A Reader Who Struggles – A Case Study of Steven

The following case study is a paper I submitted to the graduate faculty of Southeast Missouri State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts in TESOL degree.


This case study investigates what an individual struggling student’s reading difficulties are and how to remedy these difficulties. Steven (whose name has been changed for anonymity) is a second grade English language learner living in central Taiwan whose English reading ability is far below his classmates. Qualitative data was gathered through surveys, screenings and diagnostic reading tests. Information gathered from these tests helped pinpoint what this struggling student’s reading difficulties are. Using this information a series of teaching strategies are suggested to better meet this student’s instructional needs. One such strategy is differentiated instruction which varies rates of instruction, rates of complexity, and use of support systems to better meet the instructional needs of all learners. Explicit instruction using several research-backed strategies to teach phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension while addressing reading motivation are also essential to closing the reading performance gap for all readers.

Keywords: literacy, differentiated instruction, English language learners Continue reading A Reader Who Struggles – A Case Study of Steven


Encouraging Literacy through Pen Pals


Last fall my grades one through four English language learners in central Taiwan began writing to their ELL pen pals in southeast Missouri. The slideshow below is just a sample of the more than 40 letters that are sent at a time between our students. The project has been met with a lot of enthusiasm on both sides of the Pacific! On my side I’ve noticed my students have been highly motivated to put a lot of effort into their work and frequently ask for updates about whether or not their letters have been received and how much longer I expect for new letters to arrive.


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Arm Blending

I use this technique with my pre-k and kindergarten students. My elementary school aged bodily-kinesthetic learners also respond well to this technique. Arm blending helps students develop phonemic awareness. Arm blending involves sweeping one arm down the length of the other as words are being pronounced (Fox, 2000). For example: the teacher’s hand starts on his or her shoulders and the student mimics. For the word scrape the teacher says, “S-C-R, S-C-R, /skr/ /skr/ /skr/” and the student echos. Then, the teacher moves their hand to their elbow and says, “A-E, A-E, /ā/ /ā/ /ā/” and the student echos. Afterwards, the teacher moves their hand to their wrist and says, “P, P, /p/ /p/ /p/” and the student echos. Finally, the teacher and student move their hands to their shoulders and say the whole word while moving down to their wrists, “/skr/ ! /ā/ ! /p/ ! scrape!”

Fox, B. J. (2000). Word identification strategies: Phonics from a new perspective (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Thoughts on Vocabulary

As an ESL instructor, rarely do we have an entire class period that does not have time devoted to direct vocabulary instruction or guided practice. This emphasis on vocabulary acquisition is necessary for my students to comprehend text. Every student comes to school with a different sized word bank and varying levels of word knowledge. Through instruction, we can grow our students’ vocabulary base of known words. There are many strategies educators can use to help students learn content area language.
The first step is choosing words to teach. Our content area textbooks contain boxes of key words that we should focus our attention on. Since most of my classroom’s textbooks are designed for students whose first language is English, there are often additional words throughout each chapter that also require direct instruction. It is essential to select words that are important for understanding a reading selection or concept and words that are generally useful to know and likely to be often encountered in reading.
I frequently teach new vocabulary words through directive context and using the Talk Through technique. We can give students a rich understanding of new vocabulary by connecting with students’ lives to make complicated concepts within reach of our learners. Providing opportunities to encounter vocabulary words frequently and in more than one context is also essential for learning vocabulary (Diamond & Gutlohn, 2017). This could be accomplished through field trips, the use of different mediums, and by using a variety of practice exercises. The use of semantic gradients can help students distinguish the between the meanings of related words and help students (Wolfe, 2016). I find that these help my students become more imaginative in their writing and help them grow out of using tired words. Guiding students to classify and categorize vocabulary words helps students understand word relationships so that a new word becomes known.

Diamond, L., & Gutlohn, L. (2017, February 13). Teaching Vocabulary. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/teaching-vocabulary

Wolfe, L. (2016, May 11). Using Semantic Gradients in the Classroom. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from http://www.reallygoodstuff.com/community/semantic-gradients-and-the-common-core-standards/

Change a Word / Change the Sentence

Language Skill/Content: Reading and writing – allows students to develop an understanding of parts of speech, syntax, semantics, synonyms, and antonyms.

Level: Novice to Advanced

Preparation Time: Minimal

Implementation Time: About ten minutes

Teaching Materials/Equipment: Paper

Procedures: Students and teacher sit in a circle at a table or move desks to create a circle. Can be done with small or large groups. Teacher asks students to write a sentence. Students pass their papers to the right, read the previous writer’s sentence, and rewrite the sentence changing one word. Once the papers have rotated all the way back to their original owner. The teacher or students can read their first and last sentences on their papers. Teachers can use this activity to assess their students’ understanding of parts of speech, syntax, semantics, synonyms, and antonyms.

Options: Lower-ability students may benefit from partnering with a higher-ability student, a teacher, or teacher’s aid.

Adapted From: Gipe, J. P. (2014). Multiple paths to literacy: assessment and differentiated instruction for diverse learners, K-12. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.


The children rode the scary rollercoaster.

The children rode the scary donkey.

The children rode the friendly donkey.

The children fed the friendly donkey.

The teacher fed the friendly donkey.

The teacher kissed the friendly donkey.

The dinosaur kissed the friendly donkey.

The dinosaur ate the friendly donkey.

Case Study of a Struggling Reader

The following is a case study of a student with reading difficulties. It is a portion of my final project for Marygrove College’s Reading 510 – Reading Diagnosis and Differentiated Instruction for Diverse Learners which I took during winter 2017. I utilized a variety of formal and informal literacy assessment tools to provide information that was useful in planning effective strategies to better meet my struggling student’s instructional needs.


Emma (name changed for confidentiality) is a ten year old student at Yan-Feng Elementary School in Caotun Township, Nantou County. After school, she receives English instruction at U-Best Educational Institute. I chose to work with Emma for this course because over the last few months I have observed her mumbling difficult words when reading aloud, she often asks me or her classmates how to spell high-frequency words when writing, and she looks unhappy when presented with large blocks of text to read.

Continue reading Case Study of a Struggling Reader

Comic Book-Style Summaries

A student’s summary of The Lost World – Chapter 4

One activity that my students really enjoy is creating their own comic book pages to summarize chapters in our class readers. For my beginner to lower-intermediate level students I supply the narration boxes and have the students create their own artwork along with speech bubbles and thought clouds. I find that my mid to upper-intermediate level English language learners have no difficulty deciding what to write in their own narration boxes. At the end of the reader, students use their chapter summaries to create their own graphic novels.