Reading Intervention Strategies for Struggling Readers

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WF1529100 Shaped 2022 Blog Post Reading Intervention Strategies for Struggling Readers Hero

Reading is the way some find joy and spend the day unwinding—curling up with a favorite novel, poring over current news, or reading the latest trend in various topics. But for some, reading is a chore, another dreadful assignment to complete, and an anxiety-ridden task particularly when it involves reading in front of others.

Reading instruction plays a central role throughout K-12 education, and much time and resources are allocated with the goal of ensuring our students are reaching grade-level expectations year after year. Yet, statistics show that many of our students are reading below grade level, and some studies find that interrupted schooling from the pandemic exacerbated the issue.

What Is Reading Intervention?

Reading intervention entails intensive or targeted instruction on reading to accelerate those who are reading below grade level. In the multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) framework, intervention can be provided at various stages: a) providing students with additional supports in the Tier 1 core space; b) delivering push-in or pull-out targeted interventions in Tier 2; or c) allocating a designated time for a smaller group of students for intensive intervention who are multiple years behind in Tier 3.

What Are Evidence-Based Reading Intervention Strategies?

In order to accelerate students’ reading to grade-level proficiency, here is a list of reading intervention strategies on specific areas of focus:

Cracking the Code: Word Study

Sometimes, students’ difficulty with text comprehension stems from underlying issues with their foundational literacy skills. All students need a systematic scope and sequence that introduces each phonics skill progressing from simplest to more complex using controlled text.

  • Phonemic Awareness: Provide opportunities for students to segment, blend, and manipulate phonemes that are presented orally before moving to print.
  • Decoding: Instruct students on letter-sound correspondences and word patterns. Have students apply that knowledge when decoding as they segment and blend letter sounds to form words.
  • High-frequency words: Deliver discrete lessons on high-frequency words from regular phonics lessons so that students know there are some words that they should commit to memory when reading sentences.
  • Syllabication: Teach the six syllable types and have students break down longer multisyllabic words into syllables and readable chunks.
  • Spelling: Explicitly teach students spelling patterns and complement their reading activity with spelling tasks.

Focusing on Fluency:

On top of reading words accurately, learning to read words with automaticity and connected text with fluency are crucial for comprehension. Try a few of these activities and strategies to help your students develop their fluency skills.

  • Modeled fluent oral reading (teacher-led and audio) - Students listen to the text read aloud by the teacher or through audiobooks and eBooks that emphasize expressive reading and intentional pausing.
  • Assisted reading - Students listen to a modeled reading (either teacher-led or at a computer station) and are actively reading aloud the same text at the same time. Echo and choral reading are examples of assisted reading.
  • Guided oral reading - Students read a text aloud with feedback and explicit guidance from the teacher. Providing error correction for the students is paramount to reinforce appropriate word reading strategies and phrasing that will aid in text comprehension.
  • Partner reading - The students read a section of text and a partner will read the next section of text in an alternating fashion. Alternating reading texts aloud allows for sufficient cognitive breaks needed for students to persevere through longer texts, stay engaged, and build reading stamina.
  • Prosody development - Explicit instruction on prosody development is needed so students can focus beyond word reading recognition and rate of reading. Prosody elements include intonation, volume and stress, smoothness, phrasing, and expression

Unpacking the Words: Vocabulary

Reading is meaningless unless students understand the meaning behind the words they decode. Teachers can incorporate vocabulary instruction through a variety of ways, whether in their daily conversations with students, explicit vocabulary lessons, or selecting a variety of genres of texts. Here are some best practices for vocabulary instruction:

  • Teaching language for discussing books: Teachers can model and explain the vocabulary used to discuss narrative and informational texts, including organizing and then discussing the actions in a story shared during oral reading time.
  • Teaching academic vocabulary: Teach academic vocabulary where students may not understand the different technical meanings for words used in informational texts or content-area books.
  • Deepening students’ knowledge of words used: Select different genres and topics that include content-specific vocabulary to expand students’ understanding of concepts. Also, teachers can help students connect new words to words or word parts students already know.
  • Building morphological awareness: Teach students the word parts that carry meaning—inflectional endings, base words, prefixes, and suffixes—and how they can be combined to form words or broken down to understand their meaning.

Building Comprehension: Content Knowledge and Comprehension Strategies

Vocabulary is critical, but it is not enough for text comprehension. Students also need to possess knowledge on the content or topic of the text in order to grasp its full meaning. The more readers know about a topic, the easier it will be to comprehend a text written about that topic. Wide reading expands readers’ background knowledge and adds to their vocabulary. Implement these strategies into your everyday instruction to help improve your students’ comprehension.

  • Activate prior knowledge: Before students read, have them think about what they know about the topic. As they read the text, have them connect their own understanding or experiences to the text.
  • Multiple genres: Use narratives, narrative nonfiction, and informational texts.
  • Multiple texts on the same topic: Rather than moving quickly from topic to topic, engage students with multiple texts on the same topic. Expose students to the same vocabulary in different contexts and teach difficult concepts repeatedly for deeper understanding.
  • Text Structure: Introduce different text structures and key words associated with texts such as compare and contrast, cause and effect, problem and solution, etc.
  • Retell and Summarize: Have students retell what the story was about, and gradually encourage students to summarize the key points of the text.
  • Language engagement: Engage students tin discussions about what they are learning and make connections to their own life.

Implementing Reading Intervention Strategies

How you implement these strategies for reading intervention students depends on their needs and the time allocated in your school’s schedule. However, effective instruction entails the following:

Use Data to Determine Eligibility and Inform Instruction

First, teachers need to determine who is eligible for intervention. Intervention eligibility differs from district to district. Teachers can use various assessment results that either show students’ performance compared to the national norm or how many years they are reading below grade level. This data will determine those that need additional supports in Tier 1, Tier 2 targeted intervention, or Tier 3 intensive intervention.

Once students have been identified as needing intervention, teachers can use data from various assessments to further identify students’ strengths and gaps, monitor how the students are progressing with the targeted instruction, and adjust instruction as needed. Teachers can administer formative assessments during the course of instruction to provide feedback and adjust ongoing teaching, diagnostic assessments to provide in-depth data on students' learning accomplishments and areas that are not well developed, and benchmark assessments at specified times of the year to evaluate students' progress against a determined set of longer-term goals.

Deliver Explicit Systematic, and Cumulative Instruction

Whether it’s foundational literacy skills, fluency, vocabulary, or comprehension instruction, explicitly explaining all concepts in both the whole- or small-group setting is integral for understanding.

  • Explicit instruction and practice on foundational reading skills such as recognizing and manipulating word parts presented orally (phonemic awareness), understanding letter-sound relationships (phonics), blending letter-sound patterns to produce words (decoding), or understanding common spelling patterns (encoding).
  • Targeted, whole-class reading instruction in a teacher-led lesson as a precursor to the longer period of independent or small-group work; during the mini-lesson, the teacher (1) ties new content or skills to what has been learned previously; (2) states the teaching point that will be presented; (3) models or explains the teaching point, usually with some textual support; (4) asks students to practice the teaching point with partners; and (5) restates the focus of the mini-lesson.
  • Small-group instruction, during which teachers meet with small groups and other students work independently, work with partners, work in centers, or practice their developing skills. Both print and digital practice activities are available to reinforce what students have been learning.

Provide Scaffolded Independent Reading Practice

Teachers can provide a variety of interactive and independent reading activities using different strategies to enhance engagement.

  • Self-agency: Have students select books in their field of interest that are within the range of their reading level. Students are more motivated to read when they have a choice in their book selection.
  • Digital classroom libraries provide scaffolded supports such as online dictionaries, highlighting tools, or accessibility features that keep students engaged while having access to instructional support.
  • Comprehension quizzes allow for accountability of the books that students have read independently.
  • Book clubs: Independent reading can be done as a collaborative project. Have students read the same books on their own and then come together to work on reading assignments and projects in small groups.

Implementing effective reading intervention strategies into our classrooms allows for students to experience moments of success and even joy through their reading, no matter how short or long the text may be. The cumulative process of experiencing these small wins will help make our students “page turners” not only in the books that they read but also equips them to start new chapters in their personal achievements.


You can find additional articles on oral fluency by Dr. Amy Endo on the blog, including What is Oral Fluency? and Optimizing Literacy Instruction with Oral Reading Fluency Assessments.

Learn more about our science of reading curriculum, an evidence-based approach to help students in their reading journeys.

Watch our webinar Secondary Newcomers: Equitable Pathways for Diverse EL Profiles to learn how to best address newcomers entering U.S. schools post-primary education.

Get our free Reading Intervention eBook today.

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