How to help a struggling reader

It can be difficult to engage struggling readers with books. Often, they've fallen years behind their classmates. Reading may be an activity they associate with failure—because the difficulty level of the reading materials for school has risen faster than their reading ability has grown. You can use Lexile measures to quickly find appropriate books for struggling readers—for school or independent reading.

Level the comprehension playing field with "just right" books

Find a Book enables you to look for books with lower Lexile measures at any developmental level. As you look at book search results, drag the age and Lexile range sliders to capture your child's Lexile range and age. The following example shows how you might best look for books for an 8th grader reading at an elementary school level. This way, you can find books at your child's reading level that do not look like "little kid books." Your child can be more confident about these reading experiences.

Struggling reader

And you can still challenge a struggling reader who may devour higher-level books about their interests. If a young person is highly motivated to read a particular book, he or she will want to read that book regardless of its difficulty level. You can use Lexile measures as a safety net, knowing that you can be available to help when the going gets tough in a high-level book.

Let struggling readers choose their own books

Find a Book was designed to help a struggling reader easily find interesting books that he or she is able to read. The child who hesitates in front of a shelf of books can relax and browse Find a Book search results, knowing these books are right at his or her Lexile level. He or she sees the book covers and summaries, and can pick from lots of subject categories.

For more information and opinion on reader choice, see this New York Times article on the power of young people choosing what they read, this Charlotte Examiner article framing the debate about young people choosing their own reading material, and this Education Week editorial that outlines a combined approach in which teachers guide students to make their own reading choices.

High-Low books and graphic novels

For middle- and high-school readers, look specifically for books with the HL and GN Lexile codes. HL stands for high-interest plus low-readability. These books are about the lives and experiences of young adults, but are written at elementary school readability levels. GN books are graphic novels or comics. The combination of art and text appeal to readers of all abilities, but particularly motivate a struggling reader to engage with a text. Also see this article from LearnNC about the history of graphic novels and comics and their benefits in the classroom

Your library connects you to easier content-area reading

Chances are good that your child's school or district subscribes to article databases from companies like EBSCO and ProQuest. We partner with these content aggregators to provide Lexile measures for their articles. Your child's teacher or school librarian may be able to provide you with access to these databases at home. So when your child has trouble reading a textbook chapter on the Harlem Renaissance, you can do a quick article search to find some content about that topic with lower Lexile measures. Sometimes online articles also are less intimidating than a passage in a large textbook.

Additional resources

Parents of adolescent struggling readers should check out the many articles and strategies at The site also provides features on books and authors that appeal to adolescent readers, and interviews with middle and high school educators.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York published the report Time to Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Success. The report makes recommendations in the categories of standards and assessments, data systems, great teachers and leaders, and re-engineering struggling schools. Time to Act is released with corresponding reports, which deal specifically with topics such as the cost of implementing adolescent literacy programs and reading in the disciplines.

Several programs around the country have been successful having struggling readers read aloud to trailed dogs. This American School Board Journal article describes how animals can help struggling readers feel more confident.