What I Wish I Knew – Helping my Reluctant Reader

by | April 11, 2020 | 3 comments

. Remember my girlfriends and I chatting about children who don’t like to read? Well, more friends are delving into the research! Starting with research, Diane Paul serves as chair of the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division for Communicative Disabilities and Deafness, Committee on Speech and Language Learning Disabilities in Children.  She identifies three types […]


Remember my girlfriends and I chatting about children who don’t like to read? Well, more friends are delving into the research!

Starting with research, Diane Paul serves as chair of the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division for Communicative Disabilities and Deafness, Committee on Speech and Language Learning Disabilities in Children.  She identifies three types of speech or language impairments from the DSM V, which is the industry standard for identifying children with learning challenges.

Renu Mandhane reminds everyone, “Reading is the foundation for success in school, work and life,” said the  OHRC Chief Commissioner.  “Learning to read is not a privilege, it is a human right.” She  actively encourages everyone to remain in touch with the following website to follow the work of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.


Take a look at the wonderful list to the left (Reading Fluency, p. 6).  Although systematic as it is, there is a crucial piece that your reluctant reader needs: YOU!

Yes, another human being who has a strong connection to that reluctant reader improves the chances for that child with a face to face connection! Patricia K. Kuhl (2004) reports that children who receive face to face positive interaction before the age of 12 months; will improve in reading, writing and speaking. Kids will keep improving as they get older. Basically, it all comes down to speaking with your child, giving them positive face to face interaction, then showing them pictures and words.  To restate from Blog #2, let’s begin with Step 1 (to your left).  Choose 1 or 2 sounds/letters (like b e d) the consonant/vowel letter we chose.  Kuhl recommends using visual cues, pictures, written text with cue cards (less talking) with children who exhibit early signs of a social concerns, autism or reluctant readers. Step 2 means  using larger text with pictures. For Step 2, I’ve changed ‘b  e  d’  to ‘b  o a  t,’  adding a toy boat, with magnetic letters in Elkonin boxes where in #Blog 2; the student matches each sounds in each box for the word.

For many reluctant readers, I use songs or poems. For example, sing the familiar song “A hunting we will go” emphasizing the word “goat” with “boat.” Place the letters “g o a t” inside your Elkonin boxes (Blog #2) to say/isolate each sound.  Sing the song, placing the small toy goat, but it on, under, in front of, or behind the “boat.”  Step 3 and Step 4 say the sound in each box, pointing to each sound.  Then name the letter, make the sound, stretch each sound out to blend the sounds together.  Following the list above, Step 5 encourages the child to write the words  “boat” and “goat.” One option is to use a dry erase board to write. These can be purchased at anywhere, but I’ve made these ones out of wooden slabs, with some magnetic paint and white duct tape. 

Create that fun sense of playing by singing simple songs, creating the words with alphabet magnets or a dry erase board.  The word and rhythmic pattern of the song  are huge mathematical patterns that increase your child’s chances of learning to read.  Count the sounds in each word, and clap the pattern of the syllables.  Kuhl (2004) says that it increases the word retention far into later childhood years.  After playing with the patterns and number of sound, write the words to solidify the exchange from spoken, seen visual cues to written language. 

For those kids who prefer poems, Dennis Lee has been a favourite for our class.  He posts verse or fun excerpts that are easily searchable on the internet. To be honest, most older students prefer poetry. Recently, Sheree Fitch just began a podcast where she plays with words to make ‘utter’ nonsense and have fun with words. https://voiced.ca/project/mabel-murples-popping-purple-wordspinning-world/

If your reluctant reader is an older child, then it is important to use significant objects from his own world.  Using objects or words that are familiar increase the brain wave patterns.   Songs and word patterns from your child’s background culture, rhymes or stories should be used. Kuhl (2004) proves that the child’s native speaking language provides the background and culture to learning to speak, read and write.  The difference is that most English language learners place the emphasis on the first syllable.  If the parents are speaking a native language  (with the emphasis on the second or later syllables) that child incurs barriers in learning English. All of these are important research facts that need to be shared with parents of reluctant readers. Point out these small but so important key facts with reluctant readers.

Here is an example that reluctant readers need familiar words / toys that use their background knowledge or schema (Vgotsky). Which tree would you identify with? Many children immigrating from a different country might not recognize the maple or oak tree, but they would recognize a coconut or palm tree.  Think of ‘this’ child and ‘why now? Are those cognitive language stressors creating barriers? Is it a higher level or stress or is it truly an expressive (talking), receptive (listening, receiving) issue or is it mixed?  Being a good stress detector (Shanker Method, 5 Domains, 2017) will help as you uncover new connections for learning. 

A key point,  older children love word syntax or alliteration.  Yup, word teasers or tongue twisters. This one currently has my students at school stumped – “Strict stringy Stephen sips seven slickly slimed stickers to stick them on a slick snake.”  Yes, I make them up with my students and they enjoy stumping each other with these daily fun word exercises.  For more challenges, see Sheree Fitch’s podcast link below.

Finally, as you STATE the sounds and blend them into words; identify them as a noun, or verb or any other parts of speech. Start slowly with nouns and verbs if your child is in Grade 1.   Gradually increase identification of each word to nouns, verbs,  and adjectives for Grade 2 and 3.  In Grade 4, identify adverbs, nouns, verbs, adjectives with pronouns. Take this process slowly to build resilience in reluctant readers.

Works Cited

Changes to the DSM V ( https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/SPED/e9a4552e-ad48-4c26-9f6c-7fa9cd50d362/UploadedImages/DSM-5%20for%20DCDD_ed.pdf

Reading Fluency (2010) Secretariat, Ontario Ministry Capacity Building Series. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/reading_fluency.pdf

Fitch, Sheree. Podcast with Stephen Hurley. https://voiced.ca/project/mabel-murples-popping-purple-wordspinning-world/

Kuhl, P.K. (2004). Early language acquisition: cracking the speech code. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5, 831-843.

Shanker, S. (2017).  Self-Regulation 5 Domains of Stress.  What you need to know about self-regulation. Info sheets.  www.self-reg.ca


  1. Lark Barker

    Hi Tina,
    Thank you for writing about this issue. It touches so many families on so many levels. From an knowledge background I would look into the ‘Science of Reading’ (SOR) around how our brains learn to read. Mark Sedienberg has a great book called ‘Reading at the Speed of Sight’. We aren’t teaching reading in Ontario based on science. Emily Hanaford has the best 3 part podcast on what is wrong with WL/BL and what encompassed the ‘reading wars’. BTW- Some of these ‘reluctant’ readers you mention sound like they are at risk for dyslexia. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions in this area. Happy to connect you with advocates and experts in the field. Thank you once again for bringing attention to reading issues and mentioning the OHRC’s ‘Right to Read’ inquiry.

  2. Tina Bergman

    Thank you Lark for your comments. Learning to read has always sparked many different theories as to what exactly is ‘best practice.’

    To be truthful, many of the parent population that I work with do not have the funds to purchase (expensive) programs or have a lot of time. The parents of these “reluctant readers” do have time to read a quick blog on how to help their child learn to read. The “reluctant readers” that I write about consist of two different categories – diagnosed by a specific professional (an expert in the field) as well as undiagnosed “reluctant readers.” I am not a professional who can recommend where to go to receive diagnostic information for a DMV5 diagnosis.

    However, I am a teacher who assists parents in helping their child to learn to read. I connect research to “what to do.” Parents want specific help working with their children to help them learn to read. I can recommend what best practise research works for the children in my classroom. The specific programs that you suggest I have not utilized, so I can not recommend any of them.

    By using research such as Irene Gaskins, Linnea C. Ehri, Katharine Pace Miles, Gregory Rubin, Selena’s Gonzalez-Frey and Gloria Larson-Billing’s – I can bring the research down to a practical approach. My job is to connect research to practical tips for parents to help, irregardless of diagnosis. I am so very glad that you find it helpful and would recommend it to other parents!
    Tina Bergman

  3. Alexis_Parker

    “I wish my teachers knew that I really like to read. If they knw that, they would let me read in class.  The book is usually more interesting than what the teacher is teaching.  No offense to any teachers.  But the book is better.”


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