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When Kids Can't Read (eBook)

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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Web/School Price: $31.94


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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.

(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—What Teachers Can Do is one of the best resources I have found in my thirty years of teaching. I have used this book daily and our students are the beneficiaries. They are becoming life-long readers!

Lisa Omark , (Woodbridge, CT), June 26, 2004

Beginning with the chapter titled, “Explicit Instruction in Comprehension,” Kylene addresses everything from comprehension to fluency to decoding. Chapters four through fourteen are stuffed, and I mean STUFFED, with amazing ideas for intermediate, middle, and high school teachers to bring into their classrooms to help children become more proficient. As I read, I couldn’t wait to try out the many lessons and strategies that Kylene suggested.

In the early pages of this book, Kylene Beers recommends that readers use this book as a resource. She recommends that you don’t read it cover to cover but instead, refer to the chapters that feel relevant. After completing this book, I think that was a thoughtful recommendation by the author, but I need to add, I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t relevant in chapters four through fourteen. Start there and don’t stop till you finish. The ideas are all too great to miss.

—Kim Yaris, Review at

I am a teacher of 5th–8th grade students who are "dependant" readers. This book offers very well researched methods for instruction that allow teachers to reach and teach their own dependant readers. The writing is clear and respectful to both the reader and their students. The ideas are backed by theory but once read can be implemented the next day. I have seen some of the ideas in practice with the teachers I work with and the students are *really* starting to get meaning from the text.

—Douglas L. Fireside, (Baltimore, MD), July 7, 2004

We secondary (Grades 7-12) English teachers have a weakness and it's called reading. Oh, we're GREAT readers and love literature and know how to teach it (to avid and average readers). But throw a kid at us who struggles with reading (and we get them every year) and they're likely to fall through the cracks, because our solutions are rather simplistic. We say things like, "Read it again," or "Sound the word out," or "Look the word up." When they hesitate before a strange word while reading aloud, we give them the word. When they don't do the reading assignment, we watch them flunk our quizzes and wonder why they are so lazy.

Enter Kylene Beers, with easily the best book I've read on the subject of struggling readers who are NOT of elementary age, but of middle and high school age. Yes, elementary teachers have reading specialists to fall back on, but in secondary schools, it is often either the English teacher who must intervene or no one. For Beers, the inspiration for writing this book was the number of former students she had who were condemned to "or no one" because she simply did not know what to do. For me (and probably legions of other teachers) her story will sound chillingly familiar. Fortunately, WHEN KIDS CAN'T READ—WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO is the antidote to our problems.

In this book, Beers identifies the myriad of types of students who struggle with reading, and why. She provides practical strategies on how to intervene if your students struggle with comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and word recognition/fluency/automaticity. There's also advice on how to help kids in responding to literature, as well as how to help them find a book that will tap into their interests.

Each chapter includes an introduction and thorough definition of the problem, a section called "Step Inside a Classroom" which details real-life transcripts of kids having this exact reading difficulty, and a list of various strategies you can try -- even if it means having different groups with scaffolding activities within your language arts classroom. At the end of the book are appendices that include such helpful reproducibles as bookmark templates, common roots/prefixes/and suffixes, Fry and Dolch word lists, common phonics generalizations, 175 most common syllables in the 5,000 most frequent English words, word sorts, easily confused words, common spelling rules, and booklists for every type of reader. Can you say goldmine? This is the end of the rainbow, folks.

I can't recommend this book enough to my fellow 7-12 English teachers. Reach out to your weak readers. Don't condemn them to a life of mediocrity (or worse) in literacy by assuming either it's their problem or they are beyond help. It's not and they aren't. Buy this book and put it to good use. This is where theory meets the road (called "practicality"). Be not only an English teacher, but a READING teacher (in every sense of the word).

—Ken C. (MA), August 8, 2007

I'm a Title 1 teacher in Oregon, and I work with the types of readers that Kylene Beers talks about in her book When Kids Can't Read—What Teachers Can Do. I found her book to be loaded with practical, "use in your classroom the next day" ideas that are easy to implement.

Now, my school is an elementary school, and initially I avoided this book due to the "Guide for Teachers 6-12" label on it. Boy, was I wrong. While the focus of her book is for middle and high school teachers, most of her techniques are excellent techniques for the younger learners as well, especially the fifth grade students that I'm working with. She has taken many of the concepts we use in elementary school and upgraded them for older kids; but good teaching is good teaching, no matter what you are trying to do.

This book is so practical, on the inside front cover, you are given a simple chart that list reading problems that kids have, and the chapter that you can immediately turn to in order to get ideas! It can't get any friendlier than that.
However, I also suggest a more thorough read through of this content. Beers talks throughout the book of a student named George that she taught early in her career, before she knew much about teaching. Sprinkled through the text, before and after each chapter, write writes lovingly to George about how she failed him time and time again, in direct relation to the content of the chapter. As a teacher, looking back on my own career, I can totally relate to that. If I knew then what I know now... the letters become Beers’ "mea culpa", and they are a beautiful addition to the text.

I highly recommend this book for ANY teacher struggling to teach struggling readers reading. It's practical, easy to use, and loaded with great ideas.

—James Hiller (Beaverton, OR), March 11, 2007

When Kids Can't Read—What Teachers Can Do by Kylene Beers has been inspirational and life-changing for teachers in our district. As Language Arts Instructional Specialist, working closely with the Middle Level Coordinator for a large school district, we are constantly seeking methods and materials that will enhance reading instruction and advance literacy. When Kids Can't Read provides hands-on strategies for improved reading instruction that our teachers embrace and implement immediately in their classrooms. Teachers in our district have used this book as the focus of professional literary circles, as a guide in reading classes for reluctant readers, and as the foundation to improved reading instruction across the curriculum. I have read this book cover to cover; it is an essential book for all educators striving to make a difference one struggling reader at a time.

—Elizabeth Church (Murfreesboro, TN), June 16, 2004

Excellent book—a must have! Writer is knowledgeable of real live classroom situations. A plus is the book does not need to be read cover to cover, but you will want to after you start. Excellent resource for middle and high school teachers.

Colleen M. Duffy (Carlisle, PA), October 28, 2004

This book has a lot of ideas to help teachers of middle school and high school. It contains examples of many strategies for phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

If you are stuck on a particular student and can't figure out what to do to help them, read this book and find help. This book is also good for content area teachers who need help with their struggling readers.

—J. E. Stephens (FL), June 25, 2008

This book is an excellent resource for teachers in all grade levels. The strategies can be used for elementary students and the book has helpful charts that direct you to the information you need if a student has difficulty with comprehension, vocabulary, word recognition and fluency, or spelling. One of the best resources I have ever used in 27 years of teaching.

Florida Teacher , May 7, 2008

This book is a teacher's dream! It gives very explicit instructions and is comprehensive. One of the best parts of this book is that it essentially gives you a formula for dealing with reading problems: "if your student has a problem with this, then do this". Worth twice as much as I paid for it.

—Carrie Czerwinski (Waterford, CT), January 9, 2007

I am a fist-year English teacher serving in a low-performing high school (based on states tests scores)in an inner-city public school district. I struggled to teach on-level text to below grade level students. Once I found this book, I felt like I had a master teacher standing next to me as I taught me students how to use strategies to create meaning from text. The title of this book is befitting of its content because when my students lacked comprehension, I had specific strategies to aid their understanding. Direct instruction of these strategies is based in cooperative learning. Hands down, this warmly written book equipped my students with the ability to comprehensively read any text that any teacher gives them.

—Tan Huynh (New Orleans, LA), May 24, 2008

This book is a wonderful resource book for any Language Arts teacher. The key to successfully using it is to find out what the child needs to learn to do to become a better reader. Then Mrs. Beers has listed what to do, and even shows how it has worked with real students. I know the activities could be used with first graders and on up. I taught Reading Recovery for ten years and have studied struggling readers for forty years, and I know these resources will work. I also like the authors she used to gather her research. She didn't just research through books, but also practiced these herself. Mrs. Beers has included places for busy teachers to go easily to find the materials to use. All Language Arts teachers should use this book.

—Linda Morris , May 21, 2006


—W. Munoz (AZ), May 18, 2007

Of all the texts I have read as a first year English teacher, this book stands out as the most helpful.When Kids Can't Read not only names what problems arise for struggling readers, it gives detailed suggestions on how to improve upon them. This book is a must read for anyone interested in helping students become better readers.

Inference King "Profesor Hudson" (Denver, Co), December 11, 2006

I purchased this book for an online reading course to renew my teaching license. I don't think that I have ever gained so much useful information from a text book. I particularly like the reflections the author shares about one particular student that she feels she failed so miserably during her first year of teaching. The strategies she shares for teaching reading and language arts skills are dynamite!

B. Williams , February 9, 2009

Beers book is very practical. She provides great information and strategies for both comprehension and fluency. Each strategy is explained fully followed by an example of how it has worked in a real classroom. Common questions about the strategies are then spoken about. Beers obviously has done great research because her suggestions target where I see many of our students struggling. I have shared her strategies with many thankful teachers.

—Camus , May 27, 2007

I am not inclined to read books related to pedagogy (drier than dust!), but after hearing Dr. Beers speak in Maryland, I became an almost-instant disciple. While I admit that several strategies given in the book have evolved for me over many years of teaching, I also have to consider the difference this book would've made had I had it earlier in my career.

I, too, have had my share of Georges and I struggled to teach them as they persevered to learn. This book should be a must-read in all school systems, and not only for the Language Arts/English teachers. I am convinced that if school systems spent the money acquainting teachers with Dr. Beers' strategies, vast sums of money would ultimately be saved in the long run--and so would countless Georges! Society would benefit immeasurably!

Beth Searfoss (Colonial Beach, VA), September 30, 2009

This is an eye opening book. Sure it seems like common sense after you read it, but wow. I am blown away by the strategies and explanations in this book. This is not a theory book that leaves you asking, "So what do I do now?" Finally there is a book that defines the problems and gives easy to understand strategies for you to use when working with struggling readers. This book should be required reading for all teachers. You almost want to cry in empathy when you read her notes to George.

Yellow Meso , August 25, 2009

I have read many, many books on reading instruction and research. Through them, I have learned a lot about reading, but none has been as helpful to me as this book. It actually helps teachers with easy-to-implement ideas to help every student in the classroom.

Curtis Nielson (Utah), August 15, 2009

This is an amazingly helpful manual for a problem that is affecting so many of our students. They can decode the words but are unable to make sense or understand what they are reading so they turn off and say that reading is boring! I read small sections of this book every day and couldn't wait to put it into practice. It has worked for English students at Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9. The Anticipation Guide idea has even been extremely valuable for a year 10 Literature class. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

Anne Foster (Australia)May 25, 2009

Every teacher should have a copy of this book on the shelf. It is a joy to read because Kylene Beers is honest about her long teaching career and what has worked and what has not. Too often new teachers are expected to know exactly how to deal with struggling readers. This book provides tons of excellent strategies as well as easy-to-use prescriptive charts and details.

J. M. Shervais , February 12, 2009

I have to tell you I promote Beers’ book, When Kids Can’t Read. I have put in the hands of principals, parents, graduate students, and my Reading Recovery Teachers. I share it with anyone who will listen! We are having Kylene Beers and Bob Probst speak at our MARRE conference in Branson next Nov. I can’t wait, she is so on target!

—Cindy Gordinier-Harkey, Southeast Missouri State Univeristy, November, 2010

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