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Slow and Labored Reading: Causes and Solutions for Dyslexia and More

Slow and labored reading can make schooling a drag for many bright students, and in order to truly help these struggling learners, teachers and support personnel need to understand the root causes. The problem is that each student has their own unique contributing factors.  As a result, the best way to serve each student is to begin with an investigation.  

What are the Three Main Causes of Slow and Labored Reading?

Three main causes of slow reading.

1) Cognitive – Deficits or weaknesses in key cognitive processing areas can point to a root cause of slow and labored reading.  Common areas of deficit that can impact reading speed are:

  • Auditory processing 
  • Visual processing
  • Memory
  • Processing speed
  • Executive functioning and attention

2) Physical – Discomfort in the physical process can also make the process of reading difficult and it can minimize the practice needed.  For some learners, the reading process is: 

  • Exhausting: Some report that reading is wearisome for the eyes and can even make them feel sleepy.
  • Uncomfortable and annoying: Others find the reading process boring, tedious and aggravating.
  • Overwhelming:  Many individuals complain that they are visually overwhelmed by small or dense text.

3) Emotional – The pairing of negative emotions with reading can also impact one’s reading.  

  • Learned helplessness: When students feel a sense of learned helplessness from repeated failure, they can give up and avoid reading altogether.
  • Adversity: When reading becomes associated with adversity, students can experience the 3 Fs. 1) Fight – They will refuse to read. 2) Flight – They will walk away or even hide books. 3) Freeze – They seem unable to process the written word.
  • Feelings of inadequacy: When students feel that they are deficient readers, they can become passive learners and their fear of failure can become as self-fulfilling prophecy. 
Once Difficulties Have Been Uncovered, Also Look at each Student’s Strengths:

By defining a student’s strengths, it can help to uncover the needed tools that can be used to help each student work around challenging areas.  Like a detour, students can often learn to use other parts of the brain to assist them.  For example, a student may have poor reading comprehension but a a strong mind’s eye.  Some explicit instruction can assist them in applying this talent to reading.


Whose Responsibility is This?

Many teachers and parents do not have the time and resources to provide this detailed analysis for each of their struggling learners, but support personnel such as special education teachers, and psychologists can help.  In addition, if students are working with an outside educational therapist or learning specialist, they too can be a valuable resource.  

Once Contributing Factors and Strengths are Defined, What Can Teachers and Parents Do?
Once deficits and strengths are defined, teachers and parents can help these learners develop and utilize the needed strategies.   Here is a comprehensive list of possible methods to choose from:

  • Be patient and provide a supportive, appealing learning environment.   To read more CLICK HERE.
  • Help students to develop their capacity to visualize.  This can assist students in maintaining focus and improving memory.
  • Teach students mindfulness, so they have greater control over their concentration while reading.
  • Use assistive technology.
    • Text to voice or books on tape can be used in one of two ways.  Students can listen and make a conscious effort to visualize what they are hearing, or they can scan words while listening to improve whole word recognition.
    • Tracking devices help the eyes to move in a fluid, forward motion from one line of text to another.
    • Color overlays or lenses can change the background color so that the visual process of reading is less agitating. 
    • Color and font type adjustments can make the reading process easier to decode words.  Students can select and adjust the text to meet their own preference.
  • Provide remedial reading instruction.  Some students need alternative, multisensory reading instruction using an Orton-Gilllingham based reading program.   One of my favorite OG reading programs is Nessy.
  • Do cognitive remedial activities that help to strengthen weak areas of cognition.  You can find a large selection of these tools at Good Sensory Learning.
  • Provide reasonable accommodations:  When students have diagnosed learning disabilities, they can pursue a 504 or IEP designation that can provide mandated assistance.  Some options include:
    • Readers for tests
    • Books on tape
    • Tracking software
    • Extended time
  • Offer pages with fewer words for those that get visually overwhelmed.  Limiting the amount of text on each page can be very helpful.
  • Present instruction on higher order language such as inferences.
  • Make reading fun by integrating reading games.
  • Start each student at the right level, so they can experience success.
  • Help students discriminate between important and unimportant details.
  • Improve sight word recognition.
  • Improve vocabulary by exposing students to more words, so they can be easily recognized when reading.
  • Teach skimming strategies so that students can quickly find main ideas and details when reading.
  • Help students read with the mind instead of subvocalizing each word.
I hope you found this helpful!  I would love to hear your thoughts!


Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

Remediating Dyslexia with Orton Gillingham Based Reading Games

Students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities often learn differently and require an alternative approach to learning basic reading.  What’s more, these young learners are working full tilt while sitting in the classroom and by the time they get home and have to complete their homework, they are mentally spent.  As a result, tagging on remedial reading lessons to a cup that is already overflowing can be enough to turn these kids off to learning altogether.

How Do We Help These Students Learn the Core Skills Needed to be Successful Readers?

  1. First, use a remedial program that is backed by time, testimonials and research.  The Orton-Gillingham approach to reading is a well-established and researched approach that offers a multisensory, sequential, incremental, cumulative, individualized, and explicit approach.  There are many programs that are available.  Click here to learn about a selection of these programs. 
  2. Second, employ an individualized approach as each student has unique challenges and gaps in knowledge.  If you need to assess the areas that require remediation be sure to use an assessment tool such as the Good Sensory Learning Reading Assessment
  3. Third, the process needs to be fun and engaging.  Many programs required students to slog through boring lessons, complicated rules, and bland workbook pages. Many of these concepts can be instructed through cute memory strategies and fun activities.  You can find many fun supplemental materials here
  4. Fourth, integrate a student-created, colorful, language arts handbook or guide. Click here to learn more about this method. 
  5. Fifth, help students learn how to visualize what they are reading.  Many struggling readers do not have the cognitive space to use their mind’s eye when reading, therefore, developing this skill to automaticity is key.  To learn about the research behind visualization and learning as well as how to teach this needed skill click here.  
  6. Sixth, and most important, supplement all reading programs with card and board games that allow students to practice the concepts they are learning.  This brings the fun factor into learning and can help to nurture a love for reading.
Where Can I Find Multisensory and Fun Reading Games?
At Good Sensory Learning, we offer a large selection of downloadable card and board games that work with any Orton-Gillingham or phonics based reading program.  In addition, we have many other supplemental multisensory reading activities and materials.  In fact, we just unveiled a new website. Let me know what you think!

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to: www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com www.learningtolearn.biz  

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Letter Cube Fun: Freebie Language Arts Game

I love to use foam blocks for all sorts of language arts fun.  Most recently, I created a game that my students adore.  Here are the steps so you can create it too.

1) You can purchase colorful foam cubes on Amazon for a very reasonable price.  I included a link at the bottom of the post.

2) Select 12 cubes.  I line the cubes up in a row and write all the vowels in capital letters (including “y”) on each cube two times making sure not to place the same vowel on a single cube more than once.  Then I add the consonants as suggested below.

3) I assign the point value on the bottom right hand corner.  This will also help the players to orient the letters.  For example the letter P will look like the letter d when it is upside-down but as long as the number indicating the point value is in the bottom right hand corner, players can recognize that they need to rotate the letter to the proper orientation.  Also, using capital letters helps with letter confusion.

4) Other items needed to play:  a timer and a set of 12 colored cubes with the letters and point values for each player.
5) To Play:

  • Each player rolls their set of 12 colored cubes onto their playing area (they can not change the orientation of the cubes but must use the letters rolled.  
  • Set and begin timer for 2-5 minutes.  You can decide the amount of time you like.
  • Words must crisscross like a scrabble game, and players must try to use as many cubes as they can.  
  • When the timer goes off, the play ends and players add up their points.
  • Bonuses as granted as follows:
    • 4 points for a 6 letter word
    • 5 points for a 7 letter word
    • 6 points for a 8 letter word
    • 5 points for using all 12 cubes

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com www.learningtolearn.biz  

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Eight, Dyslexia Games Make All Reading Programs Fun and Memorable

Do you ever have to bribe your students with candy or stickers to entice them to read through long lists of words or complete workbook activities?  There are a multitude of phonics and Orton-Gillingham based reading programs available on the market, but so many of them place struggling readers through boring drills and activities.  I experienced the same problem.  What could I do?

I Created Games to Bring the Fun Factor into My Lessons:
Over the past few years, I created a system to make any reading program fun and motivating.  I designed and published board and card games to weave into reading lessons.  Now, my students can’t wait for their sessions, are reading more, have increased stamina and they are mastering concepts at a faster pace.  A series of three reading game publication bundles have been available and selling like hot cakes, but upon popular request, I have released a new title, Reading Games Primary.  This publication offers new games that help students master basic reading concepts such as syllables, rhyming words, short vowel sounds, ending sound blends and sight words by playing super fun and engaging card and board games.  

Tell Me More About the 8 Games:

  1. Sight Word War:  

    Sight Word War is a card game
    that helps students master sight words and practice basic alphabetizing
    skills.  

  2. Syllable Sort:  Syllable Sort is a card game that helps students master syllable divisions in words.
  3. Switch-A-Roo Reading: Switch-A-Roo Reading is a reading/writing game that helps students learn beginning, middle and ending word sounds
    as well as rhyming words. 
  4. Sole Survivor:  Sole Survivor is a board game that helps
    students master breaking words into syllables as well as beginning and ending word
    sounds.
  5. Animal Party:  Animal Party is a board game that helps students learn beginning, middle and end sounds of simple three letter words.
  6. Animal Bingo:  Animal Bingo is a board game that helps
    students master breaking words into syllables as well as beginning and ending word
    sounds.  It also develops tracking and
    counting skills.
  7. Three of A Kind Beginners:  Three of a Kind is a card game that
    helps students learn rhyming words, beginning sounds, middle sounds and ending
    sounds of simple three letter words. 
  8. Three of A Kind Intermediate:  Three of a Kind Intermediate is a card game
    that helps students master rhyming words, beginning blends, middle sounds and
    ending sounds of simple four to five letter words.  
Are There Other Reading Games?
Yes.  Reading Games Primary is my fourth bundle of reading games to be published.  In fact, I have created more than 50 different games for all levels of reading remediation.  To learn more about all of these games and even download a free sample game,  click here.


Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

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