7 Tips for Parents to Help Struggling Readers [Infographic]

Reading is the foundation to learning. Because so much is rooted within literacy, starting early to support language learning can make a substantial difference in students’ reading success. Similarly, the earlier we intervene with students who are struggling readers, the more likely they’ll be able to catch up.

Work being conducted in CEHD’s PRESS project is helping to do just that. Now in its third year, PRESS (Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites) is conducting targeted interventions with hundreds of students throughout six schools in Minnesota. We’ve found that reading struggles occur mostly within one or more of these three main areas:

  1. Students are not successfully learning a reading concept in the first place,
  2. They are learning the concept but then forgetting it, or
  3. Students are learning the concept and remembering it, but are not applying it further, or generalizing.

Classroom Interventions Promote Reading Growth:

Once we determine which area a young reader is struggling in, we can apply a variety of targeted techniques to promote reading growth. One way the PRESS project is helping struggling readers learn and retain new concepts is through classroom interventions. Classroom interventions are great for helping an entire class that is experiencing similar reading struggles (below benchmark in a certain area). Classroom interventions we commonly use are partner reading and paragraph shrinking, where students pair up with a partner to read and then practice describing the most important part of each paragraph in 10 words or less. Partner reading is a fun practice for kids and helps with fluency while paragraph shrinking improves comprehension.

It’s amazing how quickly young readers learn from these interventions. We’ve seen almost entire classrooms of about 25 students improve with these techniques at a rate that surpasses their peers in other classrooms, which helps kids who are behind to substantially close the gap. These interventions put struggling readers on the right path to catching up to, and even reaching, reading benchmark targets.

Looking Forward:

Currently CEHD faculty involved with the PRESS project are working with K-3 teachers in a coaching and mentoring role to help teachers effectively incorporate classroom interventions into their own curriculum. It is our hope that other schools throughout Minnesota and beyond will implement the PRESS model in their classrooms.

How to Help Struggling Readers at Home:

For parents, helping a struggling reader can be difficult. Remember that estimates of reading levels are not always accurate, so try this simple test at home: If your child can read 95% of the words in a selected paragraph within a minute, they’re doing well. If they struggle, use the infographic below and these 7 tips to help struggling readers succeed:

  1. Reading success is based on 5 factors: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Learn more about each factor to gain a better understanding of where exactly your child may be struggling.
  2. Encourage kids to read anything—even if it isn’t a book. Magazines, comics or websites can engage children, and shows them that computers and iPads aren’t just for games.
  3. Know your options as a parent. Ask the teacher for work that is at the student’s developmental level if homework is consistently too hard.
  4. Within reason, never say no to your young reader. If your child is excited about reading about dinosaurs, for example, don’t push him or her to read something else.
  5. Motivate by making connections to real-world outcomes so children realize reading is more than just a grade. For example, writing a letter to their favorite singer, or to grandma, allows young readers to find meaning in what they are doing.
  6. Focus on what your child CAN do. Build on his/her strengths. For example, fold spelling into another activity that your child enjoys to build a sense of competence.
  7. Keep it positive. If your child becomes upset or starts crying, reading will seem like a punishment and that time will not be productive. Rather than being intense, keep the mood light and upbeat and keep your eyes on the goal of enjoying reading.

Tips for Teachers:

For tips and effective teaching strategies for instructors, the MCRR Summer Literacy Workshop on August 7 is a great seminar for reading practitioners and school literacy leaders. This annual event shares the latest reading research findings and applications through workshops given by UMN CEHD faculty who are directly engaged in reading research projects.

Overall, good instructional practices, targeted interventions and quality curriculum are what are best for all readers—no matter their background or level.




Matthew Burns

About the Author

Matthew Burns, Ph.D.

  • MCRR Co-Director
  • College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)
  • Educational Psychology
  • University of Minnesota
  • Professor of educational psychology
Lori Helman

About the Author

Lori Helman, Ph.D.

  • MCRR Co-Director
  • College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • University of Minnesota
  • Associate professor of literacy education

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4 thoughts on “7 Tips for Parents to Help Struggling Readers [Infographic]”

  1. Jacara says:

    I am a teacher at a private school. This year I am teaching 4th and 5th grade combo. I have a couple of struggling readers in class however, I have used the method of “peer reading” or what I call “mirror reading”. This works very well. I encourage the children to read a paragraph at a time, simply to assist with comprehension and word recognition. I have asked their parents to assist them in a similar way at home. The kids love it and their reading levels have increased.

    Also, asking parents to use captions at home is a great idea. I will share this and other info from the site with the parents in my class.

    1. CEHD says:

      Thanks for reading our blog and sharing your success strategies to help struggling readers.

  2. CEHD says:

    Thank you for reading our Vision 2020 blog and sharing your insights on helping children to read.

    – CEHD Vision 2020 Blog Team

  3. CEHD says:

    Thanks for sharing the information about the India research on the use of subtitles.

    – CEHD Vision 2020 Blog Team

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