Best Reading Strategies for Special Education Students | Lexia (2023)


In the 2020–2021 school year, 15% of public school students were reported to be receiving special education services. Within that percentage, 33% of those students had a specific learning disability like dyslexia. As we all collectively recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that these students get the support they need during their literacy acquisition journey.

Many students have experienced some level of learning loss due to the pandemic, and accelerated learning is being prioritized now more than ever. This can be particularly hard on teachers, especially when there is a national shortage of teachers and content-area specialists. So, how can educators go about supporting special education students without stretching themselves too thin? It all comes down to implementing evidence-backed reading strategies supported by the science of reading.

What Is a Learning Disability?

Learning disabilities are defined as “a group of brain disorders that affect a broad range of academic and functional skills including the ability to read, write, listen, speak, reason, or complete mathematical tasks.” While there are certain parameters for different learning disabilities, one student’s experience is going to look completely different from the next.

In this blog, we’ll be covering some of the best evidence-based strategies to help students with disabilities strengthen their reading comprehension skills.

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Reading Comprehension Strategies for Students With Disabilities

So, what exactly is reading comprehension? Gough and Tumner (1986) described reading comprehension as the product of decoding and language comprehension. This was known as The Simple View of Reading. For students with learning disabilities, comprehension can be particularly difficult. One reason for this is the difference between automatic thinking and cognitive thinking.

For example, let's say you ask two students to spell the word “car.” Student A writes down the word in two seconds and is ready to move on immediately. This is automatic thinking. Student B’s thought process might include questions like, “Does car start with a c or a k? Is the second letter an a? The last letter is an r. How do I write an r?” This is cognitive thinking, which involves actively thinking about every step in the process before acting.

According to this article from the Michigan Reading Journal, students with learning disabilities typically have to use a tremendous amount of effort to actively think about learning. They also tend to need more modeling and practice than other students. Because these students might lack the cognitive processing skills it takes to read and write, they tend to avoid doing those activities—which puts them even further behind their peers.

Provide Explicit Instruction

Explicit instruction is a key component of a Structured Literacy approach to reading, which is a term coined by the International Dyslexia Association. Students with learning disabilities greatly benefit from explicit, step-by-step instructions for every part of the literacy acquisition process—especially reading comprehension. “Explicit instruction” just means that teachers are stating exactly what is expected, defining terms, modeling, giving examples, and including step-by-step directions on the board for students to follow.

Build on Students’ Prior Knowledge

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Good readers create meaning from texts by connecting new information with topics and concepts they already understand. Developing prior knowledge should occur in all stages of reading, not just comprehension, and it can be especially helpful for students with learning disabilities. Having students connect texts to their real-life experiences before, during, and after reading will help strengthen their comprehension abilities.

Best Reading Strategies for Special Education Students | Lexia (1)

Have Students Identify Themes

Theme identification is a key component of early reading comprehension. For younger students, this just means asking them to determine the lesson or moral of the story they just read. As students become stronger in their reading comprehension abilities, theme identification can branch out into more complex topics. In many cases, theme identification for elementary-aged students helps build their background knowledge, which can then be applied to other texts in the future.

Use Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers serve as visual representations that assist students with identifying, organizing, and remembering important concepts from what they read. Graphic organizers come in many forms—Venn diagrams, flow charts, checklists, or mind maps—and, when used effectively, they can be great tools for students with learning disabilities. These tools highlight the most important parts of the text while eliminating extra details that students might get caught up in.

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Incorporate Literature Circles

Literature circles and other forms of peer-to-peer reading activities are great ways to get students involved and excited about reading. Within these groups, students are supporting each other’s learning with teacher guidance, and each student gets assigned a role: discussion leader, vocabulary enricher, illustrator, and connector. Each group should have around four to six students, which allows those who tend to stay on the sidelines of classroom discussions to get directly involved with what they’re learning.

Before, During, and After Reading a Text

The Council for Learning Disabilities outlines what educators should do before, during, and after introducing a new text to students with learning disabilities.

Before reading, one of the best things to do is to activate students’ background knowledge. As mentioned before, students better understand and retain information when they’re familiar with it. The CLD's tips include:

  1. Use specific strategies to activate prior knowledge, such as previewing headings or key concepts and making a prediction and confirmation chart.
  2. Prepare and guide previewing activities to support and focus the connections students make.
  3. Use graphic organizers to introduce important information, solicit prior knowledge from students, and make predictions.
  4. Avoid soliciting guesses from students without guidance or feedback.
  5. Keep it short. Previewing should not take longer than five minutes, especially if a teacher has limited time with students.
  6. Revisit after reading to assist in reviewing, confirming, or refuting predictions, summarizing, and making connections.

Along with activating prior knowledge, explicitly teach specialized vocabulary terms for the text and ask students to predict what will happen next to get them thinking.

During reading, make sure to teach students what types of questions they should be asking, as well as how to ask them. This includes questions that have answers directly in the text, as well as questions whose answers must be inferred. It is also important to show students how to evaluate questions posed by the teacher to determine if the answer can be found in the text or if it is something they have to infer.

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Along with asking questions, bringing in graphic organizers to visually show what is happening in the text is extremely helpful for students—especially those with learning disabilities.

After reading, show students how to summarize the text they just read. This should be taught in an explicit and systematic way, as teachers shouldn’t assume that students will understand how to summarize texts automatically. The CLD outlines how to do this:

  1. Provide modeling, feedback, and many opportunities to practice summarization rules, such as:
    • Selecting a topic sentence or inventing a topic sentence if one is not explicitly stated
    • Using one word to replace a list of related items
    • Deleting trivial and redundant information
    • Rereading to make sure your summary makes sense
  2. Teach students how to use graphic organizers to write summaries.
  3. Provide examples and non-examples of summaries to help students recognize and produce summaries that contain only key ideas.
Making Reading Possible for Everyone

The vast majority (95%) of students have the ability to learn how to read, even those who have learning disabilities. The best way to ensure students find success (and even joy!) in the reading process is to lead with evidence-based strategies. This means making sure instruction is based on the science of reading.

One of the most common learning disabilities is dyslexia, which can be tricky to spot in students. Potentially 1 in every 5 students in a given classroom has dyslexia, which is why it’s so important to know what to look out for and how to best support these students. This Lexia® white paper explains how to identify the early warning signs of dyslexia, as well as how to provide effective interventions that allow for student success.

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(Video) Best Practices for IEPs - Strategies & Tools for Special Education Students with Behavior Goals


Best Reading Strategies for Special Education Students | Lexia? ›

To improve students' reading comprehension, teachers should introduce the seven cognitive strategies of effective readers: activating, inferring, monitoring-clarifying, questioning, searching-selecting, summarizing, and visualizing-organizing.

What are the best reading strategies for special education students? ›

Cognitive/Intellectual Disabilities
  • Start with letter sounds.
  • Teach one letter and one skill at a time; don't connect skills in one lesson.
  • Keep lessons short.
  • Don't use nonsense words.
  • Use posters for a visual reference of skills taught.
  • Limit information to the student's ability.
  • Use books with one sentence per page.
Jan 13, 2020

What is the most effective reading strategies? ›

To improve students' reading comprehension, teachers should introduce the seven cognitive strategies of effective readers: activating, inferring, monitoring-clarifying, questioning, searching-selecting, summarizing, and visualizing-organizing.

What is an effective instructional strategy that supports students with specific word recognition disabilities? ›

Direct instruction appears the most effective approach for improving word recognition skills in students with learning disabilities. Direct instruction refers to teaching skills in an explicit, direct fashion.

What 5 strategies can help improve reading comprehension in students? ›

7 strategies to improve your reading comprehension skills
  • Improve your vocabulary. ...
  • Come up with questions about the text you are reading. ...
  • Use context clues. ...
  • Look for the main idea. ...
  • Write a summary of what you read. ...
  • Break up the reading into smaller sections. ...
  • Pace yourself. ...
  • Eliminate distractions.
Mar 10, 2023

How do you accommodate students with disabilities in reading? ›

  1. Provide preferential seating.
  2. Provide special lighting or acoustics.
  3. Provide a space with minimal distractions.
  4. Administer a test in small group setting.
  5. Administer a test in private room or alternative test site.

What are the Super 6 reading strategies? ›

Super Six Comprehension: An Overview and Teacher Resources
  • Making Connections. When encountering a text students make connections between the text their own experiences and understandings. ...
  • Predicting or Inferring. ...
  • Questioning.
  • Monitoring. ...
  • Visualising. ...
  • Summarising.
Jun 27, 2018

What are the three main effective reading strategies? ›

There are three different styles of reading academic texts: skimming, scanning, and in-depth reading. Each is used for a specific purpose.

What are the 5 main type of reading strategies? ›

This panel concluded that there are five essential elements of effective reading instruction, commonly known as the “Five Pillars of Reading”. These pillars include phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension strategies.

What are some of the instructional strategies used with ASD students? ›

4 Teaching Strategies for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Strategy #1: Limiting Sensory Overload.
  • Strategy #2: Using Rewards and Incentives (Applied Behavior Analysis)
  • Strategy #3: Providing Appropriate Feedback for Students with ASD.
  • Strategy #4: Focusing on Autism Reading Comprehension Strategies.

What are at least 3 effective instructional practices to support a student with a learning disability? ›

  • Allow student to use a word processor with a spelling checker.
  • Grade written assignments for ideas only or provide two grades: one for content and one for technical skills.
  • Provide advance notice of written assignments. ...
  • Encourage student to use the Writing Lab and to get tutoring.

What is the best intervention for struggling readers? ›

The most commonly used strategy to improve reading fluency is the reading and rereading of familiar texts. Opportunities to read aloud, with guidance from teachers, peers or parents, are also associated with the development of fluent reading.

What are the 7 strategies in critical reading? ›

Critical Reading Strategies*
  • Annotating. One of the first strategies to begin with is annotating a text. ...
  • Contextualizing. ...
  • Reflecting on challenges to your beliefs and values. ...
  • Paraphrasing. ...
  • Outlining. ...
  • Summarizing. ...
  • Exploring the figurative language. ...
  • Looking for patterns of opposition.

What is popcorn reading strategy? ›

Popcorn reading, which is also known as Round-Robin reading, is a classroom practice in which students go around the room taking turns reading a text out loud. Typically this is done with longer passages, like textbook chapters or chapters in a book of fiction.

What are the basic reading skills for specific learning disabilities? ›

Basic reading skill include phonemic awareness, sight word recognition, phonics, and word analysis. Essential skills include identification of individual sounds and the ability to manipulate them; identification of printed letters and sounds associated with letters; and decoding of written language.

What are four learning disabilities exhibited by learners in reading? ›

Learning disabilities in reading (dyslexia)
  • Letter and word recognition.
  • Understanding words and ideas.
  • Reading speed and fluency.
  • General vocabulary skills.
Feb 28, 2023

What are the five programs and resources to support students with indications of a reading disability? ›

These five programs include: Seeing Stars, Visualizing and Verbalizing, Talkies, LiPS, On Cloud Nine Math.

What is a strategy for reading disability? ›

Provide repeated reading experiences and multiple exposure to words. Provide multiple exposure to words in a variety of contexts. Check for comprehension: Do not assume students understand new words. Give students the opportunity to discuss setting, character, and events.

What is the five step effective reading strategy? ›

SQ3R is a reading comprehension method named for its five steps: survey, question, read, recite, and review. Follow the steps below to learn how to glean as much information as possible from the text requirements from any class.

What are the two useful reading strategies? ›

Skimming and scanning are reading techniques that use rapid eye movement and keywords to move quickly through text for slightly different purposes. Skimming is reading rapidly in order to get a general overview of the material. Scanning is reading rapidly in order to find specific facts.

What are 2 active reading strategies? ›

Each strategy has a specific purpose, but students can use these strategies in tandem to fully understand a text. These active reading strategies include looking for the author's purpose, reading and thinking aloud, annotating, making predictions, chunking, questioning, clarifying, using references, and summarizing.

What are the 10 strategies in reading? ›

10 Strategies to Improve Your Reading Comprehension for College
  • Find Your Reading Corner. ...
  • Preview the Text. ...
  • Use Smart Starting Strategies. ...
  • Highlight or Annotate the Text. ...
  • Take Notes on Main Points. ...
  • Write Questions as You Read. ...
  • Look Up Words You Don't Know. ...
  • Make Connections.
Aug 25, 2020

What is the most effective intervention for ASD? ›

The most common developmental therapy for people with ASD is Speech and Language Therapy. Speech and Language Therapy helps to improve the person's understanding and use of speech and language.

What are strength based strategies for ASD? ›

The strengths-based approach presumes competence, acknowledging that “all individuals have the ability to learn, to communicate, to participate in their own way… [and] respect[s] the value of human diversity” (Autism Women's Network).

What are three 3 accommodations modifications strategies that you will use as a teacher to assist English language learners in your classroom? ›

Provide a word wall of key words. Provide models of completed homework assignments, projects, etc. Ensure tests and assignments are written in clear concise language and are easy to read. Provide a variety of texts and resources on curriculum topics at a range of reading levels.

What strategies can teachers use to help children with learning disabilities? ›

How To Help Children With Learning Disabilities In The Classroom
  • Allow extra time for completing class tasks. ...
  • Use a tape recorder. ...
  • Reduce need for writing. ...
  • Keep classroom chatter to a minimum. ...
  • Use visual aids and multi-sensory learning techniques. ...
  • Assign them a 'study buddy'
Jun 11, 2017

What teaching strategies can be used to assist students with severe disabilities in inclusive settings? ›

Provide a safe space (physically and emotionally)
  • Provide a sensitive environment.
  • Provide encouragement and guide learning.
  • Provide a quiet area.
  • Express positive regard and support.
  • Facilitate student voice, autonomy and independence.
  • Set clear classroom expectations.

What strategies did you use to help you overcome any difficulties while reading? ›

7 Techniques That Help Children Overcome Reading Difficulties
  • Memorize Sight Words & Environmental Cues. ...
  • Activate Ideas & Thinking Strategies. ...
  • Build Vocabulary. ...
  • Reciprocal Teaching. ...
  • Visual Imagery & Audiobooks. ...
  • The Dolch List. ...
  • Does Your Child Need Extra Help?
Aug 31, 2021

What are 5 examples of intervention strategies? ›

Let's take a look at the most commonly used intervention strategies:
  • Behavioural Interventions. ...
  • Collaborative Interventions. ...
  • One-to-One Interventions. ...
  • Classroom-Based Interventions. ...
  • Social, Emotional and Wellbeing Interventions. ...
  • Peer Tutoring. ...
  • Metacognition and Self-Regulation. ...
  • Homework.
Jul 9, 2021

What are the 5 areas of reading intervention? ›

The National Reading Panel identified five key concepts at the core of every effective reading instruction program: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.

What are Tier 2 interventions for struggling readers? ›

Tier 2 interventions include increasing the amount of instructional time in addition to tier 1 reading instruction. At the elementary level, the recommended group size is three to five students. The interventions should take place three to five times per week for 20 to 40 minutes.

What is the most useful critical reading strategies? ›

It's critical to read and understand the material first, and then go back and record. And remember to review: where there's a lot of factual material to remember, a regular review period (usually once a week) can be an incredibly effective strategy for retaining information.

How do you teach reading to struggling readers? ›

7 strategies to use with struggling readers
  1. SCAFFOLD. For any struggling reading, achieve success is key. ...
  2. BE INCLUSIVE. ...
Jan 13, 2015

What is a round robin reading strategy? ›

Defining Round Robin Reading

In round robin reading, the whole class follows a text while one student reads aloud. Randomly, the teacher calls on a new student to read, and that student is responsible to know where exactly to continue reading.

Why is round robin reading not effective? ›

Emphasizing unrehearsed reading and correcting misspelled words, which most often occurs when using round robin reading, risks leaving students with an understanding that reading is more about accurate word calling than it is about comprehension, a serious misconception of what constitutes effective reading of English.

What are the 6 super reading strategies? ›

The super six strategies are: predicting, making connections, monitoring, questioning, visualising and summarising.

What is the best reading program for children with ADHD? ›

Try Speechify, the Best Reading App for Kids With ADHD

Speechify is the number one text-to-speech reader that is compatible with Android and IOS. You can read Microsoft Word docs, PDF files, articles, web pages, social media, email, ebooks, and more. You can control the reading speed and it reads in a natural voice.

What are the strategies for special children? ›

General interventions
  • Show, demonstrate and model.
  • Utilize multisensory learning.
  • Break information down into smaller units.
  • Utilise peer tutoring and cooperative learning.
  • Use a developmentally appropriate approach.
  • Make information as concrete as possible.
  • Provide a small group of instructions.

What are some strategies for teaching students with autism? ›

Here are six tips to help your students with autism thrive in the classroom.
  • Avoid sensory overload. Many unexpected things can be distracting to students with autism. ...
  • Use visuals. ...
  • Be predictable. ...
  • Keep language concrete. ...
  • Directly teach social skills. ...
  • Treat students as individuals.
Mar 15, 2016

What is the reading trick for ADHD? ›

Read aloud instead of silently. This may take longer, but it will help you to focus on each word. Walk or pace around while you read. This strategy may help you avoid zoning out or focusing on internal distractions instead of the words on the page.

What is the new reading style for ADHD? ›

It employs a technique called "bionic reading," which helps readers by directing their eyes with artificial fixation points as they read. Using this method, the reader only concentrates on the initial letters that have been highlighted, which allows the reader's brain to fill in the rest of the word.

What are reading comprehension strategies for ADHD students? ›

Reading comprehension strategies to assist people with ADHD include chunking, activating prior knowledge, using story maps and other graphic organizers, retelling the events of the story, and discussing what has been read.

What would be the best teaching strategies in teaching literacy? ›

8+ Ways to Support Literacy Skills Development
  • Capture children's interest before you read. ...
  • Introduce vocabulary during a read-aloud. ...
  • Share the see-show-say strategy with families. ...
  • Highlight children's favorite books. ...
  • Establish read-aloud routines. ...
  • Read in small groups. ...
  • Support children who are learning two languages.
Aug 3, 2021

What is Reading Horizons program? ›

The Reading Horizons Discovery® program addresses seven areas of phonemic awareness (rhyming, syllable counting, initial sounds, blending, final sounds, medial sounds, and segmentation). The 42 Sounds of the Alphabet are taught and reviewed at a depth that is appropriate for each grade level.


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