where you basically use some phonics, but also incorporate tons of writing into the curriculum. When I was a teacher, I labeled everything with flashcards in my classroom, including the floor! My kids learned how to spell, read, and write words that couldn’t be broken down phonetically. I had my students write in their journals every single day, and it was amazing how many of the words that I had labeled around the room they actually used in their writing! Eventually, they learned to read these words. Don’t give up! Just remember that kids learn at their own pace. They will eventually learn to recognize even the hardest words! Thank you, again, for your comment! I really appreciate it:)

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