Without fail, there are always a handful of bright students that struggle to have that “aha!” moment in reading. You’ll write out a new word, such as ‘mat’, and ask them to blend the letters. With a furrowed eyebrow and look of concentration they’ll read “mmaaatt … dog!”

This ability to connect letters and sounds to form words is a complex function that takes time and repetition for our young learners to develop. When the entire class progresses at different rates, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and frustration. So, what do we do to support our young learners who struggle to read and decode?

#1 Be a Student of Literacy

While we all want quick “magical” solutions to incorporate into our very busy teacher lives, a simple step to take is to commit to becoming a better reading teacher long term. Continue learning the complexities of reading and how the brain develops.

One way to continue growing in your reading instruction is to keep up on research. Back in 2000 when the National Reading Panel came out with the 5 Critical Components of Reading, their results were based on over 100 studies about teaching reading in order to determine the most effective, evidence based methods that exist. These “critical components” include:

  1. Explicit Phonemic Awareness Instruction –the ability to identify and manipulate sounds in spoken words, not written. This is often heavily overlooked despite overwhelming research.
  2. Systematic Phonics Instruction –The ability to understand the relationship between letters and sounds and how to decode them in order to read.


Vocabulary Development –a wide vocabulary is key to comprehension.

  1. Fluency –the key to reading fluently is a combination of speed, accuracy, and expression
  2. Reading Comprehension –Just because a child can read the words on a page with fluency, doesn’t mean they can comprehend the story. We read to understand.

If you’re teaching reading to young learners, an understanding of these components and the ability to recognize and evaluate your own instruction in these areas will have a huge impact on your teaching and the student’s progress. Take a look at your lessons and make sure each of these components are there!

#2 Determine Gaps in Student Knowledge

You can’t fix a problem, if you don’t know what caused the problem. Each of the five critical components go hand-in-hand; if one area suffers, there is a snowball effect.

If you can find the time in the day, individually assess your struggling readers using a sort of diagnostic test. Find out what their reading strengths are, and what they aren’t and make a plan from there. A tried-and-true assessment is the DIBELS test. The company provides assessments on their website by grade level so you can see exactly what skills they’re missing.

Tip: don’t assume they’ve mastered a skill from a previous grade level. A struggling 2nd grader may have mastered specific phonics skills or have enough sight words memorized to get by, but still be lacking in basic kindergarten phonics skills.

#3 Explicitly Teach Phonics

The keyword here, is explicit. The most effective way to improve reading in all kids, regardless of reading disabilities or socioeconomic status, is to explicitly teach decoding strategies and letter- sound correspondences.

Here are some strategies for phonics instruction:

  • Model the phonics pattern for students.
  • Relate the rule to reading. Show students how it helps them read longer, faster, or harder words and give them reading materials that reflect the phonics pattern. For example, decodable books are themed around phonics patterns so if you are teaching what sound /sh/ makes, the decodable may be called She Loves Ships with multiple /sh/ words on every page.
  • Leave visuals of your phonics rules in the classroom for students to reference.
  • Make sure student activities are productive, challenging, and are pushing students toward automation (reading the pattern without decoding).
  • Track students who are not mastering patterns before you move on as a class, provide school-based interventions or your own interventions
  • Familiarize yourself with the progression of skills, not just your grade level skills, to better differentiate for all learners.
  • o For example (not an exhaustive list) consonants & short vowels à digraphs & blends à final ‘e’ à long vowel digraphs à other vowel patterns à syllable patterns à affixes
  • Make sure you’re equipped with a huge variety of activities. Click here to look at our CVC Printable Worksheets and other phonics resources.


#4 Incorporate More Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the manipulation of sounds. Since this is a necessary skill in order to decode, this skill has a strong impact on literacy.

Strategies to incorporate phonemic awareness will depend on what skill you wish you improve however, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Syllable activities like alliterations, segmentation, or rhyming
  • Tongue twisters
  • Onset & Rime –Like word families. For example the word family -at. The beginning letter changes and the rime stays the same [cat, sat, fat, mat]
  • Blending & segmenting
  • Advanced phonemic activities like
    • sound deletion
    • insertion
    • substitution 

#5 Build a Love for Reading

When you have to work so hard in various, challenging subjects, it can be hard to find any joy in it. One way to combat with your students is is to make independent reading time special. Establish a calm environment and consider allowing for flexible seating or creating cozy nooks around the room. Some classrooms have bins of donated stuffed animals or small blankets to cuddle while reading as well. Small adjustments like these can have a lasting impact on a child’s relationships with books.  

In Conclusion

Take your students’ reading to the next level with these five core strategies. By finetuning your instruction, making sure your reading curriculum is balanced, and making reading fun, and your students are sure to notice the results.

I hope you enjoyed these Tips For Teachers: Strategies for Phonics Instruction & Intervention.