An Overview of “When Kids Can’t Read” by Kylene Beers

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

By: Holly, Cecilia, Claudia, and Annie

If I had to choose one book to use with my struggling adolescent readers, this would be the book! Not only does it suggest ways to help students with vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, word recognition, response to text and more, it offers strategies that help improve students’ attitude toward reading and builds their confidence.

The Vocabulary Tree

The Vocabulary Tree is one of these strategies that can be used in many ways, but Beers uses this activity to teach specific roots and affixes. She begins by suggesting that every English teacher across the grades should embrace a unit on roots and affixes so that students would have an opportunity for learning and relearning. Students can build these trees on their own and keep them in the Vocabulary section of their binders. Vocabulary trees are wonderful for teaching roots; it’s a great way of making this usually difficult concept of word study more concrete to students.

ABC Cause and Effect Booklet

Beers created a challenging way to have students affirm comprehension or pull out facts to that each one should’ve remembered after reading.  I used the booklet activity in my 8th grade classroom to establish my students’ comprehension of our class novel.  My students created a booklet and labeled each page with two letters, starting from A and working their way to Z.  For each letter, the students had to create a word that expressed a theme or an issue that was expressed in the novel.   Students had to be able to reformulate the text and connect it to a matching letter.   The structure of this assignment allowed for students to be creative and concise about their interpretation of the text.

 In the end, these students produced appealing booklets.  I had my special education students coming up with words and understanding why that word was perfect for the matching letter.  In no time at all, every one of my students could give me details from the book without trouble.  This activity was challenging, engaging and appropriate for the situation.  Beers created such a simplistic activity that stirred critical thinking without the stress of an intimidating lesson. 

Most Important Word

I decided to introduce my sixth grade students to an after-reading activity that would help them focus on constructing meaning in a more concrete way.  The Most Important Word activity asks students to choose what they consider to be the most important word from the body of the text they’ve just read.  To help students with the selection of their word choice Beers developed a Most Important Word form.  This form helps students consider how their word affects the characters, conflict, plot, and setting.  After completing this part, they use their word to help them formulate a theme statement. 

My students had just read the book Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and used it for this activity. As my students engaged in selecting their most important word I was pleased with the amount of discussion that was taking place.  I had suggested that they help each other with their word selection by discussing it within their groups.  Students then individually began to work on their Most Important Word form.  I really liked this part of the activity because it forced my students to go back into the text and evaluate how their word affected the different literary elements.  Lastly, my students were able to easily construct a theme statement which in the past had been challenging for them to do.  I was impressed at how the Most Important Word activity allowed my students a more concrete way of evaluating their comprehension while at the same time requiring higher-order thinking skills.

Why Kids Can’t Read is a very informative and heartfelt book for teaching reading to struggling students. Although the book is targeted to teachers who deliver regular language arts lessons, you can connect with many strategies that will help make lessons stronger for struggling readers in any grade.


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