The Secret to Transforming Struggling Readers into Bibliophiles

November 01, 2018

Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D.

Ed.D. in Leadership

Chapter books and literature circles make reading instruction come to life, providing students with the chance to have discourse about what they are reading. Students get the chance to become fully immersed in a text, and develop critical thinking skills that take them beyond the basic text questions.

This is all great…but how do you make all this happen for struggling readers? How do you get students to interact on grade-level texts when they are significantly below grade-level expectations?

Here are some tricks I’m using with great results with my fourth graders as we read Time Warp Trio: It’s all Greek to Me.

1. Build Excitement

A mystery bag is a great way to build suspense for the story you are about to read.

For our story, I found some items that were related to the text. We pulled them out one at a time on the day we introduced the text, and students used them to make predictions. The last item in the mystery bag is the actual book, and students get a chance to see the cover and make more predictions.

As we read the text and encounter items in the bag, students will squeal, “Wow! That was in the mystery bag! It’s on page 14!” It’s even better to hear the sheer excitement and exclamations of “I knew it!” when predictions come to life.

2.  Find a Recording

When working with struggling readers, finding readable texts with conversation-starting content can be hard.

In years past, it has required that I to do a lot of reading aloud. I’m pretty confident my voice begins to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher after a while because my students totally zone out, so this year I invested in an Audible account. I was able to find the text we were reading for less than $3, and I’m able to access it from my school laptop.

The recording features playbacks where we can revisit tricky spots, it picks up right where we left off so we can begin reading the next day, and my students love the way the reader gives each character a unique voice and personality that comes to life in the reading.

3. Collect Data

Encouraging struggling readers to participate can be a challenge, especially in a small group setting where one or two students can sometimes monopolize a conversation.

I lean on a literature circle evolution sheet (pictured above) to help me collect data about participation, target skills, and identify students who need extra help, whether by bringing them into conversation or helping them stay on track and complete their work.

This ensures that the literature circle experience meets the specific needs of everyone, and that each student has their moment to shine.

4. Celebrate

Struggling readers often know that they are struggling, so finding ways to celebrate risk-taking, growth mindset, and participation is important.

Since we’re currently studying Greek mythology, we choose a student to be the god or goddess of the day as part of our daily closure. We celebrate their perseverance, participation, and penchant for thinking outside the box.

The chosen one leaves with a badge and a crown they get to proudly wear for the rest of the day. It has been so fun to see the staff buy into it as well, stopping students in the lunch room to ask our “gods” about their reading life and praising them for a job well done.

5. Teach Reading for Enjoyment

There is nothing quite like relaxing with a good book, but for struggling readers, reading often becomes more of a chore. It’s already hard enough, but in our effort to facilitate instruction we compound that difficulty, asking students to answer questions, write responses, and make connections to text constantly. In the process, we often neglect to celebrate the importance of enjoying literature just for entertainment’s sake.

My students’ response to reading has changed simply by giving them a small portion of time each week to sit back and enjoy the story. It has increased participation and students’ willingness to work through the classwork on other days.

You can easily provide that same outlet for your own students. So, run to your book room! Pick out a good text and get to enjoying a chapter books with all the students in your class.

All educators know how important student reading is at any age. Become an expert in teaching and nurturing reading skills by getting a M.Ed. in Literacy at American College of Education.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D.
Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D., Ed.D. in Leadership

Amy has a strong passion for educating all learners and has over 12 years of experience in special education. She works on her family's dairy farm and is currently a doctoral candidate.

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