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When Reading is a Challenge. What Parents Can Do. Montgomery County Public Schools Department of Curriculum and Instruction. What do you do when you’re stuck?. Think about a text you find difficult to read: Your cell phone manual? Tax forms? Technical writing out of your field?

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When Reading is a Challenge

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When Reading is a Challenge

What Parents Can Do

Montgomery County Public Schools

Department of Curriculum and Instruction


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What do you dowhen you’re stuck?

  • Think about a text you find difficult to read: Your cell phone manual? Tax forms? Technical writing out of your field?

  • Stress to your child that all of us have trouble reading some types of text.

  • Share the strategies you use to unlock your own challenging texts.


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Help Your Child Question the Text

  • Begin with a comic that your child enjoys.

  • Ask your child to highlight details and write observations that helped unlock the cartoon.

Go to the Washington Post to find a comic.


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Ask Your Child...

  • What do you think the comic means?

    • Dennis’ mom is very mad at someone.

    • Gifts will not help her get over her anger.

  • How do you know?

    • Dennis is leaving and pointing back as if his mom is there.

    • Dennis’ dad is arriving with flowers.

    • Dennis tells his father, “...you’re wastin‘ your time.”

What does this Dennis the Menace comic mean?


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Possible Interpretations

  • What don’t we know?

    • Was it Dennis or his father who angered Dennis’ mom?

    • Did she just get mad, or has she been mad all day?

  • What assumptions can we make, based on the text?

    • Dennis may have made his mom so mad that she won’t be receptive to his dad’s nice gesture.

    • Dennis’ dad may have made his wife so mad before he left for work that he is trying to make up for it, but Dennis knows she’s still angry.

What does this Dennis the Menace comic mean?


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So What?

Asking questions will also work with print texts:

  • What kind of people are these characters? (fiction)

  • What is the subject and why is the author writing? (nonfiction)

  • Why is the author telling me this?

  • Why does the author choose this word?

  • How does this relate to what I know?

  • If the text is fiction, what movie does it create in my head?

  • Skip ahead to the grade level of your child...or look at all the texts.


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Try it with a sixth grade text:

The train pulled out and settled into a steady motion. Hortensia and Mama took out their crocheting. Mama was using a small hook and white cotton thread to make carpetas, lace doilies, to put under a lamp or a vase. She held up her work to Esperanza and smiled. “Would you like to learn?”

Esperanza shook her head. Why did Mama bother crocheting lace? They had no vases or lamparas to put on top of them. Esperanza leaned her head against the window. She knew she did not belong here. She was Esperanza Ortega from El Rancho de las Rosas. She crossed her arms tight and stared out the window.

For hours, Esperanza watched the undulating land pass in front of her. Everything seemed to remind her of what she had left behind: the nopales reminded her of Abuelita who loved to eat the prickly pear cactus sliced and soaked in vinegar and oil; the dogs from small villages that barked and ran after the train reminded her of Marisol, whose dog, Capitan, chased after trains the same way. And every time Esperanza saw a shrine decorated with crosses, flowers, and miniature statues of saints next to the rails, she couldn’t help but wonder if it had been someone’s father who had died on the tracks....

Pam Munoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising


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What questions could a reader ask?

  • What is crocheting?

    • Can I find a video on crocheting on YouTube?

  • What do the words carpetas, lamparas, and nopales mean?

    • How is carpetas defined in context?

    • What clues are there to the meaning of lamparas and nopales?

    • Will a free translation site tell me if I still don’t know?

  • What does the word undulating mean?

    • How does context help me match it to the right meaning in the dictionary?

  • What do the images in the last paragraph make me see in my head?

    • Do any of the images remind me of things I’ve seen?


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Try it with a seventh grade text:

Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all the gladness left him and deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence....

At this dark and hopeless moment an inspiration burst upon him! Nothing less than a great, magnificent inspiration.

He took up his brush and went tranquilly to work. Ben Rogers hove in sight presently—the very boy, of all boys, whose ridicule he had been dreading...

“Hello, old chap, you got to work, hey?”

Tom wheeled suddenly and said: “Why it’s you, Ben! I warn’t noticing....Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept the brush daintily back and forth—stepped back to note the effect—added a touch here and there—criticized the effect again—Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer


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What questions could a reader ask?

  • What do the words whitewash and melancholy mean?

    • What clues are there in the paragraph?

    • If the clues in the text don’t help, how does context help me find the meaning in the dictionary?

  • What do the images of Tom painting make me see in my head? How is Tom feeling?

  • Have I ever felt the way Tom feels about Ben Rogers?

  • How does Tom get Ben to want to paint for him? What is the tone of this passage? (What details make this passage funny?)


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Try it with an eighth grade text:

  • DUKE FREDERICK [to Rosalind]

    • Mistress, dispatch you with your safest haste,

    • And get you from our court.

  • ROSALIND

    • Me, uncle?

  • DUKE FREDERICK

    • You, cousin.

    • Within these ten days if that thou beest found

    • So near our public court as twenty miles,

    • Thou diest for it.

  • ROSALIND

    • I do beseech your Grace,

    • Let me the knowledge of my fault bear with me....

    • Never so much as in a thought unborn

    • Did I offend your Highness.

  • DUKE FREDERICK

    • Thus do all traitors.

    • If their purgation did consist in words

    • They are as innocent as grace itself.

    • Let it suffice to say that I trust thee not.

dispatch you—leave quickly

With your safest haste—quickly, which offers your best chance to leave safely

cousin—niece

their purgation—purging, or clearing, themselves of suspicion

William Shakespeare’s

As You Like It


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What questions could a reader ask?

  • Why are there notes on the left page?

    • What does the Duke mean when he says dispatch you?

    • Why does he call her cousin after she has called him uncle?

  • Is he warning her or threatening her?

    • How does the rest of the passage provide clues?

  • How can I put the speech into my own words?

    • For example, in the Duke’s second speech, I might say, “If I see you within 20 miles of my house in the next ten days, I’ll kill you.”

  • How do I feel when someone unjustly accuses me of something I didn’t do?


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Try it with a ninth grade text:

When Atticus looked down at me I saw the expression on his face that always made me expect something. “Do you know what a compromise is?”

“Bending the law?”

“No, an agreement reached by mutual concessions. It works this way,” he said. “If you’ll concede the necessity of going to school, we’ll go on reading every night just as we always have. Is it a bargain?”

“Yes, sir!”

“We’ll consider it sealed without the usual formality,” Atticus said, when he saw me preparing to spit.

As I opened the front screen door Atticus said, “By the way, Scout, you’d better not say anything at school about our agreement.”

“Why not?”

“I’m afraid our activities would be received with considerable disapprobation by the more learned authorities.”

Jem and I were accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction, and we were at all times free to interrupt Atticus for a translation when it was beyond our understanding.

“Huh, sir?”

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird


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What questions could a reader ask?

  • Why does she call her dad Atticus?

    • I still don’t quite understand this.

  • What are mutual concessions?

    • How does the rest of the paragraph provide clues?

  • ...considerable disapprobation by the more learned authorities...Who talks like that??

    • If I break it down word by word, then the only word I don’t know is disapprobation. Dictionary?

  • What does Scout mean by his last-will-and-testament diction?

    • I know that diction means word choice, since we talk about that in our papers. So what is word choice that sounds like a will?

  • Is Scout’s relationship with her dad anything like my relationship with my parents?


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Try it with a tenth grade text:

Now along came this tramp, this public nuisance

who used to scrounge a living round the streets of Ithaca—

...Arnaeus was his name...

but all the young men called him Irus for short...

Well he came by to rout the king from his own house

and met Odysseus now with a rough, abusive burst:

“Get off the porch, you old goat, before I haul you

off by the leg!”

A killing look,

and the wily old soldier countered, “Out of your mind?

What damage have I done you? What have I said?...

You’re another vagrant, just like me, I’d say,

and it lies with the gods to make us rich or poor. So

keep your fists to yourself, don’t press your luck, don’t rile me,


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Try it with a tenth grade text:

Or old as I am, I’ll bloody your lip...”

“Look who’s talking!” the beggar rumbled in anger....

“Belt up—so the lords can see us fight it out.

How can you beat a champion half your age?”

And Antinous, that grand prince, hearing them wrangle,

Broke into gloating laughter, calling out to the suitors,

“Friends, nothing like this has come our way before—

what sport some god has brought the palace now!

...Here’s what I propose,

Now, whoever wins this bout and proves the stronger,

let that man step up and take his pick of the lot!

What’s more, from this day on he feasts among us—

no other beggar will we allow inside....”

Homer’s The Odyssey, translated by Fagles


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What questions could a reader ask?

  • Since this is a poem, shouldn’t I stop at the end of a line?

    • But wait, does it make sense if I stop after the word nuisance?

  • What does the word rout mean?

    • Are there clues in the whole line—rout the king from his own house?

  • Who is the wily old soldier? Odysseus?

  • What does the word vagrant mean?

    • Are there clues in the speech? Dictionary?

  • Why is Antinous trying to get them to fight? Do I know anyone like him?


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Try it with an eleventh grade text:

So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.

The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.

Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.

“What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls?...Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?...”

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God


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What questions could a reader ask?

  • Whom has this woman buried?

    • What does sudden dead tell me?

  • Who are the people on the porch?

    • What kinds of jobs do they do?

    • Whom do they judge?

  • What do the metaphors in the third paragraph tell me about these people? Do I know anyone like them?

  • What images do I see, based on the description?


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Try it with a twelfth grade text:

The smell of blood, warm and wet, rose from the floor and settled into the solemn stillness of the hospital air. I could feel it like an unhurried chill in my joints, a slow-moving red that smoldered in a floating ether of dull, gray smoke. All around me, the bare walls expanded and converged into a relentless stretch of white. The bedsheet white of the hallway was an anxious white I knew by heart. White, the color of mourning, the standard color for ghosts, bones, and funerals, swallowed in the surface calm of the hospital halls.

A scattering of gunshots tore through the plaster walls. Everything was unfurling, everything, and I knew I was back there again, as if the tears were always pooled in readiness beneath my eyes. It was all coming back, a fury of whiteness rushing against my head with violent percussive rage. The automatic glass doors closed behind me with a sharp sucking sound.

Arlington Hospital was not a Saigon military hospital. Through the hydraulic doors, I could see the lush green lawn that stretched languidly across an immense parking lot. A few feet beyond, a spray of water blossomed upward, then rotated in a soundless circle wide enough to reach the far outcropping of grass. The American flag, flown sky-high from a sturdy iron pole, still swelled and snapped in the wind. I knew I was not in Saigon.

Lan Cao’s Monkey Bridge


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What questions could a reader ask?

  • What do the images in the first paragraph tell me about the hospital?

  • Where is she now, and where is back there?

  • To what can I compare the sound of the automatic glass doors?

  • What do I picture as the narrator talks about these images?


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What other questions can I ask?

  • What kind of people are these characters? (fiction)

  • What is the subject and why is the author writing? (nonfiction)

  • Why is the author telling me this?

  • Why does the author choose this word?

  • How does this relate to what I know?

  • If the text is fiction, what movie does it create in my head?


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Tips for Fostering Successful Reading

  • Set aside time for reading without distractions.

  • Have your child write about what he/she has read.

  • Have your child mark important passages with sticky notes (or, if your child has an electronic reader, such as an iPad, use it to take notes).

  • Read portions of the book and discuss it with your child if you have time.

  • Host a “book club” for your child and others who are reading the same book.

  • Encourage your child to ask for the teacher’s help if these strategies are not enough.


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