Upper Elementary Reading Games for Struggling Readers

Why Upper Elementary Struggling Readers Need to Play Intervention Games

After the challenging school year that we have just had, you might be asking yourself, “What are some reading interventions I can use with my struggling readers?” There are hundreds of programs and strategies out there to choose from. It’s overwhelming. One simple solution is to implement reading games with your upper elementary students during intervention or small group time. Reading games keep your struggling readers engaged in practicing the skills they need to become better readers.

Upper Elementary Students reading intervention game
Intervention students often don’t get the benefit of playing reading games because they don’t finish their work or are given extra time in reading groups. You can address this issue by trading traditional work for reading games and play reading games during small group time to provide students with the practice they need.


I started using reading games with my intervention groups when I didn’t have time for a full lesson. Why didn’t I have time for a full lesson? Well, life happened – my last lesson took too long, the teacher wasn’t ready for me to take my group, more than one student was absent, and the list goes on. To be honest, I was also having a hard time planning for all of my intervention groups. I felt a little lazy “just” playing a game, but it turned out that these games helped my students make huge growth.

The kids loved playing the reading games and they were so persistent about asking to play them that I found us playing games when we finished our lessons. The kids became so motivated and focused that we were finishing our lessons and playing literacy games in the same amount of time it used to take us to get through a lesson. Games helped my students find motivation and focus to get more quality skills practice done in less time and helped me do less talking to encourage more student-centered work.

Upper Elementary reading game
Using games as reading intervention for upper elementary students allows them to practice reading skills in a fun and meaningful way.

Do you find that your students, especially your struggling readers, need a little extra motivation to practice reading? Here are five reasons that you should add reading games to your reading intervention plan.

  • More practice time

Kids who are behind need more time to practice, and that’s exactly what games provide – practice. Keep the games simple and switch out the content. For example, teach kids to play Go Fish! and Memory at the beginning of the year, then switch up the content by making decks of cards with prefixes, suffixes, synonyms, antonyms, homophones, or context clues. Download a free make-your-own card template and some premade decks of cards with game directions here.

  • There is no end

Unlike a worksheet, you can play the same game more than once. I used to think that kids would get tired of playing a game after they started to memorize the words and material, but I found the opposite is true. The more successful they become at the game, the more they want to play. The more they play, the more proficient they become. It’s the ultimate skill-builder.

  • Prepare the game once and play all year

It takes some time to prepare reading games for students, but once you’ve made the game you have it forever. Take a day or two to teach students how to play the game, then pull it out for an easy review, remediation, or even a reward.

  • Games motivate students to learn content and skills

Games give students a reason to learn content and skills. Having a hard time motivating a student to read or do classwork? Try making her your game expert. Declaring a student an “expert” is a great way to give her a reason to learn the content. Your “expert” can teach other students how to play the reading game, settle disputes over a game, or simply play the game with other students.

  • Students teach each other

We all know that kids learn from each other. Having students teach each other is one of my go-to strategies for the kids who “just don’t get it.” If I’m having a hard time explaining something to a student, I’ll ask the other kids if they can say it another way. Most of the time, the kids just repeat what I say, but for some reason, hearing it from another student helps the lightbulb come on. When playing games, students learning from each other is a built-in benefit.

  • Students in need of intervention often miss out out on opportunities to practice

Students who are behind often miss opportunities to practice reading skills because they are receiving more lessons, which usually involves the student listening to more instruction. In most cases, students have gotten the appropriate instruction, they just need a chance to practice. Reading games are perfect for these students because they will naturally receive feedback as they play and they can adjust their game behavior according to the feedback they receive from the game and other players.

  • Builds reading confidence

Games provide immediate feedback for players. Once students start getting answers correct, they start to feel more confident in their reading skills. More confidence allows students to take more reading risks and practice more, which leads to even more reading gains. Playing games is a great way to get students on the right track to gain some reading momentum.

Reading intervention activities for upper elementary
Reading games are student-centered, which helps students build their reading confidence.
  • Helps students make connections

When students play games and become more familiar with reading skills, they start to notice the words and strategies they are practicing in the stories and text that they read. This might require a little coaching on your part, so be sure that students are noticing the words or skills they are practicing in authentic text. This helps them take ownership of their new skills and motivates them to keep reading.


You can implement games during small group reading, intervention time, or even as morning work. Once you create the games, lesson planning is minimal. Students get the benefit of practice, social learning, and confidence from playing reading games. Try a game this week!

Upper elementary reading centers
Keep your teacher-life simple by teaching students a few key games at the beginning of the year. Then just switch out the content. Go Fish!, Memory, and BINGO are great starter games for your upper elementary struggling readers.


Read more about games and how to keep your reading interventions simple and simple games that are great for intervention:

Keep Your Intervention Groups Simple

Six Games for Reading

Reading Comprehension Games and Activities (That Students Want to Play Over and Over)

Need a quick, easy intervention game to start with? Try one of my Reading BINGO games. Each set includes traditional BINGO cards for small groups, make-your-own BINGO cards for the whole class, and mini-BINGO cards for quick games. Use the games to practice using prefixes, suffixes, homophones, synonyms, antonyms, and context clues.

Want to try a card game? Teach your students how to play the card game, Old Maid. Then substitute the playing cards with different word cards to practice different reading skills. Need some FREE word cards? Download your FREE decks of prefixes, suffixes, synonyms, antonyms, and homophones here. 


Try one of these upper elementary reading games today! You will help your students find reading success and simplify your planning time.

Do your upper elementary students need help with comprehension? Check out this article:

How to Boost Comprehension and Engagement with Studnet Led Book Clubs

Need to guide students through a research project? Check out:

How to Design a Research Project for Elementary

Make reading strategies stick with this article:

How to Teach Reading Strategies Like a Boss By Implementing Tangible Takeaways

Interested in starting a teacher blog like this one? Check out these 7 Helpful Tips on How to Blog Like a Boss.

What’s your greatest intervention challenge? Tell me in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Hi, I'm Kelly!

I help busy teachers plan, create, and implement simple intervention activities to help their students grow and learn.

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