Tips for Teaching Your Struggling Student

August 8, 2016
Written by:
Guest Author


Do you have a child like this?

He (or she) sits down with a page of problems or questions in front of him. Two hours later he has done only three of them (and two of them are wrong!) You have tried everything to get him to do his work. Rewards work only for a day or two, and now all you know to do is punish him and take away privileges—and you find you must do that daily, if not hourly. People have suggested that he has a “learning deficiency,” but you can see that he is very smart and that he has a very logical mind—in fact, he often shows a great deal of common sense. You know there is no problem with his brain. So you conclude that he must be either lazy or rebellious. Yet when you talk to him, he really seems like he wants to try, and you are certain that he wants to please you.

I had a child like this! In my last blog post I listed a few guidelines for teaching and motivating your student. Below are a few specific suggestions. You can view and print the entire document free at

  • Break assignments down into small parts. For example, if he has trouble copying a paragraph, you may have to say, “Copy this sentence, and I will be back in five minutes to check it.”   Then do the same with the next sentence, and the next, until the paragraph is copied. Then praise him profusely for having copied the whole paragraph and remind him that by copying it one sentence at a time he was able to accomplish what seemed like an impossible goal. In time you can assign a whole paragraph and give him twenty minutes, etc.
  • Use a reduction in quantity as a motivation for increased quality. If he has a page of problems or sentences to do, give him the whole page but tell him to start by doing every other problem, or every third problem. Give him a reasonable time limit, and tell him that if he finishes within that time and gets them all correct, he won’t have to do the rest of the problems. If he misses problems, have him do the rest—but make sure he understands this is not punishment. It is just to help him learn the concept.
  • If sloppy penmanship is a problem, cut down on the amount to be copied as a reward for careful penmanship. You may start by requiring only one word or one sentence if you like—but don’t let him stop until he turns in the minimum assignment in acceptable penmanship! You may end up with a showdown the first time, but don’t give in! Gradually increase the amount of work, building up your student’s confidence and skill, so that he can write a composition or an essay question on a test using good penmanship.
  • Avoid busywork. Busywork can be defined as assigning more work than is necessary to learn a skill. Some students actually like busywork. Not yours, though—he hates busywork! In some situations, such as a classroom, where a certain amount of time has to be spent and students don’t all finish at the same time, there is almost no way to avoid busywork. But you have a choice. You will have greater success and a better attitude if you whittle away the busywork—and for once your student will see you as “the good guy”! The determination as to what is busywork and what is necessary for learning is very individual and will require some thought and evaluation on your part. It is very much related to age and educational level, as well as to your student’s progress in independent study habits. For example, your child needs to know how to answer a question using a complete sentence. If your child cannot do that, then by all means make him do it on everything he writes until he can. But if you are sure that whenever he is asked to do so he is able to answer a question using a complete sentence, you may help him to focus on and finish history or science homework better by allowing him to use short answers instead of complete sentences. Just be sure you don’t let the skill of answering in complete sentences be lost—make him do it on tests, or on random days, enough to reinforce the skill and to satisfy you that he has not forgotten it.

                                © 2003 by Joy Dean. Published by A Helping Hand,

VISIT for curriculum by this author for age 4 through grade 12, including hands-on state history project studies available for all 50 states as well as US History and US Geography workbooks that cover all 50 states in order of statehood.