When Oral Reading is Painful

Ask A Specialist Column in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

Question: My eleven year old son struggles with reading.  I have been doing the eye midline exercise with him daily, and his reading is getting much smoother.  But he still hates to read aloud.  Is there anything else I can do to make reading easier for him?

Answer:  Good for you for exploring the reasons behind your son’s struggles.  It sounds like you have already pinpointed one of the reasons for his struggle….the ability for his eyes to work together as a team as he reads. You are addressing this with the eye eight exercise.  Eventually this will make a huge difference for him, as I saw in my reading classrooms.

Meanwhile, I used some very special techniques to help my struggling students during the daily oral reading practice.

Painless Oral Reading Strategies

  1. Ease the Eyes
  2. After you have checked to make sure that the child does not have a vision problem that glasses would correct, continue to do the daily eye eight exercise with him. Do this slowly and deliberately.  This will train his eyes to work better as they cross the midline of the page during the reading process.  (To receive a  free copy of this exercise email craft@ecentral.com,  putting “Ask A Specialist Eye Exercise” in the subject line)
  3. Many times a simple colored reading transparency placed over the reading material makes a very good difference for the child. I found that blue or green work best.  Many of these kiddoes say that the words stop moving when they read through these inexpensive transparencies. They relax the eyes while reading. (See article, “An Easy Reading Aid”, on my website.)
  4. See if your son will let you slowly move your pencil above the words while he reads, or ask if he will use his finger to track below the words. Each of these reading techniques takes a work load off the child’s visual system while reading.  (Don’t worry; this is just temporary.)
  5. Kids often resist reading just because the type is too small, and the page seems overwhelming.Some moms get around this by copying the page and enlarging it. It’s possible that a Kindle could come in handy here, because you can enlarge the font easily.
  6. Increase his Essential Fatty Acids. The retina of the eye is made of rods and cones.  The cones are for acuity, but the rods are for light and dark adaptation. The membranes in the rods are rich in the essential fatty acids, particularly DHA.  DHA is found mainly in fish oils.  (See article, “Essential Fatty Acids and the Brain” on my website for kinds and amounts.)


A Piano Recital

I never have a student do “cold reading”.  We treat oral reading like a piano recital.  We practice all the pieces of the reading first, and then put it all together in one performance.  Before the child even sees the book or story, I pull out all the “tricky” words.  (I have to use my best judgment here.)  I write these tricky words, not in pencil or pen, but large, in broad magic marker with no more than five words to a page.  Together we sound out, or practice reading these words until they’re comfortable. Then I leave that paper in front of the reader while he is reading aloud. If he gets stuck on one of the words we studied, I just point to the word on the paper, and (always to my great surprise) the child reads it easily.


Duct Tape for the Teacher

This is a very important part.  Have you ever seen a piano teacher interrupt her student during the piano recital, with the whole audience watching, to practice part of the piece?  Of course not!  But where is the audience during this oral reading?  It is the child, himself!  We want him to be impressed by himself.  Sometimes this requires Duct Tape over our mouth during the process, because we are very tempted to correct the child while he is reading.  But what if he skips some words?  Ignore.  What if he reads some words wrong? Ignore, but keep mental track of those words. (If he reads “pretty” for “beautiful”, he is just a right brainer, editing as he goes. They do this. No problem. He’s getting the story line.)


The next day, before you begin to read the next story, re-read the “tricky” words you wrote on the paper from the day before, and add the words that he misread that you mentally stored from yesterday’s oral reading.  This way he will learn the word, but not have the flow of his reading interrupted or be given the message that reading is hard.  Duct Tape comes in pink!


Before long, you will find your son looking forward to reading.  If you are not seeing the progress you are hoping for, feel free to email me.  I will help you think through the next step.


Would you like to have your question featured on “Ask A Specialist”? Just email me, at child.diagnosticscs@gmail.com. I will not be able to publish all answers, but I will answer all questions personally, via email.