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I am a student teacher and was given a student today that I was told needed help at reading. However, she had much worse problems in reading than i had expected. I was told that she knew most of her sight words, which she did not. It was very bizarre...here is an example: the word was big and she said "fat"...another word was "to" and she said "from". It's almost as if she knew the meaning of the word and she would say the first word that popped into her head except the correct one. I also gave her a sheet to fill out and she could not read ANY of the words on the sheet. It was simply a sheet telling her about me. The second page read "I love animals, especially dogs"...she read it as "I am in school"...i'm not sure what to do or how to help her. She knows the letters and the sounds they make, but she will not even use the right sounds when trying to sound out the words. She wrote that she loves to go to chuckee-cheese and it was written as "go gsigr"...that was her version of that sentence. Please help me with any ideas. I feel very overwhelmed and i'm not sure what to do!


help for a struggling student

As a former special education teacher, now first grade teacher I first want to say that this little girl certainly needs support! Thank goodness you have been entrusted to help her. I am wondering why you were told she knows most of her sight words? Was there an assessment done on her to prove this, or was someone just assuming that she did? When you say she read "fat" for "big" and "to" for "from" this, to me, indicates that she is reading for meaning, and that is a good step. What she is not doing, is attending to the print. Does she seem to have 1:1 correspondence? Is she looking at the words or just at the pictures? I think this student needs some clear demonstrations first of all that print in fact carries meaning, and that you can't just invent any word you want, as authors choose specific words for specific purposes. I would engage her in alot of shared reading where she is able to see the text while you or another teacher reads aloud. Don't worry, I'm assuming she is in first grade, and at this point all children are at different levels. With the proper instruction and guidance, I'm sure this student will make significant progress. If I could, I would like to refer you to Sharon Taberski's text, "On Solid Ground." I highly recommend it and think you will find it to be an invaluable resource.
Good luck!


Senior Member

Writing: for my students who are writing like she is, I do this. I ask them to tell me what they want to write. Encourage them to keep it simple at first. For example, she may want to write, "I ride my bike." I then put 4 lines on her paper, each line representing a word. Then I help her write the sentence. Help her hear the sounds in the words. Talk about the difference between letters, words, and sentences. Assuming she doesn't have a learning disability, if you use this technique, she should catch on fairly quickly about how to write. One thing first graders get caught up on are how to spell words. Do you have a word journal she could use to assist with writing? My kids do and each week we highlight the sight words for the week. They use it when writing to help them spell. I will also write in a word if they don't know how to spell it. Another tool I use is a word box. Before we write, the students brainstorm a list of words they might need spelled when writing. I write each word in a different color.

Reading: she sounds like she has been read to at home. She is probably trying to use the pictures to help her read. A great strategy but early readers depend on it too much. When I have kids do what she does, I simply point to the words and say is that word ___? Does that word begin with that letter? Let's sound it out. Then we sound it out together. If it is an irregular word, we sound it out then I say, "That's how it sounds, here's how we say it." (ex. what) We repeat it several times. I would use a lot of predictable texts with her - help her see the patterns until she gains confidence and skills as a reader. Teach her different strategies to use when she comes across a word she doesn't know besides sounding it out.

1. Say the beginning sound. Finish the sentence. Go back and reread the sentence. What makes sense?

2. Skip the word. Finish the sentence. Go back. What would make sense? Does the sentence make sense without the word. (Not every word is necessary to understand).

3. Is there a pattern? Rhyming?

4. Look at the pictures. Clues about the word?

There are more strategies but these are all I can think of right now.

Make sure she learns her sight words well. Then work on reading those words in simple sentences.

Another activity I use to help kids think about sounds in words is to fold a paper into thirds. Give the kids some sort of marker (rock, penny, etc.) Tell them the sound to listen for (ex. /k/). Then say a word. They put the marker where they hear the sound, beginning, middle, end. Words to use: kitten, taken, pick, etc. Very hard for poor readers but a great way to build phonemic awareness.

I'd also do lots of making words activities with word families. Help her see the patterns in words. My kids use cookie sheets from the dollar store and the magnetic letters from the dollar store. I write the word family on an index card, they use the letters to practice making the different words. Make sure she understands the difference between a real word and a word that is not real.

Good luck with her and keep us posted. Hope this helps!


Thank you so much to both of you for all of your helpful suggestions. I failed to mention in my first post that when she was saying the wrong word, there were NO pictures for her to look at. This was just a sheet of paper with word wall words on it and she was reading them to me. It's almost like she had been given the same sheet before and she somewhat remembered the meaning of the word, but couldn't read it so she said the first thing that popped into her head...i don't know! Also, I was taught using phonics...i know this is not a strategy that teacher's use now, but i just think that it can be incorporated when students are having this m uch trouble...however, my advising teacher does not want us to use it at all. I feel like if i tell her to sound out the word that my advising teacher would think that i was using it too much! Again, thank you so much for both of your suggestions...i work with her again on monday and i will definitely be asking more questions! thanks a lot!