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Reading Strategies for Exceptional Learners

written by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 7/27/2015

Exceptional learners often need different teaching strategies than mainstream students. Reading strategies are successful when they allow you to evaluate each student's ability to assimilate new information.

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    I Can't Read That

    What teaching reading strategies can you put into play that will identify exceptional learners? Successful development of reading skills and maintaining those Identifying Exceptional Learners skills for the long term depend on addressing the cause of a student's processing difficulty.

    Beth Handler, a language and learning disability specialist, and Diane Newman, professor at three universities, stated that students who struggle with reading might have "attention problems, including impulsivity; memory problems, rapid automatic naming problems, auditory or visual processing problems, and problems with detecting details and/or patterns." Creating strategies that meet the needs of the individual student through modifications and/or technology is a win/win situation.

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    I Can Read

    Here are some examples.

    Attention or impulsivity problems -

    • Sit one-on-one using your finger to focus on the words.
    • Give the student frequent breaks to move around or to change the task at hand.
    • When faced with a difficult word, or when teaching new words, use manipulatives to count out the syllables in the words.
    • Color-code word parts for easier recognition, such as "ch" in the words rich, church, beach.

    Memory problems -

    • Begin slowly by introducing words the student knows.
    • Start with one-syllable words and build toward sentences.
    • Create an interactive word wall for the student, allowing the student to add words.
    • Use as many senses as possible when working on a new word - read it, see it, trace it, sing it, etc.

    Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) problems -

    • Students with RAN have trouble reading quickly, thereby becoming frustrated. Begin slowly with pre-mastered words.
    • Read out loud a sentence or paragraph first, then have the student read.
    • Have parents read with the student at home.
    • Have student use books on tape.

    Auditory processing problems -

    • Have student create pictures for the sound the letters make such as baby for B or monkey for M.
    • Rules for decoding such as "I before E except after C," help students.
    • Utilized Elkonin boxes for teaching word/sound recognition.

    Visual processing problems -

    • Use picture/word cards to play matching games.
    • Teach word families such as cat, bat, sat, and mat.
    • Teach words with the same letters such as span, snap, naps, pans.
    • Use a picture dictionary or picture/word cards.

    Detail/pattern detecting problems -

    • Give students a sentence, then repeat one word in the second sentence leaving a letter(s) blank. For instance -The dog sat on the grass. The gr_ss was wet.
    • Create a list of words in which some words are scrambled. Have students find the correctly spelled words. For example - lrtt, rfy, letter, tertf, try
    • Teach word families such as hat, cat, bat, sat, and mat.
    • Create cards with prefixes, suffixes and root words. Build words together like, book, book/ish, worm, worm/y, book/worm

    Most students benefit from the use of technology. Reading into a tape recorder, listening to books on tape, playing online word games scaffold strategies learned in class.

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    Modifying Reading Strategies

    Students with exceptional gifts who read above grade level also need modified reading strategies to keep them challenged with reading. These tips will keep students interested in reading and encourage them to use their advanced language skills.

    Exceptional abilities (gifted) -

    • Create a blog for the students to post reflections on what they have read. Encourage them to ask questions of each other as well as share their thoughts.
    • Form small reading groups (2-3 students). Have students use Harste, Short and Burke's Say Something strategy. (Students take turns reading paragraphs, pausing to ask a question, make predictions, clarify something they misunderstood, make a comment, or make a connection. If the student reading cannot do one of these tasks, they need to re-read the text.)
    • Give each student a block of post-it notes. Have them use them to ask questions, record words that they are not familiar with, save a page with a particularly memorable passage, etc.
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    References and Resources

    Teaching reading strategies and exceptional learners no longer need be at odds with each other. Addressing students' needs with specifically focused modifications makes all the difference.


    • Council for Exceptional Children: Strategies & Technology
    • Lanternfish: Elkonin Boxes
    • Harste, J.C., Short, K.C. and Burke, C. Creating Classrooms for Authors: The Reading-Writing Connection. Heinemann,1988
    • Beers, Kylene When Kids Can't Read, Heinemann, 2003


    Special Needs Opportunity Window (SNOW)

    Dalton, Bridget and Grisham, Dana. 10 Ways to Use Technology to Build Vocabulary.

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