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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Tsapakis

Help Me Help My Struggling Reader - Part 1

Updated: Apr 27, 2021

Alarm clock, chef, stylist, personal assistant, psychologist, nurse, teacher, AND playmate. These are just some of the roles parents fill on a daily basis. Parents have it hard, especially parents of students with learning differences. The number one misconception I come across when I speak with families about their struggling readers is that one or both parents should know how to work with their child to help their reading improve. If you take away anything from this blog, I hope it is this: *you are not a dyslexia specialist, speech pathologist, or LD teacher; you are not expected to do it all, and there is help out there!*

This is part 1 of our multi-part blog series that will focus on practical tips for parents to use at home to help support their struggling reader or student with dyslexia.

Even general classroom teachers are often unprepared to provide effective intervention to students with reading difficulties, let along recognize them. Being able to provide targeted instruction starting with the most fundamental units of language takes training, time, and expertise. However, there are still things you can do at home to support your child!

How to decide what skills to practice:

Think of reading like a road. If you have ever lived in a place with snowy winters, you know that water leaks into cracks in roads, freezes, expands, and then leaves giant pot holes once temperatures go above freezing. This is often what happens with reading instruction - classroom teachers move at the pace of the class as a whole, and struggling readers don't fully master what is being taught. You can go back and review concepts and fill in the pot holes, but it is much more effective to repave the entire road with fresh asphalt.

This is why most Orton-Gillingham based intervention methods (see our resources page for more info on this) start with the most simple words to read - closed syllables or CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. A closed syllable is one vowel followed by one consonant sound.


The basic skills will seem too elementary or small - ignore that misconception. It is essential for students to be able to identify closed syllables and short vowel sounds for future skills!

The basics - What you need to know:

Syllable Types:

There are six types of syllables in the English language. These syllables are the basis for sounding out words. However, students need to master closed syllables first. These are sometimes called CVC words/syllables because they are made by closing in a vowel with one consonant sound. For example: cat, hop, run, peg, fin.

Remember, digraphs "wh, th, sh, ch, and ck" are thought of as one sound (kind of like one letter), so they should never be separated.

These words will always have short vowel sounds. You can practice regular words with closed syllables by making sure there is a consonant after the vowel, and that the vowel makes it's short sound. Here are some key words to help you and your child remember the closed vowel sounds:

a - apple - /ah/

e - Ed - /eh/

i - itch - /ih/

o - octopus - /aw/

u - up - /uh/


1. See how many words you and your student can think of that follow the closed syllable rules.

2. Write 10-15 closed syllable words on post-it notes. Make sure to use a variety of short vowel sounds. Have your student hold a fly swatter and "swat" the words you say. Or, you can have them "swat" words with specific short vowel sounds (e.g. - find a word with the sound "ah")

3. Have students come up with rhyming words, if you give them the word "cat" see if they can think of other words that end with the "at" sound

4. Write closed syllable words on a hopscotch game with sidewalk chalk. Have your student read the words aloud as the play the game.

5. Write 10-15 closed syllable words on index cards. Be sure to write each word twice. Have your child play "Memory" by turning each card upside down, and trying to find the match.

Words to Use:

Here is a list of words to use for your activities, but feel free to come up with your own as well!

a: cap, hat, bat, pat, chat, path, dash, ash, bag, tag, sash, rap. hack, gab

e: Ed, pet, wet, peg, ten, jet, beg, shed, web, pen, vex, hen

i: tip, itch, in, pin, which, hit, gin, tin, fish, wish, dish, sin, sit, ship, thin, shin, rick, thick, chin,

o: top, posh, dock, shot, nob, hog, fog, mop, shop, dog, log, Rob

u: up, tuck, duck, luck, pup, mud, tub, fun, hush, gush, sun, jug, chuck, sum, bun

You got this, parents - and we are always here to help!

-The LD Expert


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