How to Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

How to Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

Phonics is the pathway to reading success - and for struggling readers, it can also be the biggest obstacle.


If you’re the parent or educator of a struggling reader, you’ve likely done your research. You know that phonics instruction is crucial for early readers, but finding the “right” decodable books and phonics readers can be daunting. To streamline your process, we’ve identified some of the best phonics intervention activities to support and re-energize a struggling reader.

How to Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

Phonics Intervention Activities


Imagine: your struggling reader just came home from school with a list of phonics intervention activities. Sounds a bit intense, right? While this language may seem intimidating, phonics interventions are actually designed to empower young readers with the skills and confidence they need to read more complicated texts.


So, what exactly is a phonics intervention?


A phonics intervention is any activity that seeks to improve a student’s knowledge and application of phonics: the reading method of connecting letters and their sounds. According to the National Reading Panel, phonics intervention activities should be explicit, systematic, taught in small groups, and focused on specific skills: for example, focusing on one or two types of phoneme manipulations rather than multiple types.

Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

Some of the best phonics intervention activities include:

  • Phoneme Manipulation Activities. Phoneme manipulation is crucially important when teaching phonics to struggling readers - and for many students, it’s also one of the most difficult skills they’ll practice!
  • Phonics Books & Phonics Readers, and Decodable Books.
  • Hands-on Reading Strategies.


To make these activities easier for readers and their teachers, let’s cover some key questions & their answers.


What is phoneme manipulation?


Phoneme manipulation describes the ability to change individual phonemes (the smallest sound units) in a word. Change /p/ in “top” to /b/, and - like magic - you’ve manipulated a phoneme!


What are the types of phoneme manipulation?


There are three main types of phoneme manipulation:

  • Phoneme Addition: for example, begin with the word “ray” and add /g/ to the front of the word, resulting in “gray”
  • Phoneme Deletion: for example, begin with the word “plant” and take away /l/, resulting in “pant” (this is a bit trickier, as you’re deleting the second phoneme from the consonant blend /pl/!)
  • Phoneme Substitution: for example, changing the /w/ in “wall” to /b/, resulting in “ball”


Teachers and parents can give these challenges orally, which adds variety and excitement to daily reading practice: a huge bonus for struggling readers.

Teach Phonics to Struggling Readers

Phonics Books for Struggling Readers


Whether you’re searching for decodable books or phonics readers, it’s overwhelming to sift through the hundreds of books designed for struggling readers. But just like other phonics interventions, the best phonics books should focus on the following reading skills:

  • Before moving onto more complicated phonics books, students’ earliest books should focus on both short and long vowels. Because every single syllable of every single word includes a vowel sound, this is not a skill to skimp on!
  • CVC and sight words. Sight words are high-frequency words that can’t be sounded out, while CVC words start and end with a consonant and contain a vowel in the middle. When reading phonics books, focus on these word categories before moving onto more difficult phonics patterns.
  • Search for phonics patterns. Get your red pen out: it’s time to mark up your decodable book! Identify a common phonics pattern, then have a struggling reader mark the pattern in their phonics book. They’ll be mentally prepared to read these phonics patterns in-context, which can be difficult when they don’t have a chance to see & mark them beforehand.
    • Because decodable readers focus on a single phonics pattern or word family, they’re an excellent choice for many struggling readers.
Teaching Phonics to Struggling Readers

Hands-On Reading Activities for Struggling Readers


For struggling readers, tuning into all the senses is key. After reading a decodable book, readers can practice new words with some of the following hands-on phonics activities:

  • Bubble Wrap Flash Cards: Place flashcards on bubble wrap on the floor. Reader reads the card - then stomps on it! Educational and satisfying.
  • Word Slide: As readers sound out a word, have them tap their arm going down while segmenting the sounds. When they’ve successfully sounded out the word, they’ll “slide” their hand down their arm again to blend the sounds together. See an example of this strategy here.
  • Letter Tiles: use magnetic or plastic letter tiles to practice phonemic manipulation. Whether they’re on the fridge or the kitchen table, letter tiles are a fun, budget-friendly, and low-pressure reading activity.



  • While finding the best phonics interventions can feel overwhelming, supportive adults are encouraged to use a variety of strategies to support struggling readers.
  • To support struggling readers, we recommend a mix of phoneme manipulation activities, phonics readers and decodable books, and hands-on reading activities.

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7 Early Signs Your Child May Have a Reading Issue

7 Early Signs Your Child May Have a Reading Issue

What counts as a “reading issue?”


In a shift toward more inclusive language, some educators and researchers refer to reading issues - rather than reading disabilities or disorders - to describe the challenges faced by readers of all ages.


Of course, a 7 year-old struggling with reading differs from an 11 year-old facing a reading challenge. When readers reach adulthood, they may find that unaddressed learning struggles and the stressors of adult life create new reading issues. What connects readers across age groups is the experience of struggling, learning, and, ultimately, continuing to read.


Many people will face a reading challenge at some point in their literacy journey. If you’re working closely with a young reader, here are seven signs that may indicate more serious reading issues. With early diagnosis and personalized support, even significant reading challenges can be overcome.

Reading Issue of children

Early Signs of Reading Difficulty


1. Resistance to reading aloud. When children struggle with phonological awareness and the pronunciation of words, they may resist reading aloud - even with a trusted adult. Fears around reading aloud can be normal, especially in a group setting. But if you notice especially hesitant and labored reading, it’s worth taking a closer look.


2. Difficulty with rhyming. If your child struggles to keep pace with nursery rhymes, it may be a sign of dyslexia, which hampers the ability to process the sounds of language. Another common reading issue is apraxia, a motor speech disorder that slows the development of phonological awareness and letter knowledge.


3. Limited expression & poor comprehension. In a child’s elementary school years, a noticeable struggle to comprehend words - and to read them with emotional expression - may point toward dyslexia or other reading struggles.

Signs of reading issue in a child

4. Decoding difficulties. Let’s face it: for most children, learning to decode takes a great deal of time and energy. But if your child is skipping words, misreading them altogether, and/or reading very slowly, they’re likely missing the overall meaning of the text.


5. Inability to memorize sight words. Even after hours of repetition, a poor memory of common sight words can indicate issues with auditory processing or visual perception.


6. Attention issues. Especially for a young reader, finding the energy to concentrate on a story can be tricky. However, if a reader is getting lost on a page and struggling to attend to the words - let alone, the plot of the story! - a deeper reading issue may be at play.


7. Spelling woes. Just like decoding and memorizing sight words, learning to spell takes time and repetition. We’re not all cut out for the spelling bee - but if you notice different spellings of the same word throughout the same piece of writing, it could be a sign of dysgraphia, a neurological disorder that affects spelling and/or the ability to convert thoughts into written words.

7 Year-Old Struggling With Reading


At age 7, U.S. schoolchildren are typically entering second grade. Second-graders are typically expected to read more efficiently and fluently, assuming they’ve developed the reading strategies to tackle more complicated sentences and genres.


While there’s no official make-or-break year for reading success, experts at understood.org - a leading website for dyslexia information - agree that if children still confuse look-alike letters (for example, b, d, p, and q) or sound-alike letters (b and p, or d and t) after age 7, they may have a greater reading issue.

7 Early Signs Your Child May Have a Reading Issue

11 Year-Old Struggling With Reading


If your 11 year-old is still struggling with reading, it’s important to recognize the toll of the past few years. With a pandemic, virtual learning, and the loss of both learning and social opportunities, many older elementary students are still learning to read independently. Heading into fifth grade and middle school, parents and educators can take some of the following actions to encourage a struggling reader:


  • Get their eyes checked! Vision problems can affect early reading and academic confidence. New glasses can be a simple but profound shift for a fifth-grader struggling with reading.
  • Consult with a doctor about dyslexia testing. As we’ve mentioned, many early literacy struggles emerge from diagnosable - and 100% manageable - reading issues.
  • Celebrate their progress. Even if progress is slow, encourage your child throughout the process. Also consider audiobooks and podcasts - which, like good books, can cultivate a sense of wonder and interest in the world.


With the backbone of a phonics-driven curriculum, parents and educators can meet struggling readers at eye-level and support them in their journey - regardless of where they began.

Early Signs of having reading issue


  • While no reading issue manifests the same in all children, adults can look out for early signs of reading difficulty, including:
    • Issues with rhyming
    • Resistance to reading aloud
    • Poor comprehension and expression of words
    • Spelling & writing issues, especially when written skills lag behind a child’s oral communication skills
  • Parents are encouraged to remember the impact of the pandemic on their students’ reading progress.
    • It’s crucial to provide patience, explore alternative reading activities, and diagnose underlying vision and reading issues.

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How to Make Reading Fun for 1st Graders

How to Make Reading Fun for 1st Graders

If you’ve ever announced “reading time!” and received an audible groan in response, you know that 1st graders can be a tough crowd. Even as they gain reading skills and discover new books, students may feel overwhelmed by reading expectations in 1st grade, which many experts agree is a foundational year for reading success.


To reduce the pressure and maximize the fun, we’re focusing on reading activities for 1st graders that will make reading more enjoyable, exciting, and just as educational - both in the classroom and at home.

Make Reading Fun for 1st Graders

How To Make Reading More Fun


Before offering specific reading activities for 1st graders, it’s important to ask: why would a 1st grader not enjoy reading? As a parent or educator, you’ll learn that children develop distinct likes and dislikes from an early age - and inevitably, some 1st graders may like reading more than others. That said, if you have a first grade struggling reader who dislikes or even refuses to read, it’s worth considering the following possibilities:


  • They aren’t interested in the format or topic of assigned books. If this rings true, try graphic novels, partnering with a librarian to identify your student’s interests, and reducing screen time. The fast-paced format of online games and social media can easily distract 1st graders from the slow - but rewarding - process of reading physical books.
  • They haven’t developed foundational reading skills. 1st graders may start to experience reading difficulties that can slow the development of early reading skills. If you have concerns about reading disorders or even poor eyesight, communicating early with teachers and healthcare providers is essential to support your 1st grader’s skills and confidence.
  • They haven’t found the right reading activities for 1st graders! In a traditional classroom, educators may not always adhere to a phonics-driven curriculum. Classrooms that still use elements of balanced literacy may inadvertently slow the acquisition of phonics skills, which can make reading much more difficult - and far less enjoyable - for a 1st grade student.


If you’re looking for reading activities for 1st graders that are science-based and fun, we’ve got you covered.

Make Reading Fun for 1st Graders

Reading Activities for 1st Graders


To make reading more fun for 1st graders, consider trying one (or all!) of these literacy activities that merge 1st-grade fun with the latest reading science.


  1. Allow students to choose their own books. Keeping the difficulty level in mind, it’s important to allow students to choose books that reflect their interests and expose them to new ideas and stories. Whether they choose nonfiction, fiction, graphic novels, or Shel Silverstein’s poetry, any reading counts.
  2. Start a book club. What 1st grader doesn’t love a club? This is one of our favorite reading activities for 1st graders, for a number of reasons:
    1. Everyone can participate! All you need is a book and a supportive adult.
    2. Students can read the same book at once OR read different books and come to “club meetings” with new suggestions for their peers.
    3. Clubs encourage fun discussions, storytelling, and group bonding.
  3. Read aloud. By using expressive voices and silly faces, adult readers can help characters and stories come alive for their 1st graders.
  4. Connect with bookstores and the local library! Many public libraries and local bookstores offer free storytimes and author visits. Libraries may also sponsor summer reading programs with prizes and summer reading activities for 1st graders.
  5. Foster opinions. If you start a 1st grade book club, you may discover that your readers have a lot of opinions. Encourage students to share their thoughts about a book after reading it: you can use a star-rating system or simply ask how they’d change the story if they were the author.
make reading fun for children

In conjunction with a phonics-based curriculum, these reading activities for 1st graders are intended to make reading fun, exciting, and rewarding. By supporting students’ reading interests and foundational skills, educators and parents can become more active participants in the 1st-grade reading journey.



  • Many 1st graders struggle to find book formats and topics that interest them, and may face other reading challenges that detract from the joy of reading.
  • To make reading more fun and student-centered, consider the following 1st grade reading activities:
    • Empowering students to choose their own books
    • Starting a 1st grade book club
    • Reading aloud with expressive voices
    • Attending events sponsored by local bookstores and libraries
    • Encouraging students to freely express their opinions about books

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First Grade Struggling Reader? 4 Signs of Reading Struggles – and Solutions To Help

First Grade Struggling Reader? 4 Signs of Reading Struggles - and Solutions To Help

First grade marks a big year for young readers. At this stage of the reading journey, many parents are working closely with their children to support their reading success. As a parent, it’s easy to worry - and far more difficult to identify evidence-based solutions that actually support a struggling reader in first grade. By identifying the early signs of reading difficulty and collaborating with your first grader, you can rest easy - and read easily - during their first grade year.

helping First Grade Struggling Reader

Signs of Reading Difficulty in First Grade


Before we can identify a struggling first grade reader, it’s important to clarify: what are the key reading milestones for most first graders? No first grade reader is alike, but the majority will tackle the following reading skills at some point during their school year:


  • Word Manipulation: the ability to rhyme, solve word games, and recognize words that start with the same letter and/or sound.
  • Phonological Awareness: the ability to associate sounds and letters and work with sounds to form words.
    • This relates to word manipulation: a reader with strong phonological awareness will be able to rhyme, blending sounds together to form a word, and break words apart into their sound units.
  • Recognition of Common Words: halfway through their first grade year, most readers will be able to identify the most common sight words and phonetically decodable words.
  • Understanding Basic Sentence & Book Structure: this includes capitalization, basic punctuation, and comparing different stories, plots, and characters.


A struggling first grade reader may be falling behind in one or more of any of these reading skill areas. If you suspect that your first grader is struggling to read at grade-level, you may have noticed some of the following signs:


  1. Frequently skips words and rarely stops to sound out challenging words
  2. Struggles to remember common words despite frequently encountering them in decodable readers and other texts
  3. Guesses at unknown words and relies heavily on pictures, if applicable
  4. Struggles to remember and explain what happened in a story they just read


As always, we repeat the mantra: no first grade reader is the same! That said, most first grade parents will notice at least one of these early signs of reading difficulty.

Signs of Reading Struggles

How to Help a First Grader Struggling With Reading


First grade is a foundational year for reading - but it’s completely normal for first grade readers to experience some struggles and setbacks. To support them through the early reading process, educators and parents can team up with their readers & take the following actions:


  1. Collaborate with teachers. If you’re the parent of a struggling first grade reader, you’ll quickly learn that your child’s teacher is the co-captain of your early reading team. If possible, check in with teachers regularly about the reading progress and setbacks you observe after school. Your child’s teacher can affirm your concerns and offer unique observations that you may not see at home.
  2. Create a reading goal chart. Clearly writing down your first grader’s reading goals can help motivate and inspire them on a daily basis. Place the chart in a visible place at home or in the classroom, and cheer your first grader on with praise and/or small rewards as they meet their reading goals.
  3. Use supplemental reading programs. Your first grader may not want to hear this now, but reading doesn’t end at school! Phonics-based reading programs such as Reading Teacher help students practice first grade reading skills through engaging stories, games, and discussion prompts.
  4. Don’t forget writing. As students progress in school, they’ll discover that reading and writing go hand-in-hand. Writing also presents another opportunity to enrich the early reading journey. Help your student write fun stories and draw illustrations, and reference books they’ve completed as inspiration for the plots and characters.
solutions for Struggling Reader

Even when first graders are struggling, it’s essential to keep reading fun! Struggling first grade readers should be encouraged to choose books and topics that interest them, motivate them to read more, and build their overall confidence as readers and students.



  • Most first graders are developing foundational reading skills such as:
    • Word manipulation
    • Phonological awareness
    • Recognition of common words: both decodable and sight words
    • Understanding the basic structure of books & sentences
  • Struggling first grade readers tend to fall behind in these main reading skill areas. To support them toward their reading goals, parents can:
    • Collaborate & communicate regularly with teachers
    • Use reading goal charts to visualize students’ progress
    • Supplement with online reading programs
    • Encourage the development of writing skills

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

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Developing Readers vs. Emergent Readers

Developing Readers vs. Emergent Readers

Emergent readers, developing readers, beginning readers: as a parent or teacher, where do you even begin?


Throughout the years, experts have developed a range of terms to describe readers in the earliest stages of their literacy journeys. Today, we’re clarifying the differences - and similarities - between developing readers vs. emerging readers, followed by a discussion of how this language shapes our understanding of how children learn to read.


Differences Between Developing Vs. Emergent Readers


Before we dig into the differences between a developing reader and an emergent reader, it’s crucial to answer: what is a developing reader? While definitions vary, we’ve identified a few key characteristics:


  • A developing reader is learning the basics of reading such as decoding, phonics, the alphabet, and sight words that are essential for long-term literacy.
  • A developing reader is making the transition to longer books with more complicated plotlines. Before they know it, they’ll bid goodbye to picture books and hello to chapter books.
  • Critically, a developing reader is evolving into a more skilled and confident reader.


Reading experts debate whether there is a significant difference between developing readers and emergent readers. Whereas the use of “developing reader” emphasizes that young readers are developing the foundational skills that will support lifelong literacy, an “emergent reader” is truly emerging into a new territory of reading potential. The excitement of an emergent reader is worth noting. While you might not remember the first time you read a book, rediscovering your zest for reading alongside a child is refreshing for all parties involved.

Developing Readers vs. Emergent Readers

The key characteristics of emergent readers are similar to those identified among developing readers. Parents and educators may notice that their emergent readers:


  • Recognize and point out high-frequency words, both in books and during everyday travel to school, home, and other familiar destinations
  • Write in scribbles and/or incoherent strings of letters
  • Show a strong desire to read and listen to others read


Ultimately, most experts agree that emergent readers fall under the category of developing readers: technically, anyone who reads could be considered a developing reader, as we are all strengthening our comprehension and writing skills well into adulthood. There may not be a significant difference between emergent readers and developing readers - and that’s perfectly okay. Because language used to describe reading development can be complicated, supportive adults are encouraged to meet their readers at “eye-level” with age-appropriate reading strategies.


Reading Strategies for Emergent Readers


For an emergent reader, struggling and overcoming are both part of the process. Emergent readers are working on lots of goals: they’re learning more letters of the alphabet, expanding their perspectives through new books, and taking big steps toward writing. To support an emergent reader, literacy experts suggest the following reading strategies to help them advance toward reading fluency.

Developing Readers

1. Identify the title, author, and illustrator of their favorite books.

Imagine yourself as a five year-old and take a good look at your child’s favorite picture book. For an emergent reader, there’s a lot of information to digest - and that’s only on the cover! Get your child used to reading the title, author, and illustrator of a book. This helps set the stage for what they’re about to read and helps them understand the basic purpose and structure of the book.


2. Use read-aloud books to help children increase their phonemic awareness.

By using books specifically designed for adults and children to read aloud together, emergent readers will gain a firmer grasp of the relationship between letters and sounds- otherwise known as phonemic awareness.


3. After the last page, talk about the book!

The end of the book marks the beginning of a meaningful discussion. Encourage your reader to talk about major events in the story, the resolution of any conflicts, and their favorite parts and characters. These concluding conversations will enhance their reading comprehension and overall engagement in the story.


Clarifying the difference between emerging readers vs. developing readers is just the beginning. Ultimately, these shifts in phrasing are usually more important for adults to understand than the readers themselves. When working with emergent readers, we’re regularly reminded that reading is an ongoing journey toward understanding & sharing stories with others.

Emergent Readers


  • The definitions of developing and emergent readers are mostly similar. While the phrases are often used interchangeably, educators emphasize that emergent readers are progressing toward the developmental stage of reading fluency.
  • Emergent readers are typically:
    • Learning the alphabet
    • Writing in scribbles
    • Reading and memorizing their favorite books with the help of an adult
  • Some helpful strategies for emergent readers include reading aloud, discussing books they’ve read, and finding the title, author, and illustrator to uncover the book’s basic structure.

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First Grade Reading Lesson Plans

First Grade Reading Lesson Plans

As we inch our way into August, teachers are beginning to hear their favorite back-to-school buzzwords. Among them?

Lesson Plans

Whether you’re a parent or educator of a first grader, designing the best first grade reading plans can pose a serious challenge. Especially when your first grader is in “summer mode,” even broaching the subject of lesson plans can feel scary to adults and children alike. To minimize stress on the first day of school, it’s best to identify and gradually build a reading plan that includes the main learning points of developing readers (link) in first grade. First grade reading can and should be fun - and our ideas for grade-appropriate lesson plans are designed to maximize fun, learning, and self-confidence in the first-grade classroom.

Reading Lesson Plans for children

What Do 1st Graders Learn in Reading?


Many first graders are emergent readers, which means they’re just beginning to learn the basics of reading. Every child varies in their rate of reading progress, but many first graders will accomplish several key reading goals by the end of their academic year. In anticipation of these milestones, you can expect students to work on the following skills in a standard first-grade reading lesson plan:


  1. Sounding out syllables to break up words and read them aloud.
  2. Understanding and explaining the basic features of a sentence, such as the first words, first letter of a word, and rules of capitalization.
  3. Recognizing common sight words that enhance overall reading fluency.
  4. Explaining the basic difference between fiction and non-fiction texts.
  5. Identifying different characters, events, and main ideas in a book.
  6. Recognizing digraphs: two letters that represent one sound, such as gh, th, and sh.


Remember: these are overarching skills that many readers - but not all - develop during their first-grade year. When teachers consider how to teach 1st-grade reading, they are encouraged to consider these common developmental skills and the unique needs of their students, which may call for different reading goals and lesson plans.

Reading Lesson Plans

First Grade Reading Lesson Plans Example


When designing a first grade reading lesson plan, the first thing teachers must identify are the learning objectives. Whether students are learning to read at home or in the classroom, all lesson plans should include learning objectives that clearly outline the goal of the reading lesson. For a first-grade reader, learning objectives may include:


  • Increasing reading comprehension by identifying the story elements of a text: usually, the characters, setting, and main events
  • Reading grade-level words with irregular spellings, such as
  • Understanding the many jobs of the “Silent E”


After defining the learning objectives, a first grade reading lesson plan will typically include the following features:


  • Specific planned activities that address the learning objectives
  • The sequence of these activities and any assessments to check students’ progress
  • A realistic timeline for the lesson to be completed
  • A plan for closing the lesson: this may include reflection questions for the students and/or the teacher(s) to create a sense of closure and begin the transition to the next lesson
Reading Lesson Plans for First Grade

How To Teach 1st-Grade Reading


No first grader - or any reader, for that matter - learns to read in the same way. That said, we advocate several expert-endorsed reading activities to support a range of first graders toward their reading goals. As you design a first grade reading lesson plan rooted in the science of reading, consider the following 1st-grade reading activities to boost your students’ reading success:


  • Expressive Reading: When reading books aloud, use different voices for different characters and narrators to model expression and pacing in a story. Doing this with a group of readers will make reading feel more like a show and less of a chore!
  • Reading Notebook: Encourage students to be their own “reading scientists” by recording new words and reading observations in a “reading notebook.” A homemade notebook with their own words and illustrations will make the reading journey feel like a special mission.
  • Write a Book: Who said first-graders are too young to publish a novel? Encourage creativity and challenge their writing chops by asking students to write and illustrate a story from their lives. This common first-grade reading activity gets students excited to read, write, and share their personal stories with friends and loved ones.
First Grade Reading Lesson Plans


  • Most first graders are still developing basic reading skills such as recognizing sight words, breaking down words based on their syllables, and understanding the basic features of a story.
  • To solidify these skills, teachers and parents are encouraged to design first grade reading lesson plans that target these grade-level skills, while also considering the varied needs and interests of individual readers.
  • Using a combination of creativity, group discussion, and playful storytelling, the best first grade reading activities will enhance young readers’ skills and excitement about reading.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

6 Reading Strategies for Developing Readers

6 Reading Strategies for Developing Readers

What does it actually mean to be a developing reader?


If you’re a parent or educator, the only thing you want - and need - is a clear answer to support your student’s reading development. To clarify this common-yet-confusing question, we’ll define the most common phases of reading development and outline 6 evidence-based reading strategies to support developing readers.

Reading Strategies for Developing Readers

Difference Between Developing Vs. Emergent Readers


Literacy experts often use the term emergent reader to describe readers who cannot yet read independently but are gradually working toward literacy. In this way, emergent readers - as well as students in other developmental phases of reading - can all be considered developing readers, as each one is developing the skills to read confidently and independently. Reading experts make varying levels of distinction between the terms developing reader vs. emergent reader, but it can be argued that both phrases describe a reader who is:


  • Learning the basic concepts of reading, such as decoding, phonics, the alphabet, and high-frequency and sight words that will boost their reading fluency
  • Progressing from picture-heavy books to texts with longer sentences and more complex stories
  • Gaining more control of the reading process


Whether a reader is just learning phonics or learning how to write essays about theoretical texts, all developing readers are united in the quest to achieve the next level of reading mastery.

Reading Strategies for beginners

Stages of Reading Developing


Every reader is different, but literacy experts typically break the process of reading into 5 developmental stages:


1. Emergent Readers or Emergent Pre-Reader

Depending on the source, the term “emergent reader” and “developing reader” may be used interchangeably. In the name of clarity, we define an emergent reader as a student who cannot yet read independently but is gradually acquiring the skills of literacy. Signs of an emergent reader include:

  • Recognition of high-frequency or sight words in their everyday environment
  • Writing in scribbles: while they may not know how to write actual words, they understand that writing communicates important information
  • A desire to read and even memorize their favorite books


2. Novice Readers

Like emergent readers, novice readers can also be considered developing readers. Most novice readers are working on alphabetic fluency, solidifying the relationship between letters and sounds, and reading aloud to understand the connection between spoken and written words.


3. Decoding Readers

Decoding readers are still reading simple stories, but much more smoothly than in prior stages of reading development. These readers must balance the acts of reading thoroughly and at a fluent rate. Because reading too slowly or too quickly can impede their comprehension, decoding readers are focused on decoding words at a rate that maintains their momentum and interest in a book.


4. Fluent Readers

The long-awaited stage of reading fluency marks a key milestone for developing readers. Fluent readers readily decode words and choose texts that align with their interests and higher-level reading skills. They are constantly building a collection of knowledge that helps them tackle new words and genres. Because many readers achieve fluency at a young age (typically 9-15 years old), they still need to self-monitor their comprehension through reflective essays, class discussions, and other tools.


5. Expert Readers

Compared to developing readers, expert readers tackle texts from a wide range of authors, viewpoints, and genres. They pay close attention to & think critically about what they’re reading. While this is the “last” stage of literacy development, any reading teacher knows that as long as one continues reading books, it’s virtually impossible to ever “end” reading development.

Reading Strategies

6 Reading Strategies for Developing Readers

Becoming an expert reader takes time, consistency, and years of life experience. That said, parents and educators can jumpstart the journey with these 6 reading strategies for developing readers:


1. Celebrate interests and identities.

From Day 1, developing readers should be encouraged to read texts that reflect (and expand!) their experiences and interests. Fostering a diverse library of books is key to their development and understanding of the world around them.


2. Keep a schedule.

For developing readers, consistency is key. Even on busy days, allocating just 10-15 minutes reinforces the importance of reading. Designating a “book nook” or family reading time makes reading more special - and less stressful!


3. Try reading aloud as a group.

Compared to old-fashioned popcorn reading, choral reading invites the entire class and teacher to read aloud together. This removes the spotlight from  individual readers while helping students connect written and spoken words.


4. Same book, different day.

Studies show that reading the same text multiple times throughout the week, whether alone or in pairs, can significantly improve elementary students’ word pronunciation and comprehension. Instead of forcing students to move on from a beloved text, rereading it multiple times - aloud, alone, and in groups - can actually enhance their reading development.


5. Use reading technology.

Especially for students with dyslexia and other reading challenges, technology-based strategies such as ear-reading - listening to an audiobook while reading - can be transformative for developing readers.


6. Visit the library!

In addition to audio books and other assistive reading technology, your local library may host author events, giveaways, and other activities for developing readers that will ignite and sustain their love of reading.

Reading Strategies for Developing Readers


  • While the definition of “developing reader” is debatable, we define a developing reader as anyone who is working toward the goal of reading a wide range of complex texts: fluently, confidently, and independently!
  • Five stages of reading development were originally identified by Maryanne Wolf (2008) in her book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. While the science of reading is always evolving, many reading experts agree on this rough breakdown of reading development.
  • Modern technology and local resources make it possible for parents and educators to support developing readers with 6 evidence-based strategies.

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What is an Emergent Reader? Plus: 4 Strategies to Support Emergent Readers

What is an Emergent Reader? Plus: 4 Strategies to Support Emergent Readers

Whether you’re a parent or educator, you’ve likely stumbled upon the term “emergent reader” at some point in your student’s reading journey. This phrase is frequently used - but not always clearly defined. Today, we’ll unpack what it really means to be a student in the “emergent stage” of reading, and describe how literacy resources can best support emergent readers.

Emergent Reader

What is an Emergent Reader?


Emergent readers - sometimes referred to as “beginning readers” - are defined as students who cannot yet read independently but are gradually acquiring the skills of literacy.


For an emergent reader, every step counts. No two readers are alike, but the majority of emergent readers share some key similarities:


  • Most emergent readers are in kindergarten or first grade, although this standard has shifted since the pandemic & subsequent introduction of remote learning. Research is beginning to show that distance learning had a negative impact on elementary reading skills.
  • They may not write comprehensible sentences, but when asked to write down their address or name, for instance, emergent readers may write a string of scribbles.
    • This shows a baseline understanding of writing as a way to share information.
  • Emerging readers may point out commonly used words and letters in their everyday worlds, such as words on signs (“Walk!” “Stop!”) or the first letters of their names.
  • Emerging readers may be ready to practice high-frequency words or sight words. They’ve learned the alphabet and may pretend to read familiar books.


Reading is not a one-size-fits-all process, and every emergent reader will vary slightly in their abilities and rate of progress. While most emergent readers read below a 4th-grade reading level, they’re making tangible steps toward reading fluently.

helping an Emergent Reader

Emergent Reader vs. Beginning Reader


Beginning readers and emergent readers are often used interchangeably. That said, the definition of an emergent reader emphasizes the ultimate “emergence” of fluent readers, ideally with the support of a phonics-based reading program. To break it down further, some educators recognize the category of early emergent readers, who range from 6 months to 6 years old and are just beginning their reading journeys. Compared to early emergent readers, you’ll know your student is becoming a fluent reader when they show some of the following signs:


  • A strong understanding of phonics
  • The ability to read aloud, sometimes with help from an adult
  • Decoding skills, which allow readers to unpack more complex sentences
  • Progression from picture-heavy books and decodable readers to books with increasingly large chunks of text
  • An interest in nonfiction and fiction books that cater to their unique interests - and an eagerness to try reading them on their own!
Strategies to Support Emergent Readers

Resources for Emergent Readers


Regardless of where your student stands in their reading journey, most young readers will benefit from the types of resources designed specifically for readers in the emergent stage. These resources often focus on word recognition, decoding ability, and phonics skills: all of which children need to make the transition to reading fluently. When looking for the best resources for emergent readers, look for curricula and programs that use the following strategies:


1. Direct and explicit instruction, especially for phonics. This may include detailed explanations, modeling independent reading, and guided reading practice.


2. Handwriting instruction: evidence suggests that regular handwriting practice is crucial to support emergent readers and students with reading disabilities.


3. Word blending and segmenting. Emergent readers should be learning how to blend words, which means that they’re able to put individual sounds together to form a word aloud.

a. In addition to word blending, emerging readers will gradually learn how to parse out the individual sounds or phonemes in a word: a process known as word segmentation.


4. For an emerging reader who is struggling to grasp basic literacy skills, spending instructional time on the relationship between sounds and letters - often referred to as “phoneme-grapheme mapping” - is crucial. A solid foundation in phonics is necessary before readers can progress confidently from the emergent stage.

a. Based on recent research on the science of reading, it’s best to introduce students to new letters as quickly as possible: to maximize their exposure, experts recommend teaching at least two new letters per week.


Reading Teacher offers a variety of tools to support emergent readers. With a focus on decodable words and phonics, we’re especially attuned to the foundational needs and varied skills of emergent readers. Above all, emergent readers will benefit most from fun, engaging, and interactive reading activities that foster their desire to read and learn, even before they achieve fluency.



  • Emergent readers are defined as students who cannot yet read independently, but show an interest in reading, writing, and a basic grasp of the alphabet.
  • Emergent readers are commonly referred to as beginning readers.
  • The best reading resources for emergent readers will use direct and explicit instruction to teach handwriting, word blending & segmentation, and phoneme-grapheme relationships.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

Know a Struggling Reader in 1st Grade? 4 Strategies That Just Might Work

Know a Struggling Reader in 1st Grade? 4 Strategies That Just Might Work

1st grade is a time of exploration, play, social development, and, crucially, learning how to read. In anticipation of summertime - and, hopefully, more reading time - we’re outlining common reading goals and strategies to support struggling readers in 1st grade.

Helping a Struggling Reader

1st Grade Reading Goalsfor Struggling Reader


If your 1st grade reader is struggling, it might be time to adjust their reading goals and introduce new strategies to guide them toward success. Throughout the year and into the summer, there are several common reading goals for first graders to work toward:


  1. Learning common sight words.

Sight words are often defined as words that kids can’t sound out with phonics, such as the, who, one, and you. Other high-frequency words are easier to sound out: think “it,” “run,” “like,” “can,” and others. While memorization of these words should not replace phonemic awareness, increasing first graders’ familiarity with high-frequency, one-syllable words can boost their reading confidence.


  1. Answering questions about books they’ve read.

After each reading session, adults can facilitate a “mini book club” by asking the child questions about the book, helping them summarize the story, and generally discussing the book, all of which show the child’s understanding of the content.


  1. Developing a love for reading.

For a first grade struggling reader, nurturing their love for literature may seem like a lofty goal. Yet for parents and teachers, there’s no need to stress: developing a passion for books is a long-term goal! To get a headstart, offer regular and frequent exposure to books and decodable readers that align with the child’s skills and individual interests. Dinosaurs, fairies, big cats, you name it: there’s a book for your first grader.

Strategies for Helping a Struggling Reader

How to Help My Struggling 1st Grader in Reading


After setting these reading goals, there are numerous strategies to help struggling readers in first grade transform into second grade superstars.


  1. Set individualized reading goals.

Make a reading goal chart, tracker, or even a paper chain link with one reading goal written on each link. For struggling readers in first grade, being able to visualize and check off their reading goals makes success more tangible and exciting.


  1. Establish reading time - and make it fun.

Imagine: just 10-15 minutes every day can. Make reading a daily habit by making it fun: read as a family in a quiet and cozy corner of the house, and discuss your books after the timer goes off.


  1. Visit the library this summer.

School is out, which means the library is IN. Many local libraries sponsor summer reading challenges and events to support students of all abilities, including struggling readers in first grade and other age groups.


  1. Find creative ways to read.

With the help of an adult, first graders can draw and write their own books - then read them out loud to others as newly “published” authors. Families can watch movies together with subtitles to encourage subconscious reading. And don’t shy away from graphic novels and other nontraditional reads: for a first grader, any reading is good reading.


Even for struggling readers in 1st grade, meeting their reading goals is possible when educators and parents meet them at eye-level. From an adult perspective, this means regularly checking in with your first grader, identifying their reading strengths and weaknesses, and modifying reading activities to reflect their goals and personal interests. No first grader is the same - and that’s what makes their reading journey both challenging and rewarding.

Struggling Readers


  • If you’re wondering how to help a struggling reader in 1st grade, it’s important to understand & establish common reading goals for first graders: among them, recognizing high-frequency sight words and showing signs of reading comprehension.
  • For 1st graders who are struggling to keep up with their peers, adults can adopt several strategies, including:
    • Using visual tools to track reading progress
    • Establishing reading time as a family or classroom
    • Taking advantage of the local library
    • Combining art and reading, using subtitles during movies, and finding other creative ways to sneak reading into your child’s everyday routine

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Help! My Kindergartener Can’t Read. Here’s What You Can Do About It.

Help! My Kindergartener Can't Read. Here's What You Can Do About It.

If you have a kindergartener that is struggling to read, don't worry - you are not alone. In fact, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), about 66% of fourth-graders are reading at or above grade level. When your kindergartener is having Difficulty reading, it can be a cause of great concern for parents. You may feel like you are doing something wrong, or that your child is doomed to a life of illiteracy. This is not the case! There are a lot of people out there who know what it's like to be in your shoes. The important thing to remember is that with all the incredible resources out there today, the most important thing to do is to practice. We have created a guide to help you start getting your kindergartener on the right track toward reading.

Help a Kindergartener to read

How to Help a Kindergartner that can't read


Here are techniques to help a Kindergartner that can't read :


-Read to them: This is the most important activity you can do to help your child develop reading skills. Make it a part of your daily routine to read aloud together for 20 minutes or more.

-Encourage them to read on their own: Provide materials that are interesting and at their level, such as easy readers, comics, magazines, and short stories. Set aside time each day for them to read independently.

-Make it fun: Playing games, singing songs, and acting out stories are all great ways to help your child develop a love for reading.

-Help them sound out words: When your child comes across a word they don't know, help them sound it out. This will help them to start to understand how the written word works.

Help a Kindergartener

Interactive Decodable Stories are helpful


Here is why interactive decodable stories are helpful :


-The stories are short

-The words are repeated multiple times throughout the story

-The words follow a simple pattern

-There is an interactive component that allows the child to practice what they have learned


Some examples of interactive decodable stories are: -"The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss -"Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss -"Fox in Socks" by Dr. Seuss


These books are available online, or you can check them out from your local library.

Interactive Decodable Stories are helpful


Here is why interactive decodable stories are helpful :


-The stories are short

-The words are repeated multiple times throughout the story

-The words follow a simple pattern

-There is an interactive component that allows the child to practice what they have learned


Some examples of interactive decodable stories are: -"The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss -"Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss -"Fox in Socks" by Dr. Seuss


These books are available online, or you can check them out from your local library.

Help a Kindergartener to read

Teaching kindergarten reading


These are tips to work with your child whether they are at home or in the classroom.


If you think your child may be having difficulty reading, the best thing to do is talk to their teacher. Teachers are trained in identifying early reading difficulties and can give you specific advice on how to help your child at home.


There are also many great resources available online and in libraries. Here are a few of our favorites:


- The Reading Machine by Barbara deRubertis: This step-by-step guide walks you through everything from teaching the alphabet to sounding out words.

- What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch: This book covers the basics of reading, writing, and math that every child should know before starting kindergarten.


Start by practicing the alphabet with your child every day. Help them sound out words and read simple sentences. Make reading fun by taking turns reading stories aloud, acting out scenes from books, or coming up with your own endings to stories. Encourage your child to keep reading by letting them choose their own books and providing plenty of praise when they read well. With a little patience and practice, your child will be reading in no time!


What else you can do if my child is not reading at grade level?


If you have exhausted all of the resources available to you and your child is still not reading at grade level, there are a few other things you can do. You can talk to your child's teacher about what they are seeing in class and if they have any suggestions. You can also look into hiring a tutor who specializes in helping children learn to read. The most important thing is to not give up and to keep working with your child. With a little extra help, they will be reading in no time!


If you are concerned that your child may have a learning disability, the first step is to talk to their doctor. They can rule out any medical conditions that may be causing the delay and refer you to a specialist if they think it would be beneficial.


If you have tried all of the above and are still struggling, reach out to us! We are here to help and can offer additional resources and support. Contact us today to learn more.


What are some signs that my child is not reading at grade level?


There are a few signs that may indicate your child is not reading at grade level. If they are struggling to sound out words, having trouble understanding what they read, or are reading very slowly, these may be red flags. If you notice any of these things, it is important to reach out for help so that your child can get back.


What are good words to start with sounding out words?


There are a few good words to start with when sounding out words. Words that have a short vowel sound, such as "cat" or "dog," are usually good for beginning readers. Once your child is able to read these easily, you can move on to longer words. Sounding out words is a great way to help your child learn to read.


By following the steps above, you will be well on your way to helping your child learn to read. Don't forget, the most important thing is to practice, practice, practice! With a little extra help and a lot of patience, your child will be reading in no time.




When it comes to teaching kids how to read, there are a lot of different techniques that can be effective. However, one of the best things that you can do is simply encourage them to read as much as possible. This means setting aside some time each day for reading, whether it’s before bed or first thing in the morning. It’s also important to create a reading-friendly environment in your home by stocking up on books, magazines, and other reading materials. And finally, make sure to praise your child when they show interest in reading or make progress with their skills. By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to helping your child become a strong reader.


If you have any questions or would like additional resources, please reach out to us. We are here to help! Contact us today to learn more.


Happy reading!

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

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