How to pick books for struggling readers

Are they reluctant, or are they struggling?

Lots of parents worry about their children’s reading. Perhaps they find reading very difficult or maybe they would just prefer to play on their tablet, be outside with their friends or do anything, in fact, rather than sitting with a book.

There are two main types of worry that parents have about their child’s reading. Some children simply aren’t interested in picking up a book. They seem to be able to read the words quite well – it’s just that they don’t want to. We call this group of children reluctant readers and research shows that they are often (but not always) boys. The trick is to switch these children on to reading by using their interests: magazines about computer games, books about super heroes, instructions on how to build a model, comics – whatever works. You can find out more about how to switch boys on to reading on the main Oxford Owl website and get some ideas on how to encourage reluctant readers on our blog.

The second type of worry parents have is when their child just can’t seem to remember the sounds of letters or remember common words from one day to the next. Reading is a slow and painful struggle, distressing for your child and distressing for you to watch. These children we can call struggling readers.

An important way you can support a child who struggles with reading is to choose books that are easy on the eye. For struggling readers, pages and pages of text in a tiny font with no illustrations can be very daunting and very difficult to read. Luckily, there are lots of things you can look out for when choosing books for a struggling reader.

Top tips

1. Paper
Nice, thick paper is best so that the other side doesn’t show through. Matt paper is better than glossy.

2. Backgrounds
Text on white backgrounds can be too dazzling – cream backgrounds are easier on the eye.

3. Font
A plain ‘sans serif’ font such as Arial and Comic Sans is easier to read than a ‘serif’ font such as Times New Roman.

4. Size and spacing of font
Avoid fonts that are too small. There should be plenty of spacing between words and letters.

5. Text features
Avoid underlining, italics and BLOCK CAPITALS as these make the text harder to read. Bold text is fine.

6. Line length
It can be difficult to read lines that are too short or too long.

7. Too much text
Long paragraphs of text can be tricky to read and off-putting for struggling readers. It is easier to read a page where text is broken up into boxes and lists.

8. Page layout
Avoid pages that look cramped, or where words overlap illustrations or text appears over patterned backgrounds. This is ok if text is placed in a cream box, e.g. as is often the case in comics.

9. High-low
There are many high-low books published for struggling readers, this means that the content appeals to the actual age of readers but the text has been written for a lower reading age.

10. Making a connection
Struggling readers will find it easier to engage with topics and issues they can make personal or emotional connections to.

11. Linear plots
Avoid complicated plots – flashbacks, time shifts, and confusing changes in point of view. Choose stories with straightforward plots that are easier to follow.

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