Reading problems
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Reading problems: 6 hacks to improve speed

By Joyanne James. The need for reading has increased in modern times since online communication has become the norm. People are texting, socialising, learning, working, banking, shopping and gaming online all day. It is almost impossible for a person with reading problems to coast through life without learning the skill properly.

You may know persons with this problem and would like to assist them but do not know where to start. Before picking out reading material, you should understand why the person is having reading problems in the first place.

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Many struggling readers have been taught to memorise sight words from a young age which is the core of their reading problems. They have never grasped the concept of decoding words in the English language causing them to fumble with ones that they see for the first time.

Whether you are a teacher, parent or person who wants to help someone with reading problems, you will need all the help you can get. Here are 6 hacks to help a struggling reader to improve speed.

6 hacks to solve reading problems

1. Go back to letters and sounds

Reading problems sometimes occur because a person does not fully understand letters and sounds. Singing the alphabet is a breeze for most people but they may have difficulty identifying long and short vowel sounds, hard and soft consonant sounds, and the sounds that are made or not made when letters are blended together.

When teaching someone with reading problems, let the person sound out the letters of the alphabet and listen to them carefully. Make sure to note that the vowels a, e, i, o and u each has two sounds that are long and short.

The long vowels sound exactly like the sounds of the letters as in the first letter in aid, eat, ice, own and use. Next to each long vowel or at the end of the syllable, there is a silent vowel.

The short vowels sound differently from the sound of the letter as in arm, elf, ink, off, and up. These have no silent vowel around. Some exceptions are she, he, me and we where the vowel is long with no silent vowel.

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Consonants are all the other letters in the alphabet. Three of these letters however have two sounds.

They are c, g, and y. The c in cat and g in got are hard sounds, and the c in cell and g in giant are soft sounds. The letter y is a consonant in yellow, but a short i in sync and long i in psych.

When some consonants are blended together, they form similar sounds to other consonants as in ch in technology sounding like k and ph in phone sounding like f. Once the student understands letters and sounds, move on to the next lesson.

2. Clear up spelling rules and exceptions

The English language is filled with spelling rules and exceptions that can make reading difficult for a person who does not understand them. There are spelling rules for vowel and consonant sounds, and a lot for when adding endings to root words. Then, there are exceptions to all these rules which can make a struggling reader’s head spin if not handled with care.

Teach a person with reading problems the rules for ch, tch, ck, k, oi, oy, ou, ow, ie and ei. To make it simple, you can write these rules on a chart.

A word ends with ch after a consonant as in punch and ends with tch after a vowel as in watch.

A word ends with ck after a short vowel as in back and ends with k after a consonant as in walk.

Use oi in the middle of a word as in boil and oy at the end of a word as in boy.

Use ou in the middle of a word as in loud and ow at the end of a word as in how. Exceptions to this rule are words that end in l or n as in fowl and town.

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The rule i before e except after c can be taught for some words like friend and receive. However, there are several exceptions to this rule.

Use i before e after c when c sounds like sh as in ancient or when i sounds like long i as in science.

Use e before i when it sounds like long a as in neighbour, long e as in seize, long i as in height, and short e as in their.

Also, read about affixes and see a list of sh sounds that can be made with different blends.

3. Study how new words are formed

When it comes to grammar, if a struggling reader is not familiar with the morphing of words in different sentences, there will be issues understanding the reading material. It is important to teach the structure and the parts of speech that make up an English sentence.

The word order is subject-verb-object, in other words, doer-action-receiver or doer-link-receiver. An example is “Carla reads a book” where “Carla” is the subject or doer, “reads” is the verb and “a book” is the object.

Another example is “Mark is tall” where “Mark” is the subject, “is” acts as a link and “tall” is the object.


To understand the parts of speech in a sentence, it is crucial to explain what are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions and interjections.

The 3 complexed parts of speech that should take some time to teach are nouns, verbs and pronouns.

Nouns are names of persons, places, animals and things. They fall under common (boy), proper (Tom), possessive (Tom’s), compound (tomboy), collective (team) and abstract (boyhood).

Pronouns replace nouns. They fall under subject pronouns I, You, He, She, It, We and They. Object pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us and them.

There are possessive pronouns as in my/mine, your/yours, his/his, her/hers, it/its, our/ours and their/theirs.

Also, there are reflexive pronouns as in myself, yourself/yourselves, himself, herself, itself, ourselves and themselves.

Verbs are action words (walk), linking words (are) and helping words (will). Tense is another part of verbs. There is habitual present (walk), past (walked), present continuous (walking), future (will walk), past participle (had walked) and more.

The other parts of speech are straightforward.

Adverbs describe verbs (drive slowly).

Adjectives describe nouns (short boy).

Conjunctions join 2 nouns (boy and girl).

Prepositions show the relationship between 2 nouns (pens on table).

Interjections show exclamations (Help!).

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4. Discuss words with same sound and different spelling

The English language is filled with words that have the same sound but different spelling. Even confident readers struggle with telling the difference between there, their and they’re.

Imagine the frustration this may bring for a person with reading problems. Homophones will take some time to learn because there are so many words to practise daily. Here are some strategies you can use to help a struggling reader to learn homophones.

Start with the words used daily such as one, won; to, too, two; for, four, fore; ate, eight; aunt, ant; blue, blew; bored, board; cent, scent, sent; there, their, they’re; genes, jeans; great, grate, got, gut; hire, higher; guest, guessed; hear, hair, here, hare; heel, heal; hole, whole; pair, pear, peer; hour, our; its, it’s; flour, flower; meet, meat; need, knead; no, know; pain, pane; principal, principle; poor, pour, paw, pore; rear, rare; raw, roar; rap, wrap; red, read; rob, rub; sauce, source; sea, see; shore, sure; shot, shut; some, sum; stake, steak; sweet, suite; and write, right, rite.

Let the learner write down the words with a memorable word or phrase that gives away the meanings. Encourage the learner to research unfamiliar words using a dictionary or the internet. Avoid writing long meanings that are not memorable.

Another strategy to use is the use of illustrations. Some learners respond better to visuals and will remember words and their meanings with photos, drawings and designs. Make the lesson interesting by giving the learner a project to create a chart, poster or pamphlet of homophones.

Also, you can get creative with these words by writing a story, poem or song that includes a whole lot of these words. The content should be interesting so the learner can be amused. You can even do it as an exercise where the learner has to fill in the blank word with the correct homophone from a word bank outside of the copy.  

5. Have fun with new vocabulary

Another reason for having trouble reading is lacking a vocabulary. The English language has numerous words with similar and opposite meanings to use daily. Seeing, hearing, speaking and writing these words often make a person proficient in pronunciation which is necessary for fluent reading.

Having a wide vocabulary improves your reading skills, expression and confidence during communication with others when speaking and writing. Here are some strategies to make learning new words fun for a struggling reader.

Good has the synonyms superior, fine, excellent, improved, brilliant, outstanding, exceptional, admirable, tremendous and splendid. Bad has the synonyms awful, terrible, horrific, unpleasant, distasteful, obnoxious, repulsive, atrocious, disgusting and horrendous.

Calm has the synonyms peaceful, tranquil, pleasant, placid, cool, coolheaded, harmonious, serene, soothing and agreeable. Angry has the synonyms annoyed, irritated, fuming, mad, livid, irate, heated, furious, enraged and frustrated.

Brave has the synonyms confident, courageous, daring, fearless, heroic, reckless, spunky, adventurous, audacious and spirited. Scared has the synonyms frightened, afraid, terrified, fearful, petrified, startled, nervous, alarmed, apprehensive and hesitant.

Other regular words that you can teach are pretty, ugly, big, small, build, destroy, increase, decrease, narrow, wide, hot, cold, strong and weak. Give the learner some time to learn the words, then do a pop quiz under time. Encourage the playing of word games such as Word Sleuth, Scrabble, Bookworm, Text Twist, Alpha Betty and crossword puzzles.

Search YouTube videos that list hundreds of words and their synonyms to view as much as possible. New words are found in novels so start reading to the learner and pull out these words with their meanings to record in a vocabulary book. Another effective strategy is to allow the learner to practise using these new words in conversation on a daily basis.

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6. Solve reading problems with practice

The only way to improve speed in reading is to actually do it repeatedly. After covering the lessons in letters and sounds, spelling rules, grammar, homophones, and synonyms and antonyms, allow the learner to read aloud as much as possible. This helps the listener to understand the importance of capital letters and punctuation marks in writing. Teach the use of capital letters, full stops, commas, question marks, exclamation marks, quotation marks and colons.

Select appropriate reading material for the learner based on age, level, purpose and interest. Encourage the learner to stop, pause, heighten voice and change voice when reading the punctuation marks.

Read to each other and maintain your patience when mistakes are made. Another very effective strategy to increase speed is to use audio or video recording of the person reading and playing it back right after. When persons see and hear themselves perform badly, it motivates them to do better the next time.


July 2021

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One comment

  1. Thanks for the tips. My daughter and I have been struggling with reading for a long time.

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