This is an excerpt from the complete free booklet Teaching a Struggling Reader: One Mom’s Experience with Dyslexia. I have created this page for parents who don’t think their child has dyslexia. Most American children who struggle with reading are NOT dyslexic. If your child is struggling to read and they do not have any of the signs, symptoms, or red flags of dyslexia, it could simply be that they have not been taught to read in an effective way…

struggling reader

This video is so new I haven’t even included it in my e-book or PDF bookfold version:

yslexia early interventionuggling readers



Sixty-five percent of fourth graders in the US are not proficient at reading. Most of these children do not have dyslexia. I have spoken with numerous education professionals and read many articles including this one on APM Reports. The reason these children are not proficient with reading is usually because they are not taught reading with phonics. Their teachers were usually not taught how to teach phonics even though scientific research shows that systematic phonics is the best way for any student to learn to read.

The National Reading Panel reviewed 100,000 studies that examined reading instruction. They stated, “Systematic and explicit phonics instruction is more effective than non-systematic or no phonics instruction.” In other words, the best way to learn to read is to be taught with a systematic phonics program. You can read their booklet here.

If your child is a struggling reader who has been taught with Whole Language or Balanced Literacy, you may want to approach their teacher, principal, or school board and asked them to review the scientific literature that says your child should be taught systematic explicit phonics. Then insist they teach all their students phonics in a scientifically proven manner. You may also consider using a program like All About Reading or Explode the Code to teach them phonics yourself. Dr. Nancy Mather, a professor at the University of Arizona, has been very helpful to me and my books. You may want to check out the phonics program she co-authored: Phonic Reading Lessons.

When teaching letter sounds, many parents and even teachers demonstrate incorrect sounds. They may say, “B says buh and T says Tuh.” Then they ask the child to read b-a-t. The child will say, “buh-a-tuh,” instead of “bat.” This 44 Phonemes video will show you the correct way to make each of the 44 sounds in the (American) English language.

Although there can be more to it, the process of teaching reading with phonics is basically:


  • Start by teaching the sounds of a few letters in a multi-sensory way. Draw them in shaving cream, trace them with your fingers, or any other fun way.


  • After your student(s) have learned those letter sounds, sound out a few words with the letters they’ve been taught so far. Have your child put a finger under each letter and say the sounds as fast as they can until the child can say the whole word.


  • Teach a few more letters.


  • Sound out more words with those letters.


  • Teach sight words, a few at a time. Dolch words are common sight words. 

struggling readers

  • Have the child read short decodable texts that provide practice with these letters and sounds.


  • Move on to more individual phonics rules. Find a systematic decodable reading program. When they have mastered a set of phonics rules, move on to the next set of rules.

struggling readers

  • Teach them about the six different syllable types and how they may help determine the vowel sounds in words.


  • Make sure to incorporate writing and reading the learned sounds/rules/sight words at each step of the way. Don’t just focus on the rules, they need to practice reading and writing.


  • My personal recommendation is to teach any learning reader to “tap” while sounding out. (See the earlier section on “tapping.”) Some children may to try to guess at a word, but if they are tapping it really focuses them on the letters on the page so they will actually read it.

struggling readers

Here is a recommended order of teaching individual letter sounds. It is from Phonic Reading Lessons by Nancy Mather Ph.D., et al., 2007.

  1. Vowel a: consonants s, m, f, t, n
  2. No new vowel: consonants r, d, c, g
  3. Vowel o; no new consonants
  4. No new vowel; consonants b, h, l x
  5. Vowel i; consonants p, k, j
  6. Review of a, o, i, and 16 consonants
  7. Vowel u; consonants y, z qu
  8. Vowel e; consonants v, w
  9. Review of u, e 

struggling readers