Re-Energizing our Struggling Learners: Strategies for Reading & Writing

Reading and writing


 Activate — -> Read — -> Discuss — -> Respond

Reading: Engaging with complex text. Understanding & Analyzing Texts

Many of our struggling readers have a difficult time reading and engaging with complex text. There are several strategies that can help them to engage in actively reading the text as well as applying critical thinking skills while reading to later engage in writing.

Identify Fiction vs Non-Fiction

One way to help struggling readers to engage with complex text is to first understand the difference between a non-fiction and a work of fiction. We can do this by creating a classroom chart and brainstorming the differences on each side, with some examples.

The chart can include all the elements that make up a story: Setting, characters, themes, etc. As well as the components that make up a work of nonfiction: Thesis statement, evidence, diagrams, labels, research, data etc.

Image BY Reyna Sandoal, BlendspaceFiction nonfiction

Vocabulary/Terminology Comprehension

Many of our struggling readers shut down when there is unfamiliar vocabulary, terminology, or concepts in the reading. Familiarizing students with non-fiction by introducing vocabulary and terminology that might appear in non-fictional text can help to eliminate reading road blocks.

Miss Grubb

This may include elemental and content terminology:

  • Thesis statement
  • Evidence
  • Concluding sentence
  • Literary techniques

Brainstorm & Categorize Genres:

  • Drama
  • Poetry
  • Short Story
  • Documentary

The Writing Project

By helping students become familiar with content specific vocabulary, we are helping them identify which keywords are important to distinguish, and engage with critically, and which words to skip when skimming the text. There are many vocabulary building activities that you can do with the students to help them to remember and understand certain terminology:

Grouping vocabulary words together into categories can help students to understand the different elements of fiction versus non-fiction.

For fun vocabulary activities, think about using social media with students to help them learn vocabulary words.

  1. One activity can be for students to create funny videos or tweets of definitions.
  2. Another strategy is to ask students to locate specific elements in text that define the vocabulary words related to the content of the genre, ie:identify where the evidence is? Underline the topic sentence, etc.
  3. Have students create their own memes of their favourite literary strategy: Metaphor, irony, etc.

Activate: Pre-Reading Activities

“Struggling readers often have a difficult time transferring old knowledge to new situations.” ~ (Kelly, et al)

Spend the first 10–15 minutes of class to engage readers with subject of the text they’re about to read.

Consider the following when designing pre-reading activities:

  • What’s the students’ background knowledge about the subject/text that is being discussed?
  • What is their interest level? (This can be gauged by asking students in the beginning of the lesson or the day before)
  • What would they like to know about the topic?
  • How can this text/subject be connected to their everyday life?
  • Is this topic relevant to them?

Some suggestions for pre-reading activities:

  • Fiction: Show a short clip of a video that relates to the subject/theme of the text. Ask students to share or record their initial thoughts about it.
  • Fiction: Share a photograph or an image with students and ask them to reflect on what it may symbolize.
  • Informational text: share a tweet or a Facebook post related to the reading, and have students discuss the topic.
  • Informational text: have students debate both sides of the argument presented in the text before reading. Then compare and contrast their points with the ones the article makes.

Activate students’ Prior Knowledge on the topic:

What is one thing you know about…

When did … happen?

Can you recall…?

If you were to describe … in two sentences, what would they be?

What is one thing you want to know about…?

Reading: Scaffolding Reading of Complex Text:

  • Read text aloud with students.
  • Make sure to revisit vocabulary words you discussed/introduced in the beginning of class.
  • Define other vocabulary words that you came across when reading. Provide examples outside of context of the text.
Image by: Rusul Alrubail
  • Use chunking as an effective reading strategy to scaffold complex text.
  • Ask students comprehension questions that can only be answered if they read the text closely.
  • Make sure to ask for evidence to prove the answers to the comprehension questions.

Ways to Help Struggling WritersRusul Alrubail, 2016.

Assign Relevant Topics:

  • Relevant issues to students’ interest, backgrounds, culture.
  • Pop culture
  • Social Media
  • Current news/events
  • Hot topic debates.
  • Music, art, poetry.
Rusul Alrubail. Social Media & Student Communication Skills.

Introduce Students to an Authentic Audience:

Discuss: Guiding Discussion Questions


Ask Students guided questions about the reading. Start with the basics:

Who? What? Where? When? How? =

Knowledge + Comprehension + Application

Don’t make the questions very simple to find. Give students a chance to close read the text & support answer with textual evidence.

Why? Most importantly? So what? Why should we care about this issue/topic? = Analysis + Synthesis

Discussions lead to students forming opinions, their own point of views and gaining perspective on real world application:

“How can I apply what I just learned in this discussion to real life?”


Give students a choice, but don’t be afraid to also provide them with gentle suggestions. 

Provide a short prompt for students to respond to related to the class discussion they had.

Here is an example of an argumentative paragraph assignment.

Description — → Analysis


“So What?”

This helps them to see relevancy in their writing and lets them understand the power of their words.

Help students see the importance of peer feedback. Set time for them to share their work with others and provide constructive comments and feedback to each other.

This post was originally created as a presentation for The EdCollaborative Gathering.

2 thoughts on “Re-Energizing our Struggling Learners: Strategies for Reading & Writing

  1. I think one of the issues is in terms of time. As a former EAP instructor, I was often dismayed at the amount of material that students were expected to “learn and know” in a short period of time. An excellent and informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

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