Raising Readers: Look for the Clues – Tips and Tricks to Uncover and Help a Remedial Reader

shareastorylogo-color1Sandra Stiles, our guest blogger this morning, is here to talk about working with struggling readers.  She teaches reading and English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) at Johnson Middle School, Bradenton, Florida. She is currently writing her first novel.



I love working with remedial students. My own daughter was one. By learning her tricks, I also discovered ways to help her. After she graduated from high school, she was hired as an aid at my charter school. Guess whose class she worked in? Yes, mine. She walked into my classroom and introduced herself to my students.

Now that you know that I am Mrs. Stiles’ daughter, there is something important you need to know. I was a student just like you. I struggled to read. I pulled every trick in the book to get out of reading. I can catch you at all of them. Don’t think you can sneak one by me.

I am here to help you learn to read and teach you the things that my mom taught me that made the reading easier. Listen to what she has to say, let us help you and we will get you through this bump in the road.

Helping a reader in need, starts with respect. Please remember that a remedial reader is one that has gaps in their learning. He is not dumb, even if he tries to use that as an excuse. She might tell you “I just don’t like to read.” Ask questions to find out what it is they don’t like about reading.

Now let me share what I learned by helping my daughter and my students. These “tricks” work in the classroom and at home. Looking at it like a detective – step by step – helps. If a child hates to read, we need to find out why.

First, be on the lookout for the subtle ways that kids try to avoid reading.  Group reading and book discussions can sometimes mask a reading deficiency. The student listens and rephrases what their classmates say because he was unable to read the assignment. Sometimes they are afraid to take a chance.  After two years of work, I am a National Board Certified teacher this year.  I worked with great students. They weren’t the quietest class or the best class to videotape.  This class was a mixed bag. In the process of reading Pictures of Hollis Woods two of my quietest students, who struggled the most, became my most active students during discussions.  They spent hours reading with a buddy to get the reading assignment done.  They started out by parroting others in the group.  As facilitator, I would ask a question specifically geared to them.  I usually phrased it two or three ways and gave them think time.  When they answered I would expand on their answer by asking them another question.  After the second or third day, one of the students – the lowest reader in the class – looked at me and said, “I get it now.  You want me to think about the question and when I answer it, think about other questions that my answer makes.”  That was one of my proudest moments.  I knew then she had figured out how to think critically.  Her group would ask her simple questions to get her started and then they would encourage her.  Groups can be great if monitored and handled well.

Next, let’s continue with some of the not-so-subtle ways kids express their dislike of reading.

books_everywhereThe complaint: “There is nothing to read.” This is a common complaint in my classroom. I find this funny since I have a personal library collection of more than 1,200 books.


Solution 1: Use a book pass. Book passes are a wonderful way to solve this problem. I put a book on each desk and give students five minutes to read the cover, back, and part of the first chapter. At the end of those five minutes, they write the title, author, and their initial thoughts about the book. The student passes the book to the person behind him, and the student in front takes the next book off of the stack. Usually, by the end of class, every student has found a book they want to check out. They also have a list of books and their opinions for the next time they need a book. I do this at least twice a year.

Solution 2: Take advantage of book series. They are popular for a reason: kids like to come back to see what their “friends” are up to now.

Another option is to have everyone at school or in your family read the same book or book series. The last school I taught at did this twice a year. The secretaries, principal, city officials, and other guests came in and read to the students. We read it over two days and had activities that covered all content areas based on the book. Our cafeteria workers read the book and placed it next to their check out so they could discuss the book with students.

2820250184_efa5eaac12_mThe complaint: “This book is too long/too hard.” This was my daughter’s biggest problem. She spent so much time decoding the words that she lost the meaning and eventually gave up. Telling students to just read 30 minutes a day or one hour a day won’t help. They see little progress, fall behind, and give up.

The Solution: Invest in some sticky tabs. Use the ones that are about two inches long. Take the book and ask the child how many days they plan to spend reading the book. Divide the number of pages in the book by the number of days and then you know how many pages they must read each day. Place a sticky tab on those pages. For example:  If you have a book that is 217 pages and they want to read it in 14 days.

217 ÷ 14 = 15/per day

If the page does not end with a period then continue on to the next page that does end in a period.

Next complaint: The panic sets in, and I hear “I can’t read 15 pages.”

Solution: Count the pieces of paper. “15 pages” is only seven papers, and each paper has two sides. This usually alleviates the panic. Most students find that they read from one sticky note to the next without thinking about the time it took them. They usually decide to see how long it will take to read to the next goal.

This is my favorite trick, and I have seen it work. Some of my former middle school reading students have come to visit me after moving on to high school. They show me their books and how they are continuing to mark them in this manner.

These “tricks” as my daughter so aptly named them can be used through any grade into college. With remedial students I find that often times the, “I don’t like to read” attitude is actually frustration with the gaps they have in their ability. Once they are over the hump and have filled in the gaps they find they like to read.

It is important to reach parents and get them to read to their children. My granddaughter was born premature, but when she came home the first thing her father did was sit on the couch, cuddle her in his arms, and read a book to her. She is almost three and her favorite thing to do is have a story read to her. At bedtime they read to her then leave her with two or three books to “read” before she goes to sleep.

Not all parents like to read, and some are uncomfortable reading with their children. Here’s an idea that has worked in our school that might be helpful to you: build bridges with siblings. We teach some of our remedial students how to read to their brothers and sisters. The student picks out a couple of books from the school library and then the parents bring the younger siblings to school. This gives the student a chance to read, and the parent a chance to observe how reading can work. A pleasant side effect to this involved one of my Spanish-speaking students. The mother told me that her daughter sat the younger kids around the kitchen table and read to them while mom made dinner. Mom would join them and look at the book while her daughter read the stories. It helped her improve her English and after three months mom took over reading to the children while dinner cooked. If siblings aren’t an option, think about visiting an assisted living facility or reading with a neighbor. Reading is an activity that can be good for young and old alike.

My final suggestion is to make sure to read the books your child or student would be reading. Talk about books with your kids. Read everything to them: books, magazines, recipes, newspaper articles.

Last night, when I got home my granddaughter was there for a visit.  She had one of my cookbooks on the floor and was running her finger under the words. She was “reading” and making up her own story. This is a great example of how quickly kids develop their reading skills. She is only three, and she can’t pronounce the words on the page, but she knows how words work. This is because someone in her life made sure from the time she was born that she was read to. They made sure that she knew how important reading was.

The keys to helping a remedial reader are respect, perseverance, and teamwork. Pick up a book and read.

credits: Elizabeth Dulemba, Flickr – homework frustration and Books Everywhere

14 responses to “Raising Readers: Look for the Clues – Tips and Tricks to Uncover and Help a Remedial Reader

  1. Sandra,

    I also hear kids say, “I hate reading” but that’s just a defense mechanism. What they are really saying is just what you’ve said, “I am uncomfortable because I’m not good at it but I’m embarrassed to say that”. Thanks for sharing all these great tips from such a genuine perspective.

    The Literacy Ambassador

  2. Thanks so much for these wonderful tips and tricks. Even though we have read to our son everyday since he was adopted at 8 months old he has some developmental issues and has been identified as a remedial reader. He is motivated to read but frustrated about not doing as well as his classmates.

  3. I really like the book pass idea. I have a big classroom library which provides a lot of variety but can be overwhelming to struggling readers. I think we could take one tub of books and do a book pass to help students discover books that may be buried in the piles. Thanks for the ideas!

  4. What a wonderful reflection. Thanks for all your ideas and insights. This posting is fantastic. Thanks for your hard work.

  5. What a wonderful post! It’s always so nice to hear some real practical solutions that have worked for others – and some of these are things that I would never have thought of. I will definitely be showing some of my regular library visitors how to mark off pages as you describe. Thanks

  6. Sandra-

    I love the sticky notes idea! I am definitely going to try that out!


  7. I like the systematic approach of the book pass. It gives kids several simple tasks to follow, after which time they will have discovered a book worthy of a full read.

    The “book pass” concept helps teach the important skill of browsing.

  8. I am always talking about my grab bag of literacy tricks. I sure found heaps of great new ones here. Thanks so much, Sandra.

  9. My favorite is Solution #1! I have never heard of something like this before. I just LOVE it! THANK YOU for sharing!

    I also enjoyed hearing about your 3 year old granddaughter on the floor with the cookbook…and that she has had reading modeled for her and that someone has shown her the importance of words! That says so much!

    Thank you for this terrific post!

  10. The book pass is an idea I’ll pass on to all my teacher friends.
    An essential piece in developing early literacy through reading at home: cuddle up with your child while you’re reading. All those warm fuzzies increase the positive impact of the experience for parent AND child.

  11. Love your suggestions! I work with Title 1 and Resource teachers on best reading practices. These are definately suggestions I will be taking to them on Thursday. Thanks.

Comments are closed.