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Two Active Learning Strategies for Struggling Readers

By Margo Dill

Active learning is a general term for a variety of strategies that involve students in their learning. Some examples are cooperative learning, project-based learning, and teaching to different learning styles. Struggling readers in particular can benefit from these strategies in a classroom setting.

With active learning, each student is involved in the lesson or project and is using his/her strengths to improve skills and learn new material. Students are often pursuing their interests, and so they are more willing to take responsibility for their learning and like what they are doing.

Active learning is fun, and students are less likely to become bored and frustrated with school and assignments. Students who are reading below grade level often don't like school as reading is everywhere, and they always feel behind. When this happens, students can begin to shut down and zone out.

The following strategies will help encourage student participation and reading practice.

Interest Inventory

Do an interest inventory to find out what students are interested in, but don't do the typical questionnaire. The goal is to find out their interests, and students reading below grade level may have trouble reading the questions.

Instead, make a bar graph with your students using poster board and post-it-notes. Along the bottom of the poster board, list several student favorites that pertain to your age group. For example, a second grade chart might list cartoons, soccer, reading, TV, swimming, friends, recess, PE, and so on.

Then give students three post-it notes and ask them to write their names on them. Each student takes their three post-it notes to the chart and puts them above their three favorite interests.

The stacked post-its will create a bar graph, so you can also use this as a lesson on reading bar graphs! Which interest is the most popular? Which is the least? What is a good title for the graph?

Once completed, you will have a visual of what your struggling readers may be interested in reading or writing about. If one of your students is interested in bikes, then find a book on his level about biking or trick bikes or motorcycles. Allow him to read this book by himself or with partners depending on his learning style, respond to it in his reading journal, and make a poster or a PowerPoint about what he learned. This can be done while your more advanced readers are in a small group reading a different or higher-grade level novel.

Word-Building Lessons

Students reading below grade level may benefit from word-building lessons. Sometimes, they struggle with reading and spelling because they cannot see relationships between words. For example, they may be able to spell and read "cat." But when it becomes "catch," they can't just put the "ch" on, even if they know what sound "ch" makes on its own.

Some companies sell word-building kits, which are great for active learning activities. You can also make your own alphabet tiles by laminating paper with single letters on them and cutting the letters into tiles or squares.

With word-building lessons, students are manipulating the alphabet tiles to make smaller words into larger ones, to make lists of rhyming words, or to learn letter sounds and patterns.

Note, while struggling readers are using the letter tiles, they should also be discussing their ideas for spelling and writing the words. This is not a quiet instructional strategy. Collaboration and discussion should be encouraged.

The students are actively involved in the lesson and the activity, which is also great for tactile learners.

Resources - Word Wizards: Students Making Words