Let’s Read the Bible: Strategies for Struggling Readers

We have all experienced the discomfort of having to read scripture aloud…We know how it feels to secretly count ahead in the passage, previewing the words in our verse to be sure that we won’t stumble over names or places with odd pronunciations. It can be terrifying, even for the most seasoned, confident reader! Imagine, then, if you were a child with a learning disability for whom a page of text appears jumbled and overwhelming.

Fortunately, many strategies exist to remedy this so that ALL kids can feel comfortable participating in scripture reading. In fact, you’re probably using lots of these techniques already. Please note that the strategies we’ll discuss in this series are not treatments for dyslexia. Rather, these are solutions for engaging ALL readers, regardless of ability. These strategies can definitely enhance a child’s reading ability and are likely to encourage struggling readers, but they will not “cure” dyslexia.

“Choral reading” is a solid technique for helping students confidently read scripture.  To understand this method, let’s reflect a bit on my own first grade Sunday School class. Mrs. Tunder, with her Sunday blue-grey suit, red lipstick and tightly permed, grey curls, taught first grade Sunday School since the beginning of time. And she was GOOD at it! Mothers of wiggly boys loved her structure and her firm, but kind style. Every class period started in the same way: We read John 3:16 and also a statement of our beliefs (“The Bible is the Word of God…”) She pointed to each word as we read. By the end of the year, we had memorized the words on the charts~ and we had started recognizing them in other places, too! Mrs. Tunder really set us up for success with this routine.

God’s word, spoken by a group, is powerful and fortifying. It’s good for ALL kids to experience this! In addition, choral reading allows kids to attempt reading unfamiliar words in a non-threatening, low-risk environment. Repeated choral readings allow kids to increase their fluency in reading scripture, and also enhance memorization. This can build confidence and improve a child’s willingness to continue trying to read the Bible.

For choral reading activities, show the students where the passage or verse is located in the Bible; we want kids to make the connection that what they are about to read is really God’s Word, and can be found in any Bible. Next, show the same verse or passage to the students on a white board or chart paper. Verses or passages can be also be typed  into a power point slide and projected on a screen. It’s important to remember that large passages are visually confusing  for kids with dyslexia; showing the passage in smaller segments makes the reading more manageable. Read the passage aloud to the students, and then invite students to read along.  As the students read together, the point to the words in a fluid motion. This helps with fluency, and eliminates the worry a child might have about “losing my place” in the passage. If time permits, the class should repeat the passage as a group two or even three times. We know that repeated readings allow kids to increase confidence and improve comprehension…very important aspects of reading scripture! Students are also more likely to pay attention to text when they know what to expect and are able to participate.

 As you read with your students, modeling that reading scripture is difficult even for adults can be very reassuring to the kids. When they see you struggle with words like “Methuselah” or “Elimelech,” they may feel more confident as they try new words themselves! It’s also important to model strategies for decoding these unfamiliar words. For example, when reading the word, “Frankincense,” a teacher might say, “ Hmmm….this word is really long and looks difficult. Let’s see. I could take this word apart. ‘Frank’ is a name I know. The next part of the word is ‘in,’ and I know that word too...” You might also suggest asking a friend or skipping the word and going back to it later, or substituting another word that might make sense. These are all appropriate strategies for reading that will minimize frustration.

 As I was preparing this post, I found a wonderful (and fun!) resource from NetMinistries: a Bible Pronunciation Guide! This guide contains names and other words that can stump most of us while reading. In addition to a written phonetic pronunciation, an audio version is also available.  While most Sunday School classrooms don’t have computers and internet access (and many lessons don’t allow time extra activities!), it’s a worthwhile tool to share with parents and kids.

Stay tuned…more strategies are coming in the next post!

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2 thoughts on “Let’s Read the Bible: Strategies for Struggling Readers

  1. Thanks Katie – this is good. I will be putting some of these suggestions right into the curriculum, Sunday Plus, that I am writing. If that is okay with you. I like to remind the Disciplers continually to know their kids and then give them guides of what to do with that knowledge.

    Was talking to one of the Children’s Pastors from one of our pilot churches this past week and he said he is amazed at the number of special needs kids they have in their Children’s Ministry. Several children on the autistic spectrum.

    I gave him links to both yours and Dr. Grcevich’s blogs.

    This resource has been needed for a long time.

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