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When Kids Can't Read—What Teachers Can Do

A Guide for Teachers 6-12

By Kylene Beers

Kylene offers teachers the comprehensive handbook they've needed to help readers improve their skills, their attitudes, and their confidence. Filled with student transcripts, detailed strategies, reproducible material, and extensive booklists, this much-anticipated guide to teaching reading both instructs and inspires.

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If I had to recommend just one book to middle and secondary teachers working to support struggling readers, this would have to be the book. When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do is a comprehensive handbook filled with practical strategies that teachers of all subjects can use to make reading skills transparent and accessible to adolescents. Blending theory with practice throughout, Kylene Beers moves teachers from assessment to instruction – from describing dependent reading behaviours to suggesting ways to help students with vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, word recognition, response to text, and so much more. But it’s not just the strategies that make this book so valuable. It’s the invitations to “step inside a classroom” and eavesdrop on teacher/student interactions. It’s the student profiles, the “if/then” charts, the extensive booklists and, of course, the experiences of a brilliant reading teacher. This is simply the best book published to date to support struggling adolescent readers!

Gillda Leitenberg,
District-wide Coordinator, English/Literacy
Toronto District School Board

For Kylene Beers, the question of what to do when kids can't read surfaced abruptly in 1979 when she began teaching. That year, she discovered that some of the students in her seventh-grade language arts classes could pronounce all the words, but couldn't make any sense of the text. Others couldn't even pronounce the words. And that was the year she met a boy named George.

George couldn't read. When George's parents asked her to explain what their son's reading difficulties were and what she was going to do to help, Kylene, a secondary certified English teacher with no background in reading, realized she had little to offer the parents, even less to offer their son. That defining moment sent her on a twenty-three-year search for answers to that original question: how do we help middle and high schoolers who can't read?

Now in her critical and practical text When Kids Can't Read—What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12, Kylene shares what she has learned and shows teachers how to help struggling readers with

  • comprehension
  • vocabulary
  • fluency
  • word recognition
  • motivation

Here, Kylene offers teachers the comprehensive handbook they've needed to help readers improve their skills, their attitudes, and their confidence. Filled with student transcripts, detailed strategies, reproducible material, and extensive booklists, this much-anticipated guide to teaching reading both instructs and inspires.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)



1. A Defining Moment
2. Creating Independent Readers
3. Assessing Dependent Readers' Needs
4. Explicit Instruction in Comprehension
5. Helping Students Make Inferences
6. Frontloading Meaning: Pre-reading Activities
7. Constructing Meaning: During-Reading Activities
8. Extending Meaning: After-Reading Activities
9. Vocabulary
10. Fluency and Automaticity
11. Word Recognition
12. Spelling
13. Creating the Confidence to Respond
14. Finding the Right Book
15. A Final Letter to George



Companion Resources

Appendix A Coding of Kate's First Time Teaching "Eleven" | Page 305-306
Appendix B Transcript of Kate's Think-Aloud for "Eleven" | Page 307-308
Appendix C Bookmark Templates | Page 309-314
Appendix D Common Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes | Page 315-317
Appendix E More Roots | Page 318-322
Appendix F Templates | Page 323-326
Appendix G Fry and Dolch Word Lists | Page 327-334
Appendix H Common Phonics Generalizations | Page 335-338
Appendix I 175 Most Common Syllables in the 5,000 Most Frequent English Words | Page 339
Appendix J Interesting Sorts | Page 340-342
Appendix K Easily Confused Words | Page 343-345
Appendix L Common Spelling Rules | Page 346-349
Appendix M Booklists | Page 350-366
Appendix N Poem for Tea Party | Page 367-368


Passion. Voice. Soul. Reality. This book has all of this and more. It has substance. I wish I had been given this book when i was teaching Middle School and High School. I wish I had known then what I have now learned, now that I am a retired teacher after 37 years of teaching.

This is a book that makes sense in all its many pages, as to what teachers can and ought to do, WHEN KIDS CAN'T READ. I loved the idea that 'it's okay to reread a book!' duh. (Why didn't I think of that?) I loved 'think-alouds'. I loved 'say something'. I loved all the methods given because I know they work—she presents the word for word classroom dialogue to show how they work.

Here is a book that reaches out and touches you, no, more, it reaches out and grabs you by the eyeballs to look, to look again; to read, and read again; to model the methods and model them again.

Am I being paid for this to say this? No! Do I even know Kylene Beers? No. Do I love this book and think it is a savior to poor adolescent readers everywhere? A resounding YES !!!

R. ebook Writing G. Hedrick,(Reno, NV), December 18, 2002

This is one of my favorite books about reading. There are some great reading strategies here—for struggling and strong readers alike—that teachers can take with them and implement the next day. Also, Beers does a fantastic job of helping us break down “reading” into its component parts so we can better understand exactly what the reading problem is and how to address it. Every time I read this book I am encouraged that teachers can make a difference for struggling readers at the secondary level and they don’t have to be reading specialists to do so. The stories she tells about students and teachers to illustrate each strategy make this book eminently readable and enjoyable. This should be in the hands of every secondary English teacher—ask your teachers, department chairs, and literacy coaches if they want to read it (if they haven’t already).

This isn't just revolutionary; it's revelationary. This is a book to make any teacher who has ever taught from 6th grade on up have hope once more. It arms you with weapons of mass instruction, specific mass instruction. It brings a reader to the land of read and reread, much as the writing project brought the writer into the land of rewrite. So many techniques, so many strategies, so many ok methods that beguile the mind and break the heart of the retired teacher: 'where were you when I needed you'??????

One of the reasons I floated slowly downward in the grade levels the longer I taught was the diversity of reading levels. Had I known that it's okay to reread, to real aloud, to think aloud, to say something aloud about what you are reading, I might still be teaching.

Kylene's book is full of devotion and passion and subtle but strong excitement: there is hope for the adolescent reader, the dependent reader, the below grade level reader. There is hope.

Read Kylene's book and share the hope!

Anonymous, December 18, 2002

Beers provides personally researched practices, with anecdotal notes, showing ways she was able to reach students and overcome a multitude of non-readers' difficulties.  I have used some of her ideas in my classroom and I will attest that they do, indeed, work.  Some of my favorite strategies are Say Something, the Anticipation Guide, Probable Passage, and Tea Party.

5-Star Review at

One day, while at a bookstore, I was looking for a resource book that could help me with our struggling sixth, seventh, and eighth grade readers. In my hands, I held two books and planned to buy one. One book was When Kids Can't Read—What Teachers Can Do written by Kylene Beers. I honestly don't remember the name of the other book for, I as looked through the two, it was clear which would be the more useful. I bought Kylene's book and have never looked back! Kylene explains a variety of reading strategies to help readers make meaning of text before they read, as they read, and after they read. Her ideas on vocabulary instruction are some of the most useful I have ever encountered. Kylene addresses how struggling readers also have difficulty with spelling and gives us concrete suggestions to help our readers improve their spelling skills. "Sound it out" does not often work for the struggling reader; a chapter on word recognition is very helpful. Most importantly, Kylene addresses the need for us to create confidence in our struggling readers and she offers suggestions as to how teachers can do this. When Kids Can't Read

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