The 3 Causes of Reading Problems That You Can Easily Fix!

3 causes of reading problems that you can fix

There are three causes of reading problems that can easily be fixed, so let’s take a look at them before you seek tutoring, professional testing, or get upset.

We have a way of thinking the worst when a problem arises, don’t we? Most things in life seem more complicated than they really are. Let me rephrase that: most solutions to our problems seem more complicated than they really are. That’s often the result of incorrect information, rumors, fear, or just not knowing what to do.

Reading difficulties are no exception to this tendency. Some children do have reading disabilities or processing disorders that impact their ability to learn to read, but most children struggle with reading for reasons that can be easily addressed. Let’s talk about the three reasons most often attributed to why children struggle to become fluent, independent readers.

3 reasons children struggle to read

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#1: The Most Overlooked Cause of Reading Problems: Reading Books That are Too Hard 

Many, many times when I begin working with a struggling reader, I find that they are reading books that are TOO HARD for them. Reading practice is meant for books that are relatively easy for the child to read AND understand. Fluency and comprehension are what we are looking for and we need to pay attention to both to ensure our children are able to access the print (decode it) and comprehend it (make meaning from it).

If your child dreads reading and is not making any progress no matter how much you practice with phonics and other skills, pay attention to the books he is reading. Find books that are in his independent and instructional range but stay away from books that are causing reading frustration. There is a simple way to figure this out. Keep reading!

The Three Levels of Reading and How to Find Books That Match 

Independent Reading Level (books children can read on their own with no help): 95% – 100% accuracy, easy to understand, their choice, fun to read, enjoyable.

Instructional Reading Level (books your guide them through during reading time): 90% -94% accuracy, can read with assistance and support, missing a few words per every 100 words is okay, able to comprehend and retell.

Frustration Level (books that are too hard–accuracy is below 90% and comprehension is weak): avoid these for independent or instructional reading books and only use as read-aloud books.

Let’s unpack this so you know what to look for when choosing books.

  • For every 100 words read,  your child should not miss more than 10 to make that book suitable for Instructional Level reading.
  • For every 100 words read, your child should not miss more than 5 to make that book suitable for Independent Level reading.
  • More than 10 words missed per 100: too hard for either instruction time or independent reading on his own, save it for read-aloud time.

You don’t have to make your child read 100 words to figure out if a book is okay for him to read. If he’s missing more than a few words per page right off the bat you know the book is too hard. Put it down and try an easier one. It doesn’t matter what grade your child is in or supposed to be in, you have to match the book to his ability to read in order for him to be able to practice and get better, Harder is not better when it comes to reading practice! 

TIP: Few words on a page does not necessarily mean easy. Think about picture books with a few words or sentences per page but the vocabulary or word structure is too hard for beginning readers. Look at the type of words and match them to your child’s level. Short words, short vowels, few blends, a single syllable, etc. would all be clues to matching a beginning reader to a “just right” book.

Once you find books that are easy for your child to read independently you will see his confidence and skill increase right away!

#2: Causes of Reading Problems: Not Enough Practice

When I say practice I mean practice reading books–not practice with flashcards or worksheets. There are appropriate times for flashcards, *some* worksheets, games, and puzzles but when a child has uninterrupted practice reading books that are at his independent reading level magical and amazing things happen!

His confidence shoots up, the desire to read increases, his speed, accuracy, and overall fluency will improve, comprehension levels are high, and he’s able to employ all the strategies and skills you have been working on together.

CAUTION: more reading practice with books that are TOO HARD will have the opposite and unwanted effect: children will lose their enthusiasm for reading quickly when things are too hard, and who can blame them? I don’t like to do things that are hard for me either! Make sure reading practice is with books in the independent and instructional range only! 

practice doesn't make perfect

Confidence decreases and without confidence, children do not take risks. Good readers take risks every day in order to learn.

Confusion, frustration, anxiety, stress, physical discomfort are all signals that your child is faced with a text that is too hard for him.

Back up a level or more until you find books that are easy reads. And then provide ample time to explore, read, reread, read to others, and practice until those books can be set aside for the next level.

Use the Lucky Listeners chart to practice rereading for fluency.

You can download your Lucky Listeners chart HERE.

How much practice? At least 30 minutes per day of independent reading–this is aside from instructional time when you are guiding his reading and aside from read-aloud time. Do be sure to break up these times to avoid exhaustion and stress!

#3: Causes of Reading Problems: Not Using the Right Strategies

“Sound it out” is a strategy, but it cannot be our only strategy because it doesn’t work all the time. If a child is stumped when he gets to the word ‘done’ I cannot say “sound it out” because ‘done’ does not follow the longO/silentE pattern like the words bone or home do.

In this case, I might remind my child that ‘done’ is one of our sight words, or high-frequency words, and cannot be sounded out. I might point to this word on our word wall and see if he remembers it and if not, I would tell him the word. I would then make a note to practice that word until it becomes automatic.

reading strategies

Here are some more strategies to try:

Say, “Try that again.”

Say, “Look at the picture for clues to what the word might be.”

Say, “Think about what would make sense and sound right in that sentence.

Say, “Reread the sentence again and get your mouth ready for the tricky word.”

Say, Could it be…? (Tell them the word)

***Avoid saying things like, “You know that word.” or “You can do it.” without giving them a clue or strategy to use. Refer to Chapter 7 in Teach a Child to Read with Children’s Books, Book Reading and Strategy Development, or email me and I’ll send you a document listing the strategies you can use and when to use them. You can also join our Facebook group to get this document and MUCH MORE!

It is possible that these three things are in place and yet your child is still struggling to read. I can help you dig deeper and get unstuck. Below are some consultation options for you if you want to work with me to help get to the heart of what’s holding your child back.

It is also possible that your child has an underlying reading disability but that cannot be clearly determined until other things have been tried. Sometimes taking a step backward is necessary in order to move forward, so please don’t be upset if you have to back up your child’s reading level by several levels. Once he gets those “just right” books in his hands and some strategies under his belt, you will see tremendous progress!

~ Mary

Consultation Packages: Email me for Individualized Plan! 

One Time Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50-minute phone conference to discuss your concerns and the child’s background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources e-mailed to you
  • Analysis of child’s reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • 4 week follow up email to check

Package Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50-minute initial phone conference to discuss your concerns and child’s background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources mailed to you
  • Analysis of child’s reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • Weekly follow up email and ongoing support
  • Monthly phone conference at 4 weeks and 8 weeks


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