10 Signs of a Struggling Reader and What You Can do About it

10 Signs of a Struggling Reader and What You Can do About it

You may be one of those people that wonders if your child is struggling with reading.  All kids develop at different rates and each grade level has different
expectations.  Here you are going to learn what signs to look for and identify if your child fits in that category.  You will also have the opportunity to take a look to see what you can do for your child if she is struggling with that area.  At the end of this post there is a video of a call that I did teaching parents what they can do to determine if their child is struggling.  So here are the 10 signs to look for to determine if you indeed have a struggling reader.

1.  They ask you to read something for them.Young man fallen asleep after long reading

2.  They ask you how to spell a word.

3.  They come up with excuses not to read.

4. They read word by word.

5.  They can't answer questions about what they just read.

6.  They don't make comments when they are reading.

7.  They skip words.

8.  They slur words when reading and hope that you don't notice.

9.  They keep asking you the meaning of words.

10.  They read as fast and they can.

We are going to take a look at each of these specifically and figure out what the real problem is and what some solutions are to the problem.

They ask you to read something for them

Now asking you to read something is not a problem unless it seems like they are constantly asking you to do it.  The problem is, they are suffering from a lack of self confidence about their reading.  They don't see themselves as being able to accurately read what is before them.  So you will want to find out specifically why they are asking you to read it for them.

Ask your child why they need you to read it for them.  Is it because they don't know how to read certain words or because they need help understanding a concept?  You will want to delve more into it to determine that.

Another thing you can do is ask your child to read it to you.  That way you can listen to see what the problem seems to be.  You will be able to listen to whether they are struggling with a word or they have a blank look like they aren't understanding a concept.

They ask you how to spell a word

Kids that struggle with reading also struggle with spelling.  Spelling is actually a harder task than reading because it requires you to have mastered the phonics rules, which don't always make sense.  The problem here is also a lack of self confidence.  They don't trust that they can write the word correctly, so they ask you because surely you know how to do it.  Why risk being wrong, when you have the answer.  The thing is, you don't want to be their solution.  You can't travel around with them all day long to help them with their spelling.

So, give your child an opportunity to try it on their own first.  If your child spells it correctly, then you can congratulate her and build up her self confidence.  If it is wrong, then you can write the word the correct way next to it.  Then your child can look for the errors that she made and then write it the correct way.  To give some added practice you can have your child write the word an additional 5 to 10 times to begin to lock in how to spell the word correctly.

They come up with excuses not to read

One of the problems here is motivation.  Your child would rather be doing anything else in the world than reading and the thought of having to read sounds like pure torture.  Find out why your child doesn't want to read, by asking her.  Sometimes it is because they just haven't found the right books yet.  To find books that your child will love, you can go to www.goodreads.com and type in the search bar "3rd grade books".  Insert your child's grade level or reading level and find some books that other kids their age are enjoying.

Many kids love spending time with their parents.  Some like to snuggle, some like to be close by.  Whatever the situation is for you and your child, next time do it with a book.  You can simply read to your child or switch off from page to page.  This way you can model great reading habits and motivate them more to want to read.

They read word by word

Nothing can sound more monotonous than a child that reads word by word.  The biggest problem here is fluency.  We want reading to sound like we are talking and not to sound robotic.

Repeated readings of the same text can be a way for kids to break this word by word reading pattern.  There are some fun poems on www.gigglepoetry.com that you can check out.  There are also some poetry theater readings that you can do with your child that can help them with practicing a text for meaning.  Have your child perform the poems to other family members or call grandma and grandpa to listen to it.  The poems will be entertaining for your child, and everyone will laugh.  Making reading fun is a sure way to break that word by word reading.

They can't answer questions about what they just read

The problem here is comprehension.  A child can sound like he or she is a good reader, but not actually be reading to understand.  Being able to sound out words and read them correctly is only part of the reading process.  We want kids to be able to think about what they are reading and make meaning out of it.  A comprehension problem can be based off of not thinking about the words, but it can also be based on not knowing the meaning of words.  Pay attention to what the situation could be for your child.

As you are listening to your child read, have her summarize at the end of a page periodically.  This will give you an opportunity to see if she is processing what she is reading.  If she doesn't know how to do that, then you can model with her when you are reading books to her at night.  After you are done reading a page, then you can summarize what is happening.

They don't make comments when they are reading

As we are reading, we are thinking about what we are reading.  However a child that has no thinking going on during their reading is purely just reading the words and not comprehending the text.  As we are reading many different kinds of thoughts run through our head.  We make statements, such as, "Hmmm...I didn't know that."  We also make predictions about what is going to happen next.  We ask different kinds of questions, and we monitor our reading for understanding.  Lastly, we make connections.  We can make connections between the book and our life, other books, and the world.

This is where reading aloud to your child can help.  It gives you the opportunity to be able to model the thoughts that go through your head when you are reading, so that they can begin to understand what kinds of thoughts could be going through their head when they are reading.

They skip words

The problem here could be phonics or a lack of sight words in their long term memory.  Sometimes kids skip words because they don't want to take the time to figure them out.  Sometimes they are focusing on the next big word that they see.  If you notice that your child is doing this you can have her go back and read it.  If the word is too difficult, then you can help her break it up.

Sometimes though a word cannot be read phonetically, and it just has to be memorized.  To help your child memorize the word, you can collect difficult words on index cards.  On one side write the word.  On the other side you can write a sentence that your child comes up with.  Then you can practice the words that your child has difficulty with and increase her ability to read sight words.

They slur words when they are reading and hope that you don't notice

This is usually a phonics problem.  The child doesn't know the word, so they slur it to try to skip under the radar.  Talk to your child about the importance of reading the sounds distinctly.  This will help her be able to retain the meaning of what she is reading.  Also, make her go back to the word and read it again.  You can try to help her break up the word to read it, or add it to the sight word index cards to practice.

They keep asking the meaning of words

When this happens, the problem is vocabulary.  Your child needs to increase her vocabulary.  An easy way to do this is to speak to your child more.  As adults our vocabularies are much larger than our children, so the more they hear us talk, the more they pick up words and the meanings of words.  It has been proven that children who have parents that talk to them for longer periods during the day have a much larger vocabulary than children who do not.

Make sure to eat dinner together and talk about your days as a family.  Also, the more that you read to your child, the more words that he or she will pick up accidentally.  The more opportunities that you provide for your child to hear new words the better.  There has been no research that shows kids learn new vocabulary words from watching t.v., so limit tube time and exchange it for you time.

They read as fast as they can

Again, this is a fluency problem.  The child has gotten in their head that the faster they read, the better reader they are, and this just isn't true.  There are different times when reading fast is necessary.  For example, when you need to quickly skim and scan to find an answer.  However, to read as fast as you can just so that you can be done quicker has never proven to help out with overall comprehension, so have her slow down and really take in what she is reading.

Motivation could be another factor here as well.  So whenever you have the opportunity to provide choices for your child, you will want to do so.  Kids choosing what they want to read has always been a huge motivator to slow down and understand what they are reading.

For more tips on each of these signs you can watch the video below.  Is there a sign that you have noticed from your child, and you are wondering if they have a problem?  Let me know, and we can brainstorm some solutions that might help.


Spot and Dot – 3 syllables

Spot and Dot – 3 syllables

These blog posts are part of a program that is in development called Phonics the Easy Way. It is a phonics program that gives parents the information that they need in order to help their own kids with reading. These lessons are meant to be utilized with text that a parent is reading with their child vs. isolated skill and drills that do not transfer over into reading. These are the methods that I personally utilize in tutoring with my own students in reading online and I am able to increase their reading levels a full year with just 8-12 hours of instruction.


So far we have taken a look at using the spot and dot method to figure out the patterns of words so that we can read more words that have two syllables.  Today we are going to split up words that have three, four and five syllables to see how this process works.  Here is a review of the Spot and Dot Rules.

  1. Spot and dot each of the vowels.
  2. Connect the dots and count the consonants in between the vowels.
  3. If there is one consonant, then draw the line before.
  4. If there are two consonants, then draw the line between them.
  5. If there are three consonants, then draw the line between the consonant and the blend of digraph.

Let's take a look at a 3 syllable word.


First we spot all of the vowels for this word and they are a, e, i, and e.  Next connect the dots and count the consonants in between the vowels.  For the word advertise when you connect the a and the first e you will notice that there are two consonants, so draw a line between them both.  Continue connecting the dots and counting the consonants.  For the next set of dots there are also two consonants, so you will draw the line between the r and the t.  Now it is time to identify where each of the parts goes on the chart.




Open Silent E


Bossy R



Two vowels C + le

As you can see  ad- goes under closed, -ver- goes under bossy r, and -tise goes under silent e.  After the child has identified where each of these parts goes on the chart, she is ready to put the word together and read advertise.  Check out the video for a detailed example.


Here is a list of other three syllable words that you can practice this strategy on.

  • committee
  • percentage
  • headquarters
  • festival
  • percussion
  • distinguish
  • advantage
  • livelihood
  • bicycle
  • reasoning
  • episode
  • elephant
  • porcupine
  • afterward
  • obstacle
  • permission

Spot and Dot – 2 Consonants

Spot and Dot – 2 Consonants

These blog posts are part of a program that is in development called Phonics the Easy Way.  It is a phonics program that gives parents the information that they need in order to help their own kids with reading.  These lessons are meant to be utilized with text that a parent is reading with their child vs. isolated skill and drills that do not transfer over into reading.  These are the methods that I personally utilize in tutoring with my own students in reading online and I am able to increase their reading levels a full year with just 8-12 hours of instruction.


The other day we took a look at using the spot and dot method to break apart a word that had one consonant in between the vowels.  Today we are going to use the spot and dot method to break apart a word that has 2 consonants.

Our word today is "spelling".  Here are the steps to break apart the word spelling.

  1. Spot the vowels and put a dot above them.  In this word, the vowels are e and i.
  2. Connect the dots.  As you are connecting the dots, count how many consonants are in between the vowels.
  3. There are two consonants in spelling, so you are going to draw a line between the l's like this.


4.  Figure out the pattern of the first part.  In this case it is the closed pattern, so one knows that the e is stuck in the middle and is going to make it's stuck sound.

5.  Figure out the pattern of the second part.  In this case it is also the closed pattern, so the i will make it's short sound or stuck sound.

6.  Put both parts together and you have spelling.

Here is an example of spot and dot being done with the word Spelling.  Tomorrow we will take a look at an example with three consonants in between the vowels.


Spot and Dot with One Consonant – Phonics the E

Spot and Dot with One Consonant – Phonics the E

For the last few weeks we have taken a look at the 6 basic vowel patterns that help kids to read more words easily and effortlessly.  One may be thinking, well this is all great that we know each of the patterns, but what happens when there is a multi-syllable word?  How would the child know where the vowel pattern begins and where the vowel pattern ends?


The answer is easy.  It is called the Spot and Dot reading strategy.  The Spot and Dot method is a simple way for the child to know where a word begins and where it ends.  Let’s take a look at the word hotel.  Here are the steps with this word. Spot and Dot 1 consonant powerpoint


  1. Write the word down on a piece of paper.
  2. Put a dot above all of the vowels.  In this case you would put a dot above the o and the e.
  3. Connect the dots. (As you are connecting the dots, count how many consonants are in between the vowels.) The word hotel has one consonant.
  4. If there is one consonant, like in this example, then you draw the line before it.
  5. Now we have ho/tel.  Ho goes under the open pattern and tel goes under the closed pattern.

Here is a video showing the entire process for the word hotel.

C + le (Consonant plus le) – Phonics the Easy Way

C + le (Consonant plus le) – Phonics the Easy Way

The last phonics pattern is C + le.  Unlike the other patterns that often occur in one syllable words, C + le only happens in two syllable or more words.  That is why this is always the last pattern that I teach to kids.


Up to this point, when I have come across the C + le pattern I may have added it to the chart, but I have just told the child how to read the word if she was struggling with it.  Let’s take a look at a closed pattern and C + le pattern word like, “bubble.”  The child may come to this word and not be able to read it.  To get her started draw a line after bub/ like this or straight up and down line.  Then ask her what pattern this is.  Reading the first part may be all that she needs to easily figure out that this word is bubble.  Some kids are really good at using context to help them figure out words.  If you haven’t introduced the C + le pattern yet, then tell the child that the second part is /bul/ and have her put both of the syllables together.


Once the child is ready to learn about the C + le pattern you can go to your chart and look at the syllable word parts that you have collected.  Your chart may look something like this.




Silent E

Bossy R

Two Vowels

C + le





You may notice that there is a dash before the pattern.  This is because this pattern will only happen at the end of a word.  There will be another pattern that comes before it.  All of the patterns except for Silent E have the possibility of being combined with the C + le pattern.  Each of these parts will go in the designated area on the chart.  Not the whole word.  Remember this is a vowel syllable chart.  Having the whole word mumble under the closed pattern is confusing to the child because the –ble belongs under the C + le pattern.


Here is an example of what a chart with each of the patterns would look like for the following words.


  1. Jiggle
  2. cattle
  3. hassle
  4. bub
  5. bible
  6. table
  7. bugle
  8. staple
  9. purple
  10. startle
  11. gargle
  12. eagle
  13. beagle
  14. noodle












Silent E

Bossy R




Two Vowels






C + le








Now that the chart is filled out you can take a close look and notice what is happening with C + le pattern.  Remind the child how to read each of these patterns if they do not remember how to pronounce it.  Then, ask the child what she notices about this pattern.  She may notice that they all end in e and that you cannot hear the e sound.  She may notice that they all end in the /ul/ sound.  Use the information that the child gives you and simply acknowledge if they are right.  After the child has finished making observations about the pattern you can introduce her to the rule.


Whenever there is an –le at the end of a word it is going to grab the consonant before it.  The consonant is going to make the –le say /u/. 


Many children will look at the c + le pattern and think that the pattern only exists if there is a c before it.  If this happens simply let the child know that the C stands for consonant and review what the consonants are.  One way to explain consonants is to say, “Consonants are all of the letters of the alphabet that are not vowels.”


Take a look at a video clip where I am introducing the C + le pattern.


Two Vowel Whiners – Phonics the Easy Way

Two Vowel Whiners – Phonics the Easy Way

The second two vowel pattern is the whiner pattern.  There are 5 different combinations that are spelled9 different ways.  This is one reason why I had mentioned in a previous post that this is a very confusing pattern.  Also, w is a vowel helper for a couple of patterns which is another thing that causes confusion for kids.  Kids have heard that y is sometimes a vowel, but most kids have never heard that w is a vowel or a vowel helper.  Here is a chart that shows the different combinations and how the vowels are spelled.















The reason that these are called the two vowel whiners is because the sound that they make when they are together sounds just like the sound you make when you get hurt or get a boo boo.

Up to this point you have focused on patterns that are spelled the same, sound the same.  Now the confusing part is that there are two ways to spell one sound.  The easiest way to begin teaching this concept is through the use of sorts.  Let's take a look where we compare aw and au words.

One of the most confusing two vowel whiner patters is the oo /ew/ and the oo as in book.  The reason is because both of these patterns are spelled the same, but sound different.  Take a look at the video to see how using a sort can help clear up any confusions that a child may have.

What questions do you have about the two vowel whiners?



Two Vowel Talkers – Phonics the Easy Way

Two Vowel Talkers – Phonics the Easy Way

The two vowels pattern is broken up into two parts.  They are the talkers and the whiners.  Today we are going to take a close look at the two vowel talkers and see exactly what is happening to help kids read words with these patterns.


The first thing to do is to collect words with the two vowel pattern.  These words can come from the books that you are already reading together, or you can choose some of the words for below.





























































As you can see, the two vowel talkers are made up of the two vowel teams listed above.  They are –ai, -ea, -ie, -oa, and –ue.  After you place the words on the vowel pattern chart, have the child read the words.  Then ask the following questions.


  1. How many vowels are in this pattern?
  2. What other pattern had 2 vowels?
  3. Where are the vowels in this pattern compared with the silent e pattern?
  4. Which vowel name do you hear?  The first or the second.
  5. Is it always the first?


We ask these questions because we want the child to discover the pattern.  The more that the child notices on his or her own, the more apt she is of remembering the pattern.


After all of the questions have been answered it is time to introduce the chant that goes with the two vowel takers.


When two vowels go a walking, the first one does the talking and says it’s name.


Before you introduce the two vowel whiner pattern that we will talk about tomorrow practice all of the other patterns for the a few weeks.  The last two patterns are the most difficult to understand, so you don’t want to move too quickly into them without the child really understanding all of the other ones.


You can review all of the other patterns by giving the child a word and asking what pattern it makes and having the child add it to the chart.


In Phonics the Easy Way we talk about the vowel saying it’s name and it’s stuck sound vs. it’s long and short sound.  Children are often confused by long and short and can understand this new way better.  How were you taught about the vowel sounds?


Bossy R- Phonics the Easy Way

Bossy R- Phonics the Easy Way

Bossy R is another one of the most common vowel patterns.  This pattern causes a lot of confusion for children.  So let's demystify this pattern and make it a little easier to understand.

First, each vowel comes before the r in this pattern.  When the vowel comes before the r, the r makes the vowel say a sound that is closer to the r sound.  To teach this you can collect words and place them on the vowel pattern chart like was done for the other patterns, or you can put a each of these words on a separate index card.  Then, have the child sort the words by their initial vowel.  An example is listed below.































After the child has sorted the words by the initial vowel, ask these questions.

1.  What sound do -er words make?

2.  What sound do -ir words make?

3.  What sound do -ur words make?

If your child hasn't noticed that -er, -ir, and -ur words all make the same sound, then you can say, "Wait a minute, do -er, -ir, and -ur words all make the same sound?"  Most likely your child will notice that -er, -ir, and -ur all make the same sound.  Always group these three r patterns together.  When the child is trying to figure out a word with one of these patterns in it, then you can ask, "Do you remember what sound er, ir, and ur make?  When the child says "er," then you can say, "That is correct, try it."

There is a little story that I made up about bossy r to help kids remember this pattern.  First ask the child if he/she happens to know anyone that is really bossy at times and really nice at times.  Usually each child knows at least one.  Then, tell the child that bossy r is just like them.  R is really nice to her vowel friends when she comes before the vowel, but when r comes after the vowel she becomes bossy and makes the vowel say a sound that sounds more like her.  So, er, ir, and ur all say /r/.  -or sounds just like the word and -ar sounds like a pirate.  Ask the child what a pirate says.  The child will have lots of fun with saying Arrr.

Check out the video below that shows how to teach the Bossy R pattern.





Identifying the Vowel Patterns

Identifying the Vowel Patterns

Reviewing the vowel patterns often is critical in children being able to identify them.  Now that the child has discovered the closed, open and silent e pattern it is time to start showing her how parts of words can go under different patterns.  For example, the word "hotel" gets broken up as "ho-tel".  The ho goes under the open pattern and tel can go under the closed pattern.  Another example is robot.  This word gets broken up as ro-bot.  Ro goes under the open pattern and bot goes under the closed pattern.

Here is a video that shows how to do this with some other words.

Here are some words that can be broken by syllable and added to different parts of the chart.file281239553087-002













At this point, only the adult is breaking the word by syllables.  Later on you are going to learn a method called spot and dot, which will be the child's guide as to how to break up the word to figure out how to read it.

Here is a review of the chants for each of the vowel patterns.  Repeating these when you are going over them with child is helpful.


One little vowel squished in the middle, makes it's stuck sound just a little.


When the vowel on the end is free, it is going to pop way up and say it's name to me.

Silent E

Silent e has a claim to fame, he makes the vowel before him say it's real name.



The Common Core State Standards and Phonics

The Common Core State Standards and Phonics

Did you know that the common core state standards have been adopted by 45 states so far?  These standards have been created to give teachers a clear instructional map for each grade level and each subject.  In my opinion these standards are much more comprehensive than the old standards that our state had.  Our old standards didn't start until 4th grade.  That meant that some teachers didn't have a clear path of what to teach in the area of reading.  It was up to the school and the individual teacher to determine what would be taught.  This meant that if a child switched schools, then the standards could be different.

As a reading teacher and online reading tutor I was interested in finding out how phonics was included in the common core.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there were clear standards for children in Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade.  These had never existed before in our state.  Each of the grades have the same standard, but different developmental expectations.  The common core standard for phonics is

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.

Listed below are each of the specific expectations that every child should be able to know and apply at each grade level from Kindergarten to first grade.

a. Demonstrate basic knowledge of one-to-one
letter-sound correspondences by producing
the primary or many of the most frequent
sound for each consonant.
b. Associate the long and short sounds with
common spellings (graphemes) for the five
major vowels.
c. Read common high-frequency words by sight
(e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does).
d. Distinguish between similarly spelled words by
identifying the sounds of the letters that differ.

First Grade
a. Know the spelling-sound correspondences for
common consonant digraphs.
b. Decode regularly spelled one-syllable words.
c. Know final -e and common vowel team
conventions for representing long vowel
d. Use knowledge that every syllable must have
a vowel sound to determine the number of
syllables in a printed word.
e. Decode two-syllable words following basic
patterns by breaking the words into syllables.
f. Read words with inflectional endings.
g. Recognize and read grade-appropriate
irregularly spelled words.

Second Grade
a. Distinguish long and short vowels when
reading regularly spelled one-syllable words.
b. Know spelling-sound correspondences for
additional common vowel teams.
c. Decode regularly spelled two-syllable words
with long vowels.
d. Decode words with common prefixes and
e. Identify words with inconsistent but common
spelling-sound correspondences.
f. Recognize and read grade-appropriate
irregularly spelled words.

Third Grade
a. Identify and know the meaning of the most
common prefixes and derivational suffixes.
b. Decode words with common Latin suffixes.
c. Decode multisyllable words.
d. Read grade-appropriate irregularly spelled

Phonics the Easy Way incorporates each of these standards in one simple to use chart.  The closed pattern and the open pattern can be taught in Kindergarten.  All of the other patterns can be taught in first grade and above.  Beginning in first grade students can begin breaking words apart by syllables.

The common core does not go through a list of suggestions on how to teach these patterns, but certainly the easiest way is through using the Vowel Patternsvowel pattern chart.  The Vowel pattern chart organizes the vowel patterns into six separate sections.  They are closed, open, silent e, bossy r, two vowels, and c + le.  It allows kids to decode 1 syllable words and multi-syllable words through the spot and dot process.  Each syllable has one vowel pattern.  Sometimes the vowel patterns are the same and sometimes they are different.  Knowing where the vowel pattern goes on the chart helps kids to read really big words easily and effortlessly.  No longer does phonics need to be ambiguous.  There are clear patterns that are easy to figure out.

What was reading instruction like when you were a kid?  Was learning to read easy or was it difficult?