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We have had many conversations with teachers and tutors of older students. The tutors are often working with children who are reading below grade level but have content standards to meet on grade level. The children are presented with grade appropriate texts but are unable to access the content because they cannot decode the words.  We have put together some of the suggestions we have offered during these conversations.
We hope they help you as you work with your struggling readers.

Fry Words Fry words are the 1,000 most commonly used words in the written English language. Children who do not have these as a base will struggle with reading.  We have spent a great deal of time creating materials to help children learn these important words. You will find our resources here:
We suggest beginning with the Fry checklists so you can access your student’s knowledge of the Fry words. You can then use our suggested activities to help children master the unknown words. The activity we find most successful is word stacks. Use index cards to create a “just right” stack of words. On separate cards, write a ratio of three known words to one unknown.  These are then used like flashcards. According to research, the ratio of 3:1 is best for student word retention.

Building Schema Expose a student to the content in as many ways as possible before presenting the text. Find pictures, diagrams, maps or other visuals the child can look at and analyze with you.  Make use of the technology you have by sharing video clips or other on-line resources that connect with the content.

Activate Prior Knowledge / Making Connections It’s always a good idea to begin lessons by making content applicable to a child’s world.  Students who think about what they already know and make personal connections during their learning, tend to be more engaged and retain more of what is being taught.  We have created Making Connections printables that can be found here:

Preload Vocabulary Words As students grow older they are expected to read science and social studies lessons that contain many new vocabulary words.  These new words add a new hurdle for struggling readers.  To help students as they tackle more difficult vocabulary, work to preload vocabulary words.  Preloading words occurs when you help students understand the meaning of important words before they encounter them.  Students might work on creating their own definition, finding synonyms, illustrating or using them in sentences.  We have created word maps and other printables to help make these tasks easier here:

We hope that the strategies we have suggested help you the next time you are working with a struggling reader!
Bio: Jill McEldowney and Cathy Henry are elementary teachers who have a passion for creating and sharing resources for the classroom.  They are founders of The Curriculum Corner (, a site that is geared towards weaving Common Core standards into the curriculum.  Their newest venture is The Curriculum Corner Family ( This site focuses on learning at home and in a preschool setting.  Their resources include lessons, centers and printable activities.  All of the resources they design are always free.