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  • Writer's pictureAshley

Tools to Help Struggling Readers at Home

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

Kids who struggle with reading, know they struggle with reading. They feel a lack of self-confidence, frustration with reading activities or even school itself, and are making less progress in skills and grades.

It can be incredibly difficult to watch your child go through these things. Even more so when you just don’t know what to do to help them.

I see your struggles and I want to offer you some support. First, there are things you can do as a parent or caregiver to help your child practice and fill in missing skills at home. Second, in the day of Zoom and online teaching, there is always a way to access private tutoring.

Teaching reading is rocket science as Louisa C. Moats suggests in her scholarly article. (Here’s a link to the article if you’re interested.) So, it can be overwhelming to think that you can help your struggling reader at home, BUT you can help them. I promise! Let me show you some of the best tools to help your struggling reader at home!

Sound Boxes

Sound boxes are a great way to aid your child in hearing all of the sounds in a word and then connecting those sounds to their spellings.

Let me show you how…If the word camp was on my child’s spelling list I would first say the word and then ask them to repeat it. Next, we will say all of the sounds in the word. The sounds are /c/ /a/ /m/ /p/. Then, we will tap boxes to correspond to those sounds. I always ask my students to tell me how many sounds they counted. Finally, we connect those sounds to their spellings by writing one sound in each box.

One critical thing to understand is that sound boxes are for sounds, so you may have two or even three letters in a box because they make one sound! Digraphs have two letters but make one sound: th, ch, sh, ng. Trigraphs have three letters but make one sound: tch, dge, igh.

If you are looking for more explanation, click here to hop over and watch my video explanation of how to use sound boxes.

If you would like more explanation of using this method for irregularly spelled high-frequency words, take some time to check out my post about heart words.

Here’s the why behind sound boxes.

Research has shown us that we store words in our brain through a process called Orthographic mapping. We don’t just memorize words by the way we look, which is how many teachers ask students to memorize. Instead, our brain connects the pronunciation and sound of a word with the letters or combination of letters we already know, and the meaning of the word, in order to store the word in long-term memory.

For example, a child hears and repeats the word jet. Their brain takes in the sound of the word, connects it with the meaning of jet, and then figures out the letters that make those sounds.


Yep, you heard me. Flashcards!

**Important to remember: Flashcards are not how we learn to read, but they are crucial for automaticity and review.**

So when you learn a new skill or concept, put it on a flashcard. I highly recommend putting all learned phonemes (sounds) on flashcards and reviewing them 4-5 times a week.

One of the biggest mistakes I see with struggling readers is that we teach something and then move on thinking that they’ve committed this to long-term memory and will never forget. I promise you that this is almost always incorrect.

Kindergarten through second or third grade is all about learning the phonics patterns, how the sounds in our words are spelled. Therefore, especially for these grades, kids should be reviewing ALL known sounds and their spellings routinely. By third grade, your stack of review material may need to be divided into different stacks, and reviewed on different days.

Blending Board

Another foundational skill our kids need to read is automaticity in blending known letters and spelling patterns into words. Once again we move kids past this stage far too quickly. So the best way to help them is to give them practice.

I suggest downloading this free app called Blending Board (Mac and Android) and practicing for 3-5 minutes several times a week. As your child grows and improves their accuracy in blending together words correctly, you can change the skills to meet their needs.

I use this app quite often in my own tutoring sessions and it really does help my children. For a free app, it’s one of the best!


Your kids love technology, right? I’m sure they probably do. So, I want to share two of my favorite video for kids that cover the incredibly important listening skills called phonological awareness (rhyme, syllables, etc.), as well as phonemic awareness (sounds and manipulating them). These videos are for our younger learners but I’ll be honest, I’ve shown them to third and fourth graders and they didn’t complain!

Both shows are available on YouTube for free. First, we have Reading Buddies. Second, we have Sounder and Friends. If you have a struggling reader, try out an episode next time they want to watch a video.

Decodable Readers and Books

Decodable books are exactly that, decodable! They follow a specific sequence so that the skills in book 3 build on the skills in books 1 and 2. There are no words that a child will need to guess in these stories. Every word is either a previously taught spelling pattern or a high-frequency word.

Decodable books give struggling readers self-confidence because they are able to read and finish a book. They give them enjoyment in reading instead of frustration. They also give much-needed practice in recognizing patterns, blending known patterns, and learning to read these patterns with automaticity.

Word Ladders

This practice goes back to orthographic mapping, however, most kids see this activity as a game. Some of my struggling readers ask for this activity almost daily.

First, draw or download a word ladder sheet. Start at the bottom and say a word. Your child will say the sounds in the word and then write it. Now change one sound in the word to make a new word. Again say the word and have them repeat. Now they need to figure out which one sound changed and write the new word on the next rung. Continue changing one sound in the word to make new words until you get to the top of the ladder. Have your child go back and circle the sound that changed in each word.

Use spelling patterns from your child’s spelling list for the week or specific patterns you are working on at home.

There you have it. 6 easy-to-use (and sometimes free) tools to use to help your struggling reader at home. Most of these activities should be repeated frequently but should not take more than 5-10 minutes each.

I have just a few more quick tips:

  • If you want to fill in the gaps your child has, head to my post about teaching your child phonics. You will find way more detailed info and important links over there.

  • Interested in how your child learns to read? Look into the Science of Reading.

Does all of this seem like too much? As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, a private tutor is never far away in today’s society. Teaching reading can be difficult. If you feel your child needs more help than you can or want to give, find a tutor! Early intervention is key for struggling readers, so don’t wait.

To get your free copies of sound boxes and a word ladder, click here.

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