July 13, 2011

Recognizing the Warning Signs and Compensation Strategies of Struggling Readers

Tags: Teaching Reading Tips


Sometimes it is obvious that a student is struggling with reading. However, some struggling readers are very good at covering up their weakness—after all, reading is often their biggest source of embarrassment and fear. To avoid this task, these students develop many compensation strategies and cover-ups that can make them difficult to spot.

Here is Reading Horizons Teacher Trainer, Shantell Berrett, discussing some of the compensation strategies and warning signs that reveal that a student is struggling with reading:

Not all of these signs automatically mean that a student is struggling with reading, but if you notice these behaviors in a student, it would be wise to dig a little deeper. It is important to pay attention to the context and frequency of these signs since many of them can be signs of other problems:


  • Acts up in class to get out of reading
  • Emotional (angry, frustrated, sensitive) when reading
  • Makes negative comments about reading or school
  • Lacks motivation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor attendance
  • Excuses to get out of reading: not in the mood, too hungry, too tired, will read later, etc...


  • Takes short cuts or rushes through reading assignments
  • Takes longer than other students to complete work
  • Overwhelmed/lost when given multiple directions at a time
  • Slipping grades in other subjects
  • Large verbal vocabulary but low written vocabulary
  • Difficulty staying on task when reading
  • Has to be re-taught words and sounds frequently
  • Works harder than other students to complete reading assignments but with poor performance
  • Frequent and careless reading errors
  • Difficulty tracking words on a page
  • Read words from a different line than the one they are on
  • Start sounding out a word then pull eyes off of page and guess a word
  • Can read a word on one line but act as if they've never seen it before a few lines later
  • Missed assignments

So, what should you do if you spot these warning signs?

  1. Give one direction at a time. This helps students with processing disorders stay on the same page with the rest of the class and prevents them from getting overwhelmed and emotional.
  2. Connect what you teach to other concepts they have grasped. Struggling readers have a very strong situational memory—the more you can connect what has been taught to familiar concepts, the more success struggling students will have with new skills.
  3. Be patient. These students will need to be retaught many concepts.

Learn how Reading Horizons structured literacy reading curriculum helps struggling readers improve their reading skills so they don't have to rely on compensation strategies. Check out our reading intervention program!

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