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Test Prep Twist for Struggling Readers

It's a question we all wrestle with. How to help our struggling decoders read high-stakes tests that are written above their reading level?  

While it isn't possible to solve the problem instantly, I like to harness my existing decoding skills intervention to do double duty as supplemental test prep.


  • First, I check out sample tests looking for words that my students might encounter across more than one testing situation.
  • Then I use these words in my regular decoding intervention sessions.
  • During decoding intervention time, I show my decoders how to use the strategy I'm currently teaching to decode the words.
  • After teaching them strategies they can use to decode these words, we use word work practice to transfer as many of the words as possible to their automatic sight reading vocabulary.


I teach my decoders to look for word parts and small words they may already know inside bigger, more daunting words. So during decoding test prep lessons, I teach them how to find these smaller parts inside the words on the testing words list.


We use our personal white boards to practice breaking the words up into the parts we see. Then we practice the words using flashcards. 


After that we play games using the words, like BINGO. 


BINGO is a time-tested favorite! If you'd like this test-prep version BINGO game, just grab the freebie HERE.

This free resource provides a 
  • BINGO game, test prep words version 
  • 12 versions of the BINGO card  
  • Calling cards for each of the 30 words
  • LIST of the 30 basic words used
  • This version has only 8 words per BINGO card, so your struggling readers can locate and read the words more quickly.


Alas, extra decoding test prep won't, by itself, magically bring our struggling below-level decoders up to grade level in time for the test.  There will still be words on any test written above their reading level that these readers will struggle to decode and recognize.

So why do it?  I'm certain that, for our strugglers, every small piece of the puzzle that I can put into place helps.  I know that the more skills I can give them, the more confidence they'll have to keep trying.  I know if they keep trying, together we'll get there!


Want a Decoding Multisyllabic Words Intervention Binder, Test-Prep Version, complete with guided work pages, matching task cards, flashcards and assessments covering 200 words your students might encounter while test taking?  Find it HERE. Full Test-Prep BINGO set for 200 words is HERE. Looking for a Complete Year-Long Decoding Program for older readers? It's HERE. Or check out this Intensive Summer Decoding Program for older readers HERE.


Need more test prep strategies? Check out these other great ideas for your upper elementary students!

Sorting Reading Test Question Stems // Tarheelstate Teacher

Test Prep Boot Camp // Tried and True Teaching Tools

Preparing Students for Testing // The Owl Teacher

Test Prep Twist for Struggling Readers // Reading by Heart


For most of the year, third-grader Haylee had flitted around the reading room, skittish, looking up from her book every few seconds. She read as if a wildfire threatened the east wall of the classroom, looking up every few seconds as if checking to see if danger had broken through. She read as if she needed to know if now was the time to run.

Just-Right Reading A New Perspective


"I can't help it," she cried, flinging out her arms. "These books are so interesting! I just love them."

Just-Right Reading Just-Right Challenge

For some readers, the standard formula doesn't work. These readers need something different when deciding on just-right books.

My job is to stand back and see what they need. It's often a scary place to be - out on a limb without rules to guide me. It's easier to follow the formulas:
  • book readability level + student assessed reading level = just right book
  • six words missed on a page = put the book back.
But, sometimes, inexplicably, our readers bring a formula of their own:
  • desire + interest + need for challenge = success.


The Word Collector, by Peter H. Reynolds, is a joyous introduction to the charms of discovering, savoring and sharing new words.

This simple picture book is an ideal mentor text to start your students collecting delicious new words to use in both their writing and their reading lives.

In this blog post, we'll focus on helping your students collect new words for their reading. Today, we'll hone in on the delights of decoding gigantic, multisyllabic words that are MARVELOUS to SAY.

We'll design our strategy specifically to help struggling older readers. 



Some struggling intermediate-grade readers have difficulty believing us when we try to teach them advanced phonics rules. They learned the basic rules of one-to-one sound-symbol correspondence long ago.  They learned those rules easily, in the beginning, and now they're fiercely loyal to that learning. For these students, those rules are absolute.  They are unable to adjust to new, contradictory rules which give four sounds for the letter y (with a reasonable pattern for guessing which one to use) or the suffix “cious” (shus), which, by their rules, should be something like kih-ah-us.  

For many years I thought these students found it difficult to memorize more advanced rules.  I thought the problem was their capacity for memorization.  Memorization was the focus of my mostly futile efforts.  

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