12 Ways to Help Children with Reading Difficulties

In her book Emilia proposes tracks and activities to help children with reading difficulties. These exercises or advice will help children to access the meaning of what they read, to free the mechanism of thought, to understand a text read, to develop the intelligence of the text.

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1. Have children read aloud
Simple visualization does not directly convey meaning to the vast majority of students. Speech is the essence of their thinking.

Emilia therefore recommends associating speech with each stage of basic learning. Speech that is heard enables circuits to be connected.

2. Subvocalising (speaking in a low voice): internalized speech
Emilia regrets that learning to read is dissociated from speech and that some children learn to read silently, to write with their mouths closed, to listen without writing, to write without dictating anything to themselves.

Children who do not know how to analyse what they hear, who can no longer hear themselves in their heads when they read or write, can hardly hear themselves when they think.

3. Dictating words to each other before writing
Only a small minority of people can read directly, without going through actual or internalized speech.

Dictating words to oneself before writing them down contributes to the formation of the habit of speaking to oneself, either aloud or subvocally.

Good habits taken for writing will be good habits taken for reading.

4. Pause in the text and evoke the scene with mental pictures.
Speaking aloud or in one’s head when reading or writing is necessary for understanding words, but insufficient for understanding sentences. It is also necessary to take the time to evoke the scene.

Evocation is the mother of understanding. – Antoine de la Garanderie
A child who has learned to take frequent breaks in reading to take time to recall the scene being read can understand and memorize the texts he or she reads.

Children may be asked to describe what they see in their head after each sentence or paragraph (depending on their age and level of difficulty). This is the “movie” they make in their heads.

5.Methodically analysing texts: questions of intelligence
Emilia proposes formulations of intelligence questions that develop children’s sense of analysis:

Where does the scene take place? How do you see it?

What is the weather like? What do you see it like?

How many characters are there? How do you know that?

What’s the point of…? What are the clues that guided you?

She stresses the importance of the question “How do you see it?”. If you don’t forget to ask this question, in whatever form it takes (why? what makes you say that?…), the child will automatically seek to justify his answers afterwards, without being able to simply scan the text in search of the word answer.

Emilia even suggests asking linear questions after each sentence for certain difficult texts. Once this linear analysis has been carried out, the more synthetic questions (as mentioned above) can be tackled.

What does the title tell us?

Julien held out his hands. Whose hands? What for? Can we find out now? If not, let’s keep these questions in mind and continue our analysis.

The inside of the gloves was hot and humid. Which gloves are we talking about? Why were they hot and humid?

6. Ask opening questions
Emilia explains that questions of openness increase the culture of the child. These questions will be asked at the end of the text analysis and address what the child knows in life. In this way, he will be able to build bridges between books and life. This was the purpose of the “lessons of things” that traditionally followed reading.

For example, on a text featuring characters on a supervised beach:

Are all beaches watched?

How can we tell if they are?

What kind of flags are there on the beaches in front of the surveillance posts?

What is the purpose of these posts?

What can you take to go fishing?

The question work in points 2 and 3 has the ultimate aim of teaching children to ask themselves questions when they read so that they can make sure that they themselves understand what they are reading. The reader’s autonomy depends on this: knowing how to ask themselves analytical questions, and the right questions.

7. Working on the timeline
Working on the perception of time and chronology helps children regain access to their time brain.

Emilia proposes this type of exercise:

Ask the child to leave the room, then return to our call.

As soon as he comes back in, ask him to do something (for example, throw dice).

Ask the child to say what he or she did and to indicate the first action (When I came in, I rolled the dice).

Once the correct answer is given (if not, repeat the scene), propose to do 4 different things in the play.

Once the actions have been completed, ask the child to tell them in order.

Write down the sentences corresponding to the actions, put them in order and ask the child to put them back in the order in which they were performed.

Start over with more actions until the child is completely comfortable (possibly increase the number of actions).

Move on to more complex sentences: When you arrived, I had already eaten/ As soon as he heard noise in the cellar, he went downstairs. What is the first of the 2 actions?

Help with open-ended questions if necessary.

8. Re-order the sequential images.
Sequential images allow the child to exercise logic and understand cause and effect relationships.

The child is asked to hand out cards in chronological order to develop a coherent and logical story.

The child is then asked to verbalize the story he or she has just created.

The child may be asked to insert temporal connectors (“first”, “then”, “finally”, “then”, “therefore”…).

9. Reproducing rhythms
Emilia suggests that children reproduce cadences struck on the table.

She starts with simple and regular rhythms of 3 quarter notes “ta-ta-ta”. For those who find it difficult to go to 4, she recommends that they repeat orally what they have just heard “ta-ta-ta-ta”. The passage by speech (or at least by subvocalisation) facilitates memorisation.

Children who are not helped by speech get away with staring at their hands: it is the memory of the gesture that helps them.

The exercises become more complex as the children’s memory and auditory discrimination become more refined.

Other games of this type can also be played:

the adult claps once, the child draws 1 vertical line; the adult claps twice, the child draws 2 vertical lines. The adult then alternates the strokes irregularly.
adult claps once, child remains in position; adult claps twice, child changes position (sits down if standing, stands up if sitting).

10. Passing through the body
Some children need to touch objects (e.g., make letters out of play dough).

These students need to make and touch each letter of the alphabet before they start reading and get used to reading letter by letter and then word by word. For effective learning to read, these children need to touch and pronounce the sound of the letter until they master the alphabet.

11. Exercising the senses through tactile and visual recognition activities
Emilia proposes a sensory exercise to develop children’s tactile perceptions.

With their eyes closed, they have to identify by touch small figurines of different shapes and compositions (for example plastic animals). When children reach the limit of their tactile analysis skills, they only need to describe aloud what they feel under their fingers to be able to quickly identify the object. Analysis from aloud clues (there are 4 short legs, there is a long neck, I feel horns…) leads to a synthesis (it is a…).

We can also think about the drawings by closing our eyes. The hide-and-seek drawing consists in suggesting to the child to draw an object he doesn’t know and that he has only touched. I detail the principle here.

drawing by touching

We can also imagine an adult drawing a picture on the child’s back and the child has to reproduce the drawing he feels on his back on a sheet of paper.

Other exercises concern visual perception: these exercises can take the form of differences to be found (the classic 7 differences), of a model to be found among shapes that are similar…

12. Establishing logical links between heterogeneous images
It is one of the exercises also proposed in the book A Manual of Great Thinking by Philippe Brasseur (Casterman edition). This book offers many games to teach children how to create new connections in their brains.

The fact of establishing logical links between images that do not a priori force them to think.

We can start by showing 2 images and ask them to find a common point.

Then we can show about ten cards and ask them to make pairs.

You can then propose 25 images and ask them to be classified into logical groups (either imposed – 5 groups for example, or free).

You will systematically ask for justification: what is the logic? What is the common point?

The children could also be asked to combine two images at random and to imagine what innovations might arise from these encounters. For example, a cat and a ring: jewellery for animals? or a ring in the shape of a cat purring when stroked?

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