How do I help a struggling reader?

By Dr. Ruth Jacoby, Educational Consultant


My first-grader is struggling with reading. She did not score very well on her beginning of the year assessment and it seems that has discouraged her from wanting to try to read. I think this is also making her dislike school. We are reading with her every night and she is more than happy to listen but gives me a hard time when I ask her to read. She is normally a very happy child, an overachiever and a perfectionist. Do you have any suggestions to help her enjoy reading? I know that once she gets it she will like it!


Your child may be feeling pressured and may have become frustrated. She may even be shutting down her learning mode in fear of failure. Try making reading a fun time and if she doesn't want to read one night, don't force the issue. Some activities you may wish to try are:

  • 1. Play "Taking Turns." Make a deal with her that you read a word and then she reads the next word. When that becomes successful, go to sentences and then pages. Reward and praise her along the way to encourage her progress and let her know how proud you are of her.
  • 2. Go on an outing to the library and then out to eat. Let her choose what books she would like to share with you.
  • 3. If you have a computer at home, try phonics and reading games. There are many Web sites where there is no charge. Two that you might try are and Check with your school media specialist and teacher for other suggestions. There are also games on other sites that you can purchase.
  • 4. Children love to listen to stories. Record your child's favorite story and have her listen on her own. Every few sentences leave out a word you know she has memorized.
  • 5. Label the common objects in your home with sentence strips or lined paper. On some items, write simple sentences. For example, label the telephone, television, refrigerator and bed. Put a sentence on the light switch that reads, "Shut the lights off," or put a sentence near the sink that says, "Wash the dishes, please."
  • 6. Many studies have shown that the more a child writes the better she will read. Have your daughter write stories or short sentences and then illustrate them. Staple them together and turn them into mini-books. Have her read them back to you and to relatives. She won't realize it, but she just became an author and she is actually reading.

Dr. Ruth Jacoby has been involved in education for more than 30 years as an educator, principal and currently as an educational consultant in Florida. She is the co-author of the School Talk! Success Series including Parent Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication With the School and Your Child, Homework Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication About Your Child's Homework and Test Talk!: Understanding the Stakes and Helping Your Children Do Their Best.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.