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How to Improve Student Behavior During Reading Groups

little girl crying during reading group

Ever wonder how to improve student behavior during reading groups? In this blog we share techniques that we’ve used during intervention to help students improve their behavior. Often students who struggle to read, or who are receiving intervention, exhibit behavioral difficulties that stem from anxiety. When students struggle with learning, they often blame themselves. They see others catching on and making progress, while they continue to flounder. The first order of business is to acknowledge that the student is having trouble, it’s not their fault, and you are there to help them.

Address their concerns directly.

You can start by asking them why they think they are receiving intervention. Often, answers can be illuminating. Sometimes students are quite articulate and are able to pinpoint areas of difficulty. We have found that addressing their concerns directly, supported by specific science is the most effective approach.

If a student says, “I can’t understand what I’m reading,” this is a perfect time to address cognitive energy or working memory.

Other students may say, “I can’t remember what words look like.” This can lead to a discussion about neuronal pathways.

Sometimes students make a general self-deprecating statement like, “I’m dumb.” In this case, it’s important to build trust. Explain that everyone’s brain works differently. Everyone has things they excel at and areas in which they need to grow. We’ve found this inventory sheet to be quite helpful in jumpstarting a conversation.

reading interest inventory
This resource is available for free in our TpT Store.

Start off slowly, but let the students know where they are headed.

Sometimes negative behavior stems from a student’s frustration with starting back at the beginning. Acknowledge this and then explain the importance of a strong foundation. Accurate and automatic single syllable word reading will lead to their ability to apply this knowledge to multisyllabic words. Then show them how. Write single syllable words on index cards. (insert image of our MS product). Be sure they can read these words automatically. Then combine the index cards to make two syllable words: index, until, attic etc.

Let students know what type of behavior is expected of them.

In order to improve student behavior during reading groups, don’t be afraid to be explicit in your expectations. Post your expectations and review them (daily if necessary) with the students.

We find that students appreciate boundaries that are reinforced with consistency. When students are doing something right, let them know immediately and specifically. Likewise, when student behavior does not meet expectations, be sure to address it. This often works best when you speak to the student privately. Calling out a student in front of their peers can actually exacerbate the problem. This is especially true of middle school and high school students who may feel compelled to save face in front of their classmates.

Provide a visual reminder of what they will be expected to complete during each session.

In other words, show them a schedule.

  • Write it on the board and cross off each lesson component as it is completed.
  • Use a pocket chart and post each lesson component. Turn the card over when the task is finished.
  • Place the materials on the table (letter cards, dictation page, decodable text, game). Put the materials away after use. This strategy is particularly helpful for younger students.
  • Create a checklist and allow the students to check off each part when they have finished it.

Presentation is everything.

The first order of business is to approach instruction with enthusiasm. A key way to promote engagement is to present the material in a playful way. Often times, we might say “Wow! I can’t believe I wasn’t able to trick you with that one!” Kids will often squeal with laughter and the lesson is still progressing as planned.

We’ve worked with some really behaviorally challenged students. In this case we build in games throughout the intervention session. The key to incorporating games in a lesson is to ensure that they reinforce targeted skills.

Here are some examples of games we incorporate:

  • To reinforce phonemic awareness skills, we love to play Bingo, Little Monster, I Spy, etc.
  • All of our early concept Decodable Readers contain sentence scrambles which kids LOVE!
  • A good game of Memory or Go Fish is also a crowd pleaser and reinforces phonetic concepts in a fun and engaging way.
  • Tic Tac Toe is another wonderful way to reinforce spelling of both phonetically regular and irregular words.
Tic Tac Toe on a white board is a fun and easy way to reinforce spelling of high frequency words.
Tic Tac Toe is a fun way to get students to practice spelling high frequency words.

For SOME students, you might an additional motivator after each lesson component.

For students who have endured years of failure, it is critical that they gain trust in the process. It is worth taking the time to allow them to build faith.

  • Let them draw on the white board after they practice their spelling.
  • Substitute teacher is a great motivator. Have a student lead the sound drill with a pointer or demonstrate how to mark up a word or proofread a sentence.
  • Incorporate a short motor break between each part of the lesson.

For older students or less behaviorally challenged students offer a ‘Game Session’ occasionally.

A game session allows the teacher to incorporate a longer game that reinforces the focus skill. Here some other games we’ve had success with:

We’d love to hear from you. Have you found a way to get reluctant readers to engage during intervention?


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