Stop These Practices to Help Your Struggling Readers!

Our struggling readers need the best instruction possible, but we need to stop doing some things to help them successful. Practices we need to stop with solutions for each!

This post has been on my heart for a while! It's my job. I work with struggling readers every day. As the reading specialist, it is my job. As a classroom teacher, it is your job too. Everyone in the school works with them, whether they want to admit it or not. But so many times, we make some mistakes that harm them more than hurt them. Here are some, along with ways you can help instead of hinder your struggling readers.

Problem:  Worksheets

Worksheets to do very little to help our struggling readers.

I see it every day, worksheets. Worksheets prove nothing about the kids, especially the struggling reader. So many times, we expect all students to do the same thing with a worksheet, but it is detrimental to those struggling readers. They can't read the directions, which leads to not being able to follow the directions. Which leads to not doing well on the worksheet. It makes me sad to see a struggling reader complete a worksheet. It actually breaks my heart to see a stack of worksheets on anyone's desk. And who wants to grade those anyway?!

Solution:  Find something other than worksheets

Instead of giving students worksheets, give them something they can complete successfully. Have them read and respond. Let them use pictures at first and build up to something they can write. Help them feel successful by starting where they are. Sorting words and writing them will give them better practice than simply writing them on a worksheet. {And sorting them from a list doesn't count.} Students need to have hands on experiences with words, especially the struggling reader. And if you are going to have students read a passage and respond, make sure it is on their reading level. Passages and questions are a little different than a worksheet. In my opinion, worksheets have their own place ~ the trash can!

Problem:  Fonts

Sure, we want things to be cute, but when the kids can't read it in a regular font, they can't read it in a funky font either. So many times, I come across products that are super perfect for my kids, but I struggle to read the font on the work, so I know they will struggle as well. Look at these fonts and think about how a struggling reader may see it.
Fonts do make a difference for all students!

I showed these to another teacher, and she struggled to read the. It's a deal breaker when the font is hard to read. There have been some phenomenal products out there that meet the needs of my struggling readers, but the fonts are hard to read. I end up searching more or creating it myself.

Solution: Fix those fonts

The best thing to do is use fonts that are easy to read. I usually stick with Century Gothic. It is simple and seen in many texts. Times New Roman isn't awful either, since that is what they see in books. There are also some other easy to read fonts out there too. Keeping the font simple and easy to read will help them grow as readers, not hinder their abilities. Save the cute fonts for the cover pages! Use easy to read fonts for the bulk of the material. Struggling or not, your readers will thank you!
Fonts do matter to our readers!

Problem: Too much cute

Yes! Products can be too cute and colorful. When it is too cute, it distracts children, especially the struggling reader. When those students come to the Reading Center with me, we are not there to color pictures. We are there to READ! If the purpose of the resource is for reading or math, make sure the focus on that is there. 

Solution: Less is more!

Surely you have heard this before. Less cute is more. A simple border (or none at all) with an easy to read font will make that resource work for your students, not against them. Make sure the focus of the resource is shown on each page, not the cute clip art and borders. They may look good to us but end up being more cluttered for the kids. Less is more!

Problem: Pre-made Anchor Charts

Anchor charts are not meant to be created by someone else. Computer generated anchor charts seem to be something that looks great, and I admit they look much better than my handwriting. But what are the kids getting out of them if they are created by someone other than them? Not much to be quite honest. And struggling readers really need a hand in helping create them. And I'll be honest, I've made and used some myself!
Pre-made anchor charts won't help your students learn!

Solution: Make your own anchor charts

Go out and buy some big chart paper (or even copy paper for a small group) and some markers. They don't have to be fancy or smell, just some color. Who doesn't love a good marker?! When it's time to talk about a new skill, work WITH your students to create the anchor charts. Put them in THEIR language. Have them available in the room, so they can use THEIR anchor charts to remember what you have discussed. It's more meaningful for them. At the end of the year, send them home with students. Raffle them off, give them away, but don't keep them for next year! Next year, you will create your own anchor charts with your new set of students. They will thank you for it!
Making anchor charts with your students will help them remember what you want them to learn.

Problem: Teaching Sight Words in Isolation

Sight words in isolation is not the best way to help them learn sight words.

OK, I'm guilty of this one, and I have learned a lot from it. I thought all kids were just supposed to know the Dolch list like their phone numbers (who knows those anymore?), so I taught them to the students. When I realized they were memorizing the words and then couldn't read them in the text, I knew I was doing something very wrong. Struggling readers won't learn those words if you flash them, send home a word ring, and tell parents to practice them. They won't learn them if we just give them five words a week and get them to learn them. They won't learn them if we just teach them a list. They may learn the words but won't know how to use them.

Solution: Harvest the words from what they are reading

Getting words from the books students read will help them learn those words!

The best way to help students learn those words is to read them in context. Yes, read them! When choosing books for students to read, intentionally choose books with the target words you want them to learn. THEN put them on the word rings, send the list home, and work with those words. Use them in phrases. Find them in the books they are reading. If they think the words are just words, they won't understand how they work. If they realize the words have meaning by reading them in their books, they will use them and read them correctly every single time. 

Problem: Adding too much to or taking away from an existing program

Programs have a negative connotation. We think, "Some big corporation thinks they can fix my kids." So, we decide to add our own flair to it, making it fun or cute. Or we take out some important parts of what makes it work, and our struggling readers miss out. Worst of all, I have seen components of a program become cutified and posted on sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers. 

Solution: Stick to it as much as you can

Tailor it to your kids, but don't reinvent the whole thing. I got the Leveled Literacy Intervention kits this year, and I am  learning a lot! Though I was doing many of the components, I wasn't stretching my kids and focusing on what was important. Each lesson has components that work together to make the lessons work and help those struggling readers to struggle less. Everything is pretty much provided for me, so I don't have to take time to create stuff. I have time to read the books and make sure I know what I am going to do for the lesson. Nothing is cute in it, and it shouldn't be (refer to problem 2 above). And selling them in any way is a copyright infringement. 

The only thing I have changed has been the games. They can be kind of lackluster, and those can be a little cuter. I do have some games I have already created on those specific topics, so I do use them just to add a little flair in the lessons. But I always try to keep with the ideas I have taught in the lessons.

The Bottom Line

We are not perfect. We make mistakes, All of these are mistakes I have made and have learned the hard way from them. I hope that you will think about these and make sure you stop making these mistakes too. What other things have you seen or done that may hinder your struggling readers from learning?

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Our struggling readers need the best instruction possible, but we need to stop doing some things to help them be successful. Practices we need to stop with solutions for each!


  1. True, true and true. I athink I have said all of this. Thank you for reminding and speaking out.

    1. You are welcome. So many times we forget what is best for all of our students. It's hard sometimes to make sure we are doing what is right, yet still stay on our own toes.


  2. Regie Routman says we must be gatekeepers for sane and sensible practices. You've done a nice job of explaining some of those. We can't lose sight of our users and what they need.


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