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10 Essential Instructional Elements for Students With Reading Difficulties

10 Essential Instructional Elements for Students With Reading Difficulties
A Brain-Friendly Approach

October 2015 | 256 pages | Corwin

Brain-friendly strategies to help all students become lifelong readers

Learning to read is more than just an educational issue; it’s a social justice issue. Did you know that struggling readers are twice as likely as their peers to drop out of high school? Through time-tested, research-based neurocognitive teaching strategies, 10 Essential Instructional Elements for Students with Reading Difficulties will enable you to hone readers’ skills and help students from all grade levels develop their ability to create meaning from print.

Drawing from five key areas of neurocognitive research, Andrew Johnson provides a ten-point teaching strategy that encompasses vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, writing and more. A key resource for creating intervention plans for struggling readers, features include:

  • Information on the often-overlooked importance of emotions in the process of overcoming reading struggles
  • Strategies to promote voluntary reading, even for the most reluctant students
  • Useful resources such as graphic organizers, additional reading and writing activities, and QR codes that link to videos
  • Use these strategies today and you can count on more students leaving your classrooms as fluent, lifelong readers. 
“Dr. Johnson tells the story of reading in a logical and clear manner with a book that is excellently researched, immaculately referenced, and full of practical tips for the practitioner.”
Terry Bernstein, Former Senior Literacy Difficulties Specialist
London Boroughs of Camden and Westminster, UK

“This is the text I wish I had when I began to teach. Dr. Johnson clearly illustrates the process our brain uses to create meaning from text.”
Marty Duncan, Ed.D., Author and Former Educator


Code First or Meaning First

Tools in Your Teaching Toolbox


Section I. Understanding the Reading Process
Chapter 1. Creating Meaning With Print: The Neurocognitive Model
Understanding Reading

Reading: A Neurological Perspective

The Neurocognitive Process

Last Word

Chapter 2. Eye Movement and Neural Pathways
Eye Movement During Reading

Understanding Our Learning Organ

Last Word

Chapter 3. Understanding Reading From a Cognitive Perspective
The Difference Between Brain and Mind

The Information Processing Model

The Two-Way Flow of Information

Last Word

Section II. Diagnosing Reading Problems, Documenting Progress, and Planning Instruction
Chapter 4. Diagnosis and Documentation
Diagnosing the Problem

Graded Word Lists

Graded Reading Passages

Assessing Comprehension

Putting It Together

Last Word

Chapter 5. Reading Lessons
SRE Lesson

Guided Reading Lesson

Shared Reading Lesson

Last Word

Section III. 10 Instructional Elements
Chapter 6. 10 Elements of Reading Instruction
No Magical Programs

Comprehensive Reading Instruction

Teaching Reading With the Brain in Mind

Last Word

Chapter 7. Emergent Literacy: Concepts of Print and Phonemic Awareness
Approaches to Early Literacy Instruction

Creating the Conditions for Early Literacy Learning

Concepts of Print

Phonemic-Phonics Hybrid Activities

Last Word

Chapter 8. Emotions and Motivation

The Value-Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Some Basic Strategies

Last Word

Chapter 9. Literature and Instructional Approaches
Strategies for Promoting Voluntary Reading

Instructional Approaches

Last Word

Chapter 10. Phonics

14 Strategies

Last Word

Appendix: Phonics Checklist

Chapter 11. Strategies for Developing Word Identification Skills
Terms and Concepts Related to Word Identification

Context Clues: The Semantic Cueing System

Word Order and Grammar: The Syntactic-Cueing System

Word Parts

Morphemic Analysis

Sight Words

Last Word

Chapter 12. Fluency
Reading Fluency

Neural Pathways and Networks

Strategies for Enhancing Reading Fluency

Avoid Round-Robin Reading

Last Word

Chapter 13. Comprehension of Narrative Text
Comprehension Basics

Teaching Tips

Activities Organized by Cognitive Process

Last Word

Chapter 14. Comprehension of Expository Text
Expository Text

Teacher Pre-Reading Strategies

Study-Skill Strategies

Pedagogical Strategies to Develop Cognitive Processes Related to Comprehension

Last Word

Chapter 15. Vocabulary
Attending to Vocabulary

General Principles for Developing Students’ Vocabulary

Strategies for Developing Students’ Vocabulary

Visual Displays and Graphic Organizers

Last Word About Words

Chapter 16. Writing
The Why and How of Writing

Specific Strategies

Last Word


Andy Johnson has written a unique professional text, unique because this may be the first American book to discuss reading difficulties from a top-down perspective. What Johnson does, quite eloquently, is to argue the limitations of the bottom-up perspective for developing readers. On the other hand, Johnson presents the research supporting a top-down perspective, especially for developing readers who read with understanding. He doesn't argue against developing student decoding proficiencies as much as he argues for a far more contextualized approach in the development of this aspect of emergent literacy and for a much more important role for student self-selection of texts and for the engagement of students in wide reading.

His arguments are clear and his writing is easy to read. His suggestions for instruction are research-based and cover early literacy development quite completely. Primary grade teachers, especially, will love this book, and rightfully so. 

Dick Allington, Professor of Education
University of Tennessee

"As an educator with 30 years’ experience as a reading specialist and learning disabilities teacher, I recommend this book as a resource that pulls together divergent ideas about reading, and weaves them together in a way that makes sense."

Joan Whoolery, Reading Specialist
Fairfax County Public Schools, Alexandria, VA

"It has become fashionable in recent years to view the teaching of reading as being as simple as getting children to sound out words. This is understandable. When we look at a page we see words made of out of letters, so it's easy to think that that's all there is to it. And for legislators and publishers this is an attractive proposition. The fundamental job of teaching children to read becomes something simple, logical, easy to measure, and of course easy to explain to parents. However, a closer look at what really goes on when we read soon tells us that the story is deeper, more beautiful, and more complex. Those words refuse to play ball (try “give” and “hive”) and when we read we don't actually look at every letter in every word--far from it. Professor Johnson tells the story of reading in a logical and clear manner with a book that is excellently researched, immaculately referenced, and full of practical tips for the practitioner."

Terry Bernstein, (London Borough of Barnet) and former Senior Literacy Difficulties Specialist
London Boroughs of Camden and Westminster. (UK)

"This book for teachers who want to help their struggling students learn to read and write includes classroom-tested reading and writing strategies and activities that students will enjoy and practice. Creating the conditions for student success is all spelled out in this book."

Paul Wickham
Contra Costa County Office of Education, retired teacher from the Los Angeles Unified School District

"This is the text I wish I had when I began to teach. Dr. Johnson clearly illustrates the process our brain uses to create meaning from text. He suggests reading teachers need to de-emphasize phonics and use activities that ask the student to also use semantic and syntactical cues. The text includes ten chapters of instructional elements with tons of activities to increase motivation, phonic awareness, and fluency."

Marty Duncan, Ed.D., educator, author, former teacher and superintendent
Key features

This text includes the following:

  • Advanced organizers, charts, and figures that will be used to demonstrate exactly how each strategy is used and applied  
  • References to a website that contains a wealth of teacher resources that they can use (
  • Links to short, video mini-lectures that the author has prepared.  These are between two and eight minutes in duration.  See the example at:   
  • Appendices for graphic organizers, examples of authentic assessment, and additional reading and writing activities

For instructors

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