Helping Struggling Readers Find the Perfect Book

Michele left a comment on one of my posts last week and I have been contemplating an answer ever since.  


I am in my second year of using Reader’s Workshop so it still feels very new to me. Would you mind speaking about how you help struggling readers in your class? I have found that a few of my students are selecting books that are much too challenging for them just to be reading what the other kids are reading. I try to direct them toward more appropriate material, but they usually abandon what I suggest and head straight back for whatever is hot at the moment.

I am almost at the point of telling a few students that they have to read a book that I select for them. Does that defeat the whole purpose of Reader’s Workshop and choice in their reading materials? Is there something that you have tried or have heard about that you could suggest?


Every year I have a handful of students who choose books that only frustrate them.  It’s a difficult situation to deal with, because I do not want to discourage them from reading and I don’t want to stop them from reading about a topic that they enjoy.  However, if they can’t comprehend the novel or fluently read it. they may just end up hating the act of reading.  So how do I help them?

The answer for me is time.  I spend a lot of time with these kids.  We talk about what they like, authors they have enjoyed, their favorite topics, etc.  I really get to know them as people and as readers.  Because I read so many books over the course of a given year, I have a wide variety of texts that I can draw from as recommendations.  This is one of the reasons I force myself to read and review books that I might not normally read on my own.  I can better serve my students when I have variety of genres and authors to draw on.  I also read reviews from blogs and industry magazines like School Library Journal for even more ideas.  My media center librarian is my ally in this, too!  

It can take weeks to find something that a reluctant and struggling readers can read and wants to read.  There will be a lot of abandoned books along the way.  In my classroom, the rule is that a student must give a book at least 50 pages before deciding to abandon it.  However, I waive that for some of my struggling readers.  Depending on the student, I will give them a 20-25 page limit for abandonment.  And my kids feel comfortable abandoning books.  I share my own experiences with abandoning books that were not “just right” for me, so they know that real readers don’t finish every single book they start.  All I ask is that they can give me a reason for abandoning their book.  I have heard everything from “I can’t connect to the characters” to “The vocabulary is just too hard”.  Because I know my students as readers, I can usually judge how truthful they are being. 🙂  

To put it simply, time is your friend.  Make sure you have a lot of books to choose from.  And make recommendations.  But let your students make the final choice.  And when they do find something they enjoy reading, let them!  Even if that means they read six books in a row about kids who play baseball.  Keep building their confidence- in their ability to read fluently, their ability to comprehend their reading, and the ability to choose their own reading  material.  Choice in reading material for independent reading is the most important factor in my reading workshop and I firmly believe it is what has made my workshop successful!


12 Responses

  1. I have developed a lesson called the just right book. I go through how to preview a book to see if it could be a just right book for them. We talk about looking at the cover, flaps, author, the text itself. What do you know about any of these things? I also tell them that the last thing the do is to open the book and try reading a page. Use the five finger rule. Read any page for every page you miss put up a finger. If you hit five words the book is too hard and you need to pick another book. It works ok as long as I can get kids to do the previous just right steps. I am involved in a literacy academy. We all have to have a burning question and mine is “What is the best reading zone?” This lesson stemmed from that question. If anyone out there as info on best reading zone practices I would love to hear about them. I need data for my class.

  2. I recently posted a lesson about HOPE you can pick a just right book. Linda Gambrell writes about choosing a just right book in many of materials. She is a recent IRA past president.

  3. This came at just the right time! Thanks!

  4. I totally agree with everything everyone has said. A couple of things that I’m thinking about with my struggling fourth and fifth graders:
    a) Making sure I do great read alouds, preferably with a couple of extra copies that kids can pick up on their own. One of my fifth grade ELL’s that reads at a second grade level in English just read HOW TO STEAL A DOG) and loved it that way. In read aloud, I’m alternating between great “literature” and series books
    B) Series books, series books, series books. If I can get a kid through one, there are five or ten more books to choose. And reading series is almost like rereading, so that builds fluency.
    D) Graphic novels
    E) An old friends’ basket- books that kids read when they were younger,everything from CLIFFORD to JUNIE B. JONES. I talk about how much I enjoy going back to those old friend books. If everyone is doing it sometimes, then it doesn’t have to be embarrassing!
    F) Book talks, book talks and more book talks, at a variety of levels.

  5. The helpful information from you and your readers is exactly what I needed. Thanks so much.

  6. To piggy-back on Carol’s idea of ‘visiting an old-friend’, I called these books everyone books. Everyone can read these books. These are the books that the lowest reader reads. We revisit our friends or they are everybody or everyone books. I frequently reread a little bit of the book or the whole book depending on how long the book is. I had a basket of these books (or many baskets) in my classroom. If I talked about one Clifford book, I would have 20 Clifford books for browsing and reading. If I talked about Junie B, I would encourage lots of kids to revisit them. What I found is that the high readers would quickly revisit the easy books and then read their harder books again, but this way the struggling kids would feel included. Variety Variety variety.

  7. Also, don’t forget that YOU NEED TO READ. You need to read, a LOT. Always be on the lookout for books that even just MIGHT appeal to your readers. What catches your eye – and why? Did it hold your attention? Why or why not?

    Then when I know I’ve got a lot of options to offer my students, I’ll ask them about stories they’ve liked before – including movies and TV shows.

    Finally, don’t forget about nonfiction. For easier books, I try to stay away from ones with lots of photos and look for books with diagrams and charts instead, because they also involve reading. The Way Things Work (IIRC) is a book my dad got years ago (he teaches drafting) and I’ve always loved it.

  8. It is essential to 1.) read a lot and 2.) talk to students about what they like. It varies so much from student to student. I had a boy who didn’t want to read anything but graphic novels on WWII, and when I gave him Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Mark of the Horse Lord because I was deaccessioning it, he loved it. Didn’t see that one coming at all. Sounds like you are doing a great job!

  9. […] the Reading Zone, Sarah tackles the question of how to help struggling readers who tend to gravitate to books that […]

  10. […] struggling readers book […]

  11. When children struggles in their reading it is always, always helpful to give a special attention to that child motivate them to read even going back to ABC until they feel at ease. You will notice the spark in their eyes when they are confident reading the book given to them. In general they will lost interest once they lag behind and this will go on if not corrected early. That’s why you may find non readers until they reach up to their level III in reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: