Teaching Teens Who Struggle With Reading: What Can Help

By Ginny Osewalt

At a glance

  • Kids who struggle with reading can face new challenges when they reach middle school and high school.

  • Reading methods based on research can help teens read more skillfully.

  • There are strategies for teaching decoding and vocabulary skills to teens.

Even when they’ve mastered the basics, kids who struggle with reading can feel new frustration as they move up in school. They might have trouble making sense of the more difficult texts they encounter in middle school and high school. But research tells us there are approaches that help. Here are a few.

Did you know that your child may be eligible for free digital text-to-speech books? Learn more.

Helping With Decoding

Decoding is translating a printed word into its sounds. Teens with decoding difficulties need lots of practice and increased teaching time to develop reading skills.

A reading specialist is the best person to help a teen with this issue. A specialist can focus, for example, on prefixes and suffixes. So when a teen comes across a word like polygamy, he can be taught the meaning of the prefix poly. Then he can apply that knowledge to make sense of the meanings of specialized words beginning with that prefix, like polyhedron.

Helping With Fluency

Struggling teens read slowly. They often stop to sound out words. They spend so much time and energy on decoding that understanding the overall meaning of what they’re reading can be very difficult. This might lead them to be anxious.

Teachers can demonstrate fluent reading by reading aloud regularly. Even in middle and high school this is still a great technique. It’s also important that teens get regular opportunities to read aloud in class.

Helping With Vocabulary

Struggling teen readers usually don’t want to read. And because they don’t read, they don’t learn new words. That’s why teachers need to teach vocabulary words, and then quiz students every week.

At the same time, teachers need to connect the new words to concepts students already know. They can also give them opportunities to use new words in different ways. Good vocabulary instruction includes synonyms, antonyms and alternate meanings of words.

Helping With Text Comprehension

Asking questions during reading helps teens figure out whether they actually understand main ideas and important concepts. To help with this, teachers can have teens stop and write a short summary of what they’ve read after reading a paragraph.

One of the greatest challenges for struggling teens is finding books at their reading level that are still interesting. Sometimes a teacher will read a somewhat more difficult book aloud to a class. This can help the kids who are struggling with reading participate in the same instruction as classmates.

When a teen isn’t able to read an assigned book, text-to-speech software and audiobooks can be good alternatives. Learn more about accommodations that can help kids with reading issues and dyslexia. And take a look at other approaches that improve reading comprehension.

Key takeaways

  • Teens with reading issues need more intensive practice and time to develop reading skills.

  • A combined approach includes decoding, fluency, vocabulary and understanding.

  • Audiobooks can help teens with reading issues.

    Tell us what interests you


    About the author

    About the author

    Ginny Osewalt is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with more than 15 years of experience in general education, inclusion, resource room, and self-contained settings.