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Simple Tips for Helping Slower or Below Level Readers

Whats the trick to helping my lower or below level readers succeed? The trick is… there is no trick. Reading comes from phonemic awareness and the fluency that comes with having the right “tools” as well as plenty of fun practice.


I am a stay-at-home (homeschool mom) who runs her own small business. As well as maintaining my home, family, I also assist my husband and family at our home church with music, ladies ministries, and of course… Sunday School. Oh, and did I mention that we also have a farm?

Lots going on…

Before I leaped off into entrepreneurship and the homeschooling life, I was a public school teacher with a focus on ELA and students with exceptionalities. I taught in the general education classroom and had anywhere from 22-25 students at a setting. Each with a unique reading skill set and learning style. My students usually ranged in ability from about a 1st grade reading level to high school reading level.

People ask me how I manage to homeschool my children? After that, anything is possible.

I absolutely LOVED teaching public school, but felt as though God was calling me home to spend these precious years with my own children. I fully intend to go back to teaching once they are grown… it is truly my passion and heartbeat.

I want to give you some tips on how you may be able to help your below reading level child and give you some encouragement today!

First of all, you’re on the right track.

If you’re striving to help your chid learn to read (whether they are in the public school classroom or you’re homeschooling) you are on the right track! You’re doing a great job because you care.

This speaks volumes to your kids and THIS is what they will remember. Mom cares…

The truth is, all children learn at different speeds and have unique learning styles.

My oldest has confidence for days. He is not afraid to make a mistake and thrives under pressure. If there’s competition involved.. he’s going to rise above. He learns by doing first and then correcting himself. He is nine years old and has a reading Lexile of 1,000.

My 6 year old is more apprehensive. He has a quieter and more observant learning style. He internalizes everything first and then shows it when he feels like it’s mastered. He is very afraid to make a mistake and so I am very careful not to feed into his perfectionist personality. I speak to him about learning from mistakes and always doing his best, even when he makes a mistake. He has a reading Lexile of 350.

These Lexile levels are based on a resource that I use to pull fluency checks, check grade level equivalencies, and grab short reading passages from. They have a 14 day free trial if you would like to check into it as a resource. Here is the link: Reading A-Z.

When I taught public school, one of the first things I did was study the behaviors, interactions, and records of my students. I strived all year to get to know my children in order to better understand their learning styles.

Here’s the truth- neither one of my kids have my learning style. So, when we are trying to help our kids learn, we have to begin to see it from their perspective… not ours.

Don’t Compare- Build Confidence

When taking into consideration that each child has unique learning styles and speeds… the absolute worst thing to do it make them feel like they have to live up to someone’s standard.

A child will succeed when:

  • They are able to advance in their learning at their rate of retention and understanding,
  • You are building the confidence in their path, and
  • They are enjoying the process.

All About the “Want To”

Reading is almost 100% interest driven. Once the basic phonic needs are met, readers use the phonics “tool box” to explore new worlds through reading.

I had one particular student in the 5th grade who was “below grade level” and had been for years. I studied this child and began to consider his interests when it came to reading.

His dad was a mechanic at a local shop here in town and my student’s favorite thing in the world to do was work on car’s with his dad.

So… I brought in mechanic magazines, stories, and even poems. His transformation was amazing. He wen’t from dreading our reading intervention group to looking forward to it each day. He loved reading! He just didn’t realize it..

I recently shared on my website the Two Things I Do With My Children Every Day to Teach them to love reading. I encourage you to read it because these two simple things really do work!

Phonics Necessities

According to the National Reading Panel, struggling students will benefit the most from learning how to sound out words. This may be slightly different to the instruction they have recieved so far if they are in a public school classroom.

This is due to to the fact that “sight words” or the memorization of words is pushed in many curriculums. The issue with this is that if a child isn’t a great memorizer, they will likely struggle.

Thankfully, this way of teaching seems to be changing in our school systems as we speak. In fact, many middle school/early high school programs are starting to back track, if you will. They are assigning full classes to alphabetics (phonemic awareness and instruction).

It is much better, however, if the child can receive systematic phonic training earlier on in their reading career.

Phonics Are The “Tools”

When a carpenter goes to a job, he takes his his “tool bag” so he has everything he needs. If he’s at a job site and doesn’t have the right tool, something will go wrong.

The same thing is true with reading.

Teaching a phonics first method is like filling our children’s reading “tool bag” with everything they need to be strong readers.

If a child is struggling with reading in the elementary or earlier intermediate years, it is probably because they are missing some of those phonic tools necessary to be fluent. Fluency struggles often lead to difficulties with decoding vocabulary and lack of reading comprehension.

Begin by deciding on a systematic phonics training program that you can work with your struggling child on. If you would like suggestions, please reach out to me.

Here are the basics:

  1. Alphabet letter sounds
  2. Short and long vowel sounds
  3. Practice blends with beginning consonant and short vowel (ba, be, bi, bo, bu)
  4. Practice blends with beginning consonant and long vowel (ba, be, bi, bo, bu)
  5. Add ending consonants to short vowel blends (bat, bet, bit, bot, but)
  6. Teach the one vowel/two vowel rule
  7. Begin reading two vowel words (bake, beet, bike, boat)
  8. Mix up one vowel and two vowel words and have child read word lists
  9. Select a group of diphthongs (two vowels) or digraphs (vowel and consonant) to tackle (er, ir, ur, or, ar, ow, ow, ou) or (fl, gr, sm, kn, scr, sk)
  10. Practice reading words with those special sounds
  11. Repeat steps 9 and 10 until their “tool bag” is full
  12. Teach syllables and compound words
  13. Teach words beginning with vowels
  14. Learn pre-fixes and suffixes

All throughout phonics training, child should have interest driven reading opportunities and fluency checks based on their comfort level. These reads should include words that correspond do the phonics lessons they are learning.

Fluency checks (when the child is reading aloud for you to listen) should be done on new reads (books they have never seen before) at your kids comfort level. So, if they are getting frustrated… back down a level to build their confidence.

If you would like suggestions on reading materials, please reach out to me!

Establish a Systematic Phonics Training Program

I can’t stress this enough. If your child is struggling with “remembering” how to read words and you feel like they are just memorizing enough to get by… we need to help them fill their “tool box” up with phonics tools.

This is, after all HOW the English language works. Vocabulary and comprehension hinges on the growth of phonetic awareness.

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