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Building Reading Skills

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A reader recently asked me if I could recommend some summer reading strategies for her son. She described his problem like this: “It is painful to listen to Eric read as it takes him so much time to get through a paragraph. Because he is struggling with just identifying the words, he loses touch with information in each sentence.”

My first concern is that Eric has completed 9 years of school and is struggling still in reading fluency. So my question is whether or not the school has tested him to determine possible reasons for his deficit. It is a process to have the testing completed, but one well worth the trouble. Sometimes even if there is no definitive answer about the “Why?” we still get information that guides us to specific strategies that help us teach and help Eric learn.

Her insights about his fluency (word pronunciation) are excellent. We can't possibly begin to comprehend groups of words we cannot pronounce and therefore cannot recognize or understand. To build fluency, I recommend reading from material at a lower grade level (testing could help determine that as well). Your local librarian can help you select high interest books at 4th-6th grade levels. Eric can read them aloud to build confidence or silently. In order to determine if he's understanding what he's reading at the lower level, he should either write about what he read (use suggestions from my article) or talk about what he's read -- or both. When he reads orally to someone, do not make him sound out words he doesn't know -- give him the word immediately -- otherwise he loses that understanding as you already discerned. He can read to a younger sibling or neighbor or to the dog. He just needs to be reading.

Vocabulary building and vocabulary strategies are huge factors in all this. If he's up for it, he should practice building his vocabulary and learning to figure out meaning contextually. This is NOT about memorizing definitions; it's about figuring out words from surrounding words. Here are some websites where you can find free printable worksheets in vocabulary:;;; There may also be reading comprehension materials there. For reading comprehension, you can download free worksheets from;; There may also be vocabulary material on those websites. You can also check out materials for vocabulary building and comprehension practice at the Academic Toolbox. Again, start down several grade levels. We want to build Eric's confidence as well as his skills.

Because comprehension means understanding, it's always good to write or talk about what he's read.

Bear in mind that Eric's confidence about reading is significantly undermined. You can't struggle with something for so many years and feel very good about it EVEN THOUGH IT IS NOT HIS FAULT! So make activities short and as easy as possible. Just like math facts, it's best to do this stuff for a few minutes 5 times a day as opposed to an hour. Praise his willingness to take this on over the summer and link it to some rewards you know he'll like. Be vigilant about the practice and, as you see his confidence and fluency and comprehension improving, up the level. If you have occasion to read to him, it's okay to read to him from higher grade level materials. It will help his contextual skills, and your gestures, voice fluctuations, and facial expressions will reveal a lot more than just words.

Remind Eric that this is going to make everything easier –from school work to video game instructions. And praise, praise, praise.