Session 356: Supporting poor readers

Thursday 1st June 2017


Being able to read has wide implications for individuals within school and beyond. Ensuring that students can read in all curriculum subjects is essential, in allowing access to further insights, knowledge and understanding. Supporting readers across all subjects can help demonstrate that students understand key concepts within an area, so encouraging reading should go beyond the primary school teacher – or English teacher – role.

Following the recent #UKEdChat poll, this session explored how teachers across all curriculum subjects can encourage readers who may struggle with accessing extra knowledge due to poor reading skills.

The following questions were released during the session to encourage debate:

  1. What are the problems that you have seen, for pupils who struggle to read?
  2. What are the interventions available for supporting pupils who struggle to read?
  3. What other resources or activities are available to support pupils who struggle to read?
  4. What is the impact of poor reading skills for pupils in other curriculum areas?
  5. How do poor reading skills impact of the wider curriculum, and how can these be minimised?
  6. How can the wider community support pupils to improve/manage poor reading skills?
  7. Should schools support the reading skills of adults in the community? How/Why?


Reading is crucial! Literacy underpins everything children do at school. It has a huge domino effect, long into pupils’ lives. Weak reading makes all curriculum areas difficult to access/is detrimental to all subjects so should be a whole school priority at all levels.

The Problem

When exploring the issue of what are the common problems that adults see for pupils who struggle to read, it is clear that students can lack the knowledge and understanding of context to decode the meaning of unknown words based on their usage – in other words, comprehension and inference. One of the most frustrating aspects of this poor skill base is that it can lead to a lack of self esteem and the likelihood they will misbehave to cover.

Barriers to reading can also impact on an individuals ability to access other subjects in the school curriculum. Nothing is more frustrating than teaching a really bright pupil/s who clearly have an ability and interest in a subject, yet a lack of reading skills hold them back in terms of accessing additional knowledge and information. Additionally, it is frustrating when students are unable to showcase their abilities when faced with tests and exams, which also demand a reading ability to understand.

Many skills can be picked up by reading and exposure to those words in everyday life, although the issue for most is that they do not have the basic skills. Word recognition, sight words. It is sad when we see pupils who are being held back academically because of their reading levels, despite having the ability to soar.

Plugging the reading skill gap

Many schools offer intervention groups, but there is no clear ‘quick fix’ that can help solve the problem of poor reading skills. Schools need to put in strategies early on to identify individuals who need additional reading support, with considerations of how much reading exposure goes on in the home setting. It can be possible to expose students to different styles of reading, accessing knowledge and skills, such as engage struggling readers by finding out their interests and get books comics to support.

How schools manage reading can have an impact, and formulaic approaches in guided reading can kill reading enjoyment – ch need to be exposed to real texts eg. Every opportunity read to them / each other at home and school.

Even for older students, it may be necessary to go back to basics and check phonic knowledge, blending skills, sight recognition and memory. Age appropriate reading materials for lower ability to promote engagement should always be made available – even for these older students. Teachers should never assume that all students are at the same reading skill ability.

Ideas for the classroom

Each setting will always offer different opportunities, depending on the culture within the community and school, but various strategies have worked with different students, which are adaptable. For example, let students choose reading material and prepare (even with help) before showing off reading to others. Alternatively, pre-discuss context, allow time to prepare, then read aloud when confident.

For some, it may be helpful and necessary to showcase a sea of vocabulary everywhere! Walls, ceilings, desks etc accompanied by visuals. Constant exposure, which are relevant to different subjects. Some students may often like reading aloud in small groups as it does build confidence, but consideration needs to be given to those students who don’t value the attention.

In terms of technology, using reading apps on iPads or other tablets works, especially if you can adjust the background colour or font and font size. Investigate what social/mobile apps students are working, and use those as a template to reinforce reading and learning. Just imagine the enjoyment students and teachers could have in creating Instagram or Snapchat stories based on a historical event, or Shakespeare play, or to support foreign language learning, or to help read and learn about complex physics theories! Educators need to recognise that there is a *lot* of digital reading with students, and should be implemented within learning as well.


Do you believe you have ever had a student who thrives in your subject, but their exam results are poor due to reading abilities?

Hold a belief that all students have the ability to soar academically. Reading can often hold that progress back, which is a travesty, but community is key. Break down stigmas, and support everyone. Ultimately, reading is the foundation of everything. It affects understanding, and that effects attainment. Work to the strengths of the students.

Summary compiled and written by @digicoled

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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