How To Teach an Adult to Read

While we often assume literacy is a given in our postmodern society, according to surveys conducted over 30 million adult Americans cannot, in fact, read the daily newspaper.  Whether you find yourself in the situation to help one person learn to read or find yourself in a profession to do so, teaching an adult to read is an amazing gift you can give, but also one that will require an immense amount of patience, kindness and compassion.

We live in a society where those who cannot read are highly stigmatized.  Literacy is perceived as a hand-in-hand component of intellectualism and those who cannot read are dismissed as stupid too often in perception and popular culture.  The very first thing you need to bear in mind when teaching an adult how to read is that this issue is something that they may feel very embarrassed and ashamed about and in opening up to you regarding the issue they are letting you see their vulnerability.  Treat them the way you would like your darkest shames to be treated by another, and recognize that during moments of frustration they may not only be frustrated at the learning process but also upset over the trouble that this problem has caused in their lives.

Teaching methods vary depending on the initial skill level of your student.  Getting involved with local literacy advocates can often be the best way to learn methods to access student levels as well as learn appropriate teaching methods. 

For students of all ages, one of the best things you can do is play to their interests.  Find out why they want to learn to read, what they want to read and work from there.  Finding appropriate reading materials to practice with – materials that are interesting and adult, but not too difficult, can make or break the experience for the pupil.

Lastly, remember that everyone has their own learning pace.  It’s important to implement structure to prevent avoidance or procrastinating, but every adult with education needs has already set themselves in certain patterns and will have their own pace.  Forcing them to speed up can result in frustration and forcing them to slow down can result in boredom.  While assessing initial student needs figuring out what pace works best for your pupil should be at the top of your list.


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