Executive Function Strategies Blog

The Importance of Building Self-Esteem in Young Struggling Readers

Editor's note: We heard about Dawn Levy's important work with struggling readers recently, and asked her to write a guest blog post about her innovations in reading support. 

Students who struggle in the area of reading at an early age will often feel discouraged and frustrated. The Building self-esteem for struggling readersfeelings they encounter will affect their motivation to be successful, peer relationships, and their self-esteem.

When students enter kindergarten they are introduced to basic reading skills. In first grade, students will be taught to read and many will quickly advance to what we refer to as chapter books. A student who struggles with reading will recognize their peers are moving to more difficult books, but they are not. The struggling reader will often get frustrated that they are still reading what they refer to as a “baby book.” Frustration continues to grow and the desire to read becomes less and less.

Positive self-esteem in children is a building block to success; providing a strong foundation for learning. The right support and inspiration for learning can make a huge difference in the life of a child. One of the most important keys to helping struggling readers is to provide them with books that they can and want to read.

One day a colleague and I were helping a struggling reader, in the second grade, pick out an independent reading book, when the student said, “This book is a ‘just right’ book for me.” The student opened the book and pretended to be reading it. We immediately looked at the book and realized the book was not even in English, but instead was written in Latin. This child wanted to read a chapter book so badly she was willing to pretend any chapter book was a “just right” book for her. Our goal as educators is to help all students feel successful so they don’t have to pretend to read books that are too hard for them, just to fit in with their peers.

The challenge becomes finding a ‘just right’ book that will appeal to the struggling reader. Often, the books at the appropriate reading level will appear “babyish,” which makes them reluctant to want to read.  

What are Hi/Lo Books?

Hi/Lo books are chapter books written specifically for struggling readers. “Hi” stands for “high interest” and the “Lo” stands for “low readability” and “low vocabulary.” The Hi/Lo chapter books have interesting subject matter, appealing to the age of the reader. They will often include story elements such as characters, setting, problems and solutions; thus building reading comprehension skills.

Introducing Hi/Lo chapter books to struggling readers will not only build fluency, comprehension, and decoding skills, it will help to build self-esteem and a desire to read.

As a reading specialist, I have seen too many young, struggling readers with low self-esteem, desperate to read chapter books. Inspired to help the young, struggling reader population, I have written a Hi/Lo chapter book series for grades k-3—hoping to make a difference at the very beginning stages of reading.  

Visit and learn more about my book series at www.chapterdynamics.com


 photo credit: Pedro Simones via Flickr

Dawn Levy M.S.Ed., LDTC—earned a master’s degree from Hunter College, The City University of New York, in Special Education/Learning Disabilities. Since 1995, Dawn has worked as a learning specialist in New York City elementary schools. She also has a private practice working with students in reading, writing, and mathematics. Dawn’s inspiration for writing chapter books comes from her passion to help children overcome reading challenges, while improving their self-esteem.


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