The best place to begin reading interventions for struggling readers is to revisit the foundational reading skills. For more specific information on the foundational reading skills themselves, please check out my blog post on ‘How to Help Struggling Readers’. This blog post will focus on specific teaching interventions and corresponding activities to use with struggling readers to improve their reading skills.
Often a reader struggles because there is a gap in one of the foundational reading skills. Readers need a strong solid foundation in the early reading skills of Phonological Awareness and Phonics. If they do not have a solid foundation in these early reading skills, the more advanced skills of Vocabulary, Fluency, and Comprehension will become a struggle for all readers.
The keys to successful reading interventions are to first ‘target’ a specific skill. Next, provide skill-specific, direct instruction. Finally, provide frequent opportunities to practice the target skill.
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Target Specific Skills
First, you need to identify the specific area that your reader is struggling in. Below are several assessments that can be used to quickly identify specific skills you will need to target during your interventions.
Assessing Phonological Awareness
Quick Phonological Awareness Screener is great for assessing the early reading skills under the umbrella of Phonological Awareness.
These skills are pivotal for all readers! A solid foundation in Phonological Awareness is imperative for success in reading.
The Q-PAS assesses the following:
- Rhyming Recognition
- Rhyming Production
- Word Awareness
- Syllable Awareness
- Initial Sound Identification
- Final Sound Identification
- Sound Segmentation
- Sound Blending
- Medial Sound Identification
- Deletions Tasks
For a more in-depth breakdown of each of these skills check out Reading Rockets: The Development of Phonological Skills.
Assessing Concepts About Print
Assessment: CAP – Concepts About Print
Students cannot be expected to read, if they have not learned the concepts of print. Students must first learn that the written language represents meaningful oral language and that books and print have structure.
Components of Concepts of Print:
- Basic Book Parts
- Print Structure
- Text Features
This Concepts About Print Assessment includes the concepts of print test, instructions for administering it, and some helpful instructional strategies great for reading interventions.
The best interventions for the Concepts of Print are to read frequently to students. Provide students opportunities to explore books. When reading to students always point out the concepts of print! Never take for granted that students ‘know’ these concepts!
Assessment: QPS – Quick Phonics Screener
The Quick Phonics Screener or QPS is a simple and fast screening assessment for phonics skills. All the materials along with instructions are provided.
Phonics is understanding the correspondence between letters and sounds.
I would like to add fluency here as well. Often the struggle that occurs between letter sounds and blending, is a lack of fluency of letter sounds. Students need to be able to quickly recall letter sounds to effectively blend words. When all a reader’s focus is on recalling individual letter sounds, blending multiple letters to make a word will become a struggle. A deficit in letter-sound fluency will lead to a deficit later in comprehension.
Tips for Direct Instruction During Reading Interventions
Now that you have identified the specific reading area that your kiddos are struggling in, it’s time to provide interventions through direct instruction for that specific skill.
- Small Groups or 1-1 – Direct instruction should be done 1-1 or in very, very small groups.
- Simplify Routines – Intervention should be explicit and the routines simple. This is not the time to add fluff! The focus should be on the targeted skill.
- ‘I do, we do, you do’ Strategy – Use the I do, we do, you do strategy when doing interventions with struggling readers.
- Be systematic – Use the same ‘language’ and ‘routines’ throughout your regular lessons that you would use during your intervention times. If you are an interventionist pulling students from classrooms, ask the student’s teacher what routines and language she uses when teaching particular skills.
- Use visuals and movement!
Practice, Practice, Practice!
The key to successful reading interventions is providing ample time for practice. The goal is to make early reading skills ‘automatic’. Students cannot achieve this automaticity without frequent exposure and practice! This repetition can often become quite ‘tedious’ and ‘boring’, so below are some fun practice activities to keep your reading interventions engaging for both you and your struggling readers.
Phonological/Phonemic Awareness Activities for Struggling Readers
Phonological Awareness essentially focuses on students’ ability to recognize and hear sounds in words in our oral language. Most of these activities are for that reason ‘listening’ activities.
The simplest and best tool I have found for teaching rhyming, is a marker with a different color lid on it! Yes, that’s the magic tool! Believe it or not, it is a great visual for students who struggle with rhyme.
Rhymes and Alliteration Activities
Incorporate lots of Nursery rhymes, poems, and songs! The great thing about Phonological Awareness is it can be squeezed into the day frequently with little to no preparation. For some engaging phonics videos check out my blog post Phonics Made Fun with Videos.
- Use a simple gesture like thumbs up when student hear’s a rhyming pair of words. You could also add in fun actions like hopping!
- Provide a specific word like ‘cat’ then read a book or say a rhyme that has multiple ‘at’ words for students to signal when they hear a word that rhymes with ‘cat’.
- Place a picture card for students to reference when attempting to rhyme. Often an issue with rhyming is students forget the initial word.
- I spy rhymes. Use the traditional I spy game but play it by saying,” I spy something that rhymes with ‘car’. Students look around to find something that rhymes with ‘car’ like a ‘star’.
- For Alliteration, pick a familiar rhyme like Happy birthday, but have children change the first sound of each word. For example: Happy Birthday to you. Changing the begining sound to /m/. Students sing Mappy Mirthday Moo Mou.
- Also for Alliteration, place the familiar rhymes in a pocket chart and visibly place the new sound (letter) over the first letter in each word.
- Rhyming memory. Use picture cards and have students turn over two cards. They say the two words and if they rhyme they keep them if not they are turned back over. If they rhyme, they keep them. If they do not rhyme, they turn them back over and play continues.
Word Awareness Intervention Activities
- Have children count the number of words in a sentence. “The cat is yellow.” Teach students to hold up one finger for each word. You could use manipulatives for this activity as well. Give a sentence and students push up a counter as they repeat the sentence back to you.
- Write sentences on sentence strips. Have students cut the sentence apart. Then have students count the words. This can be done in Word as well to save paper and prep time! Just print it in larger font for ease of cutting for young kiddos.
- Make use of fun print tracking tools.
A simple craft stick with a googly eye glued to it is a simple fun tool to help students track print during reading interventions. Witch fingers and googly eye finger puppets are fun too!
Phonemic Awareness Reading Intervention Activities
Phonemic Awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.
Six Phonemic Awareness Skills:
- Isolation: Recognize individual sounds in words. Identify the beginning sounds, endings sounds, and middle sounds in words.
- Blending: Combining sounds to make a word.
- Segmentation: To break a word into seperate sounds and count the sounds they hear.
- Deletion: Remove a phoneme (sound) from a word to create a new word. (tap remove the /t/ and ‘at’ remains
- Addition: Make a new word by adding a phoneme (sound). Add /t/ to ap and you now have ‘tap’
- Substitution: Substitute one phoneme for another to make a new word. tap-map change the /t/ to a /m/
Elkonin Sound Boxes! I cannot stress the importance of the use of these enough! They are the greatest tool ever for teaching sound identification, blending, segmenting, and deletion!
Students push chips up into individual boxes as they say/hear each individual sound in a word. Elkonin Sound Boxes give students a concrete manipulative for determining the position (beginning, middle, end) of individual sounds in a word.
To view a teacher using Elkonin sound boxes during a small group intervention check out this Elkonin Sound Boxes Video.
Read more about the magic of using Elkonin sound boxes for reading intervention in my blog post How to Help Struggling Readers.
The Magic Sound Wand – Reading Interventions Tool
Another fantastic tool is a craft stick with a green, yellow, and red dot placed on it! I have found this hidden gem to be irreplaceable! I often refer to it as my Phonemic Awareness Magic Wand or Sound Wand. Yes, it’s that great! It is always with me when teaching reading. Do not let the simplicity of it fool you, it holds great power! It does not have to be a colored craft stick either, the ‘magic’ is in the colored dots!
Just like Elkonin boxes, the magic is in its simplicity. First, point to the green dot and say the beginning sound. Then point to the yellow dot and say the middle sound. Next, point to the red dot and say the ending sound. Lastly, slide your finger under the stick while blending the sounds into a word.
Be sure to refer to the sound at the green dot as the ‘beginning sound’. Refer to the yellow dot as the ‘middle sound’. Refer to the red dot as the ‘ending sound’. When running your finger under the word say ‘blend’ to cue kids to blend the sounds and say the word. Students will quickly pick up on this routine.
Phoneme Isolation Routines with Sound Wand:
Say: “You are going to practice saying the beginning sound of a word. First, I will slide my finger ‘above’ the craft stick (sound wand) and say a word. When I tap the green dot, say the beginning sound.”
Say: “You are going to practice saying the middle sound of a word. First, I will slide my finger ‘above’ the craft stick (sound wand) and say a word. When I tap the yellow dot, say the middle sound.”
Say: “You are going to practice saying the ending sound of a word. First, I will slide my finger ‘above’ the craft stick (sound wand) and say a word. When I tap the red dot, say the ending sound.”
Phoneme Blending With Sound Wand:
Say: “First, I am going to say the sounds in a word as I tap the sound wand. When I run my finger under the sound wand you blend the sounds and tell me the word (magic word).”
More Stretching – Segmenting – Blending Interventions
Arm Tapping – Use hand motions for segmenting and blending. This is also a great technique to utilize for teaching onset and rime, rhyming words, and isolating sounds in words.
Extend your arm.
First, tap your shoulder saying the first/initial sound.
Then, tap the bend of your arm for the middle sound.
Finally, tap your hand for the final sound.
Slide your hand down your arm blending the sounds into a word.
Here is a video example of kids using the Arm Tapping technique to blend and segment sounds in words.
Throughout the day (or during interventions) break words into individual sounds while speaking to children. For example, I would like for everyone to t-a-p your head. Kids will pick up quickly on this! You can even make this into a game. Give it a fun name ‘Word Detectives’. Explain to students that they will be Secret Agents/Detectives searching for secret code words throughout the day (or during the game). Explain that they will only hear the ‘sounds’ in the ‘secret code word’ and they will have to decipher/decode the secret words.
For more information on how to help your struggling readers check out my blog post on How to Help Struggling Readers.