10 Strategies for Helping Struggling Readers in First Grade

April 12, 2022

Helping Struggling Readers in First Grade

Reading can be a difficult journey for some children. In first grade, students are beginning to read longer stories. Some precocious readers might even begin reading shorter chapter books. Yet, other children might fall behind their peers and struggle to meet grade-level reading benchmarks.

When parents learn that their first-grader is struggling with grade-level text, how can they help at home? Parents don’t need to have any special knowledge in reading instruction to help their child. These 10 strategies for helping struggling readers in first grade can be used at home:

  • Understand the child’s struggle
  • Incorporate games and activities
  • Let children listen to stories
  • Chunk text and explore it
  • Teach children to break up words into parts
  • Ask questions during reading
  • Choose books at the child’s level
  • Encourage and be positive
  • Use reading apps

Understand the Child’s Struggle

One of the most important strategies for helping a child with any subject or lesson is to understand their struggle. Reading involves different skills. Children need to decode words and process them for understanding. They need to be able to understand the sounds of letters and how letters work together to create blends.

As they decode, their brain also works to process meaning to understand the text. Some children struggle to decode, and this struggle may lead to problems understanding the meaning of words and the text as a whole.

Other children can decode easily. However, they can have difficulty in synthesizing the meaning of the text. They might be able to fluently read a book, yet they cannot answer questions about what they read. Or they may just understand the text at a very basic level.

Children who struggle to decode need to focus on the skills related to sounds, blends and how letters work to create the word. Those who struggle with comprehension might need more guidance to better understand the text as they read it.

If parents are unsure of their child’s struggle, they won’t be able to focus on strategies that help their child and move them forward in their reading journey.

Helping Struggling Readers in First Grade

Incorporate Games and Activities

Focusing on lesson-based reading instruction at home can make children feel that they are back in the classroom. While, yes, parents need to work with children as they read, they also can incorporate fun activities to add some fun into the reading journey.

While parents want their child to hit grade-level benchmarks and read fluently, it’s also important that children learn to enjoy reading. When reading is enjoyable, children may be more inclined to pick up a book for entertainment. The more a child reads the better! Practice makes perfect.

First graders typically need to memorize a list of sight words. Parents can use games to help them master these words. Write their list of sight words and take children on a sight words scavenger hunt. 

Parents can also play sight word matching games with children. Make two cards of each sight word, mix them up and take turns trying to find matches. Encourage children to say the sight word when they flip each card.

Other aspects of reading can be incorporated into games, too. Have children act out a book to help them focus on the plot and characters. Encourage young children to write their own book. Help them sound out the words of their story as they write.

Parents also can think outside of the box to create fun games that help children explore reading. For example, take a Twister mat and mark circles with sight words.

The internet also is home to many reading games and educational sites to help children with reading. Explore PBS Kids or ABCYa to find games and activities focused on first-grade reading skills.

Listen to Stories

Many children love to listen to stories. Encourage children to read with their ears by using audiobooks to narrate their reading journey. Parents might be able to access audiobooks through their local library or they can explore titles through apps that offer audiobooks.

One of the easiest ways to encourage children to listen to stories, though, is simply by reading to them. Parents can read aloud to children and ask them questions at the end of the chapter or book. Talk to children during the story, too.

Parents can use different voices to add to the narration and to help children understand the emotions of characters.

Helping Struggling Readers in First Grade

Chunk Text…and Explore

Children who have difficulty with comprehension can benefit from chunking the text. This involves parents or the child blocking out a portion of the page to focus on a specific passage.

Chunking helps children break up long stories into manageable parts. This can help train them to reread, too. By focusing on one section, children are less likely to be overwhelmed or lose their focus. Chunking also can help children read more fluently.

Chunking can be an effective strategy for all readers. For younger readers, though, help them explore the chunked text. What does it mean? What’s happening in the story?

Chunk the Words, Too

Children who have struggles decoding a word can learn to break words into parts. Chunk bigger words to help sound out the word and read it fluently. With smaller words, parents can help children sound out the letters to identify the word.

Some words are easy to chunk by syllables. Compound words also are easy to break apart.

Ask Questions

When reading with a child, ask questions. Talk about the story. In first grade, children may need to only focus on the basic w/h questions of comprehension: who, what, where, when, why and how.

However, parents also can talk to children about what they think will happen next. See if children can make predictions. Talk about the characters and their actions.

Helping Struggling Readers in First Grade

Choose Books at the Right Level

When helping a first grader with reading, parents should help them choose books at their level. Books that are too difficult may cause undue frustration.

Most schools send reading reports home to help parents understand their child’s reading level. However, parents can reach out to their child’s teacher if they are unsure about what reading level is best for their child.

Move at the Child’s Pace

Children learn at different speeds. Those who struggle with reading might read more slowly. Try to move at the child’s pace. If they need more time to focus and sound out a word, let them take their time.

Reading isn’t a race. Take time to help children and encourage them to slow down as needed.

Encourage, Don’t Discourage

Be a positive guiding light for a child. Those who struggle to read may feel embarrassed and timid when reading aloud. Encourage children as they sound out words. Help them explore the text and teach them that it’s ok to re-read if they don’t understand something.

Be positive and don’t shame a child when they make a mistake. After all, mistakes are a necessary part of learning.

Incorporate Reading Apps or Programs

Some children may need extra help or more enrichment than parents can provide. Reading apps like Readability can be used to help children who struggle with reading.

Readability is designed for children in preschool through fifth grade, and the program can grow with the child. Readability includes a built-in AI tutor that guides the lessons and learns each child’s voice. Stories are read aloud, and when a child has trouble identifying a word, the tutor provides assistance.

At the end of each story, the AI tutor also asks the child questions about the book. This is how the program measures a child’s comprehension. However, if a child doesn’t answer a question correctly, the tutor will display the portion of the story that provides clues about the answer. The tutor also reads the passage to the child. Then they can answer the question again.

Readability also gives children the opportunity to listen to their favorite Readability stories. Storytime is a new feature that provides narrated stories that children can enjoy anywhere.

Interested in exploring Readability for helping struggling readers in first grade? Sign up for a free seven-day trial today!