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Teaching a Struggling Child, Teen or Adult How to Read

climbing stairs of books

Early reading instruction

Poor readers are usually lacking in either 1) decoding skills 2) comprehension 3) good working memory. A strong foundation in phonics is particularly important for children who struggle (see below, The Ladder of Reading).

By early in Year One, most pupils will have acquired the fundamentals of literacy. When basic skills become automatic, it frees up brainpower for fluency, comprehension and engagement with the text. However, 20% of beginners require a lot more practice of letter/sound correspondences (the link between written language and sounds). BRI-ARI (Beginning Reading Instruction-Advanced Reading Instruction) provides abundant practice of each correspondence in various contexts to reach automaticity.

The stories reward rereading and the Optional Questions encourage language development whilst assessing comprehension.

'The human brain seems to be set up specially for the retention of stories. They sink in and they stay in the mind more easily than anything else. Things that create an emotional reaction will be better remembered.' DANIEL WILLINGHAM, WHY DON'T STUDENTS LIKE SCHOOL?

A revised Ladder of Reading & Writing is available at


When a student struggles with reading after two or three years of schooling

There are a number of options:

  • Go back to basics, i.e. the start of Beginning Reading Instruction: BRI and proceed at the child’s pace. It is a tough sell to expect an older pupil to endure childish material; however, 7+-year-olds can often be persuaded to ignore the ‘babyish’ connotations and to simply treat the books as a necessary ‘medicine’ to swallow in order become a good reader.

  • If the pupil has a grasp of the Basic Alphabetic Code, they can move straight to BRI’s successor programme, Advanced Reading Instruction: ARI, with longer stories that are more complex and age-appropriate. Each Level of BRI and ARI includes an Initial Assessment to ascertain where each pupil should begin as well as a Mastery Assessment, complete with graph, to provide concrete proof of progress.

  • Where neither BRI nor ARI are acceptable to an older pupil, the ‘spelling’ route, through word building is a viable alternative. This is explained in the Getting Started with BRI guide and along with the vocabulary of Spelling with BRI, that includes extended reading practice and dictation, provides practice in basic decoding skills. Teaching with Beginning and Advanced Reading Instruction requires minimal expertise and can readily be undertaken by a volunteer.

Beginning Reading Instruction (BRI), Advanced Reading Instruction (ARI), and Mature Reading Instruction (MRI - see below) offer struggling readers the chance to become fully-functioning members of a literacy-based society.

Recommended: ‘Five Ways to Ensure That Your Teaching of Reading is Effective’, primarycolour.

When older children, teenagers and adults struggle with reading

  • Mature Reading Instruction (MRI) enables low literacy readers to start with a thorough grounding in the Basic Alphabetic Code laid out at the beginning of the first couple of Levels and gradually introduces each new letter/sound correspondence via abridged works of English literature, and adaptations of folk tales and legends from around the world. From the tragicomedy of Henry VIII to the doom of an Aztec city, from the antics of Africa’s spider demi-god to the trials of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, these eighty-one poems, plays and stories provide a wealth of cultural capital within a Systematic Synthetic Phonics framework.

  • Level 1 is suitable for 10 years and upwards but the stories rapidly become more ambitious and sophisticated as they are designed as a second chance for teenagers and adults who have slipped through the educational net (Advanced Reading Instruction (ARI) may be a viable alternative, albeit one clearly designed for children).

  • The MRI Tutor Guide offers Initial and Mastery Assessments to ascertain which Level is appropriate to start with, provide transparent proof of progress, Practical Teaching Points, Background Information About the Stories, Record Keeping, Fluency Practice, Copying and Dictation Exercises, Frequently Asked Questions, and Troubleshooting.

  • MRI Lesson Plans for MRI Levels 1-3, include word building, oracy, prosody, advanced vocabulary, story analysis, the writer’s craft.



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