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For Struggling Readers, “Color” Can Make a Difference!

We are concluding our spring conference season and have talked with so many parents and teachers of struggling readers throughout the Midwest. A number of these adults described the various reading challenges of their children and students.

Some mentioned that their children have reported to them that words or letters on a page seem to “wave out” or have “shadows” behind them. Others told us that the children often do not want to read for more than a few minutes, saying that their eyes “get tired” quickly. Still others said that many times, their children or teens were too overwhelmed by all the text on a page. Each of the parents and teachers asked for strategies, tools and resources to help.

For some of the issues mentioned, the introduction of “color” could make a significant difference in one's reading success. The white background on most pages of text can cause some of the issues described above here. This white color is stark or just too bright for many challenged readers. Neutralizing this white color can allow a reader to not only focus but read much more effectively and comfortably.

A particular color for an individual reader can “unblock brain pathways” and further improve the focus, comprehension, and retention of what is read. Some experimentation with several different colors could be time well spent.

Because parent and teacher time is at such a premium, we thought it best to address these needs in a bulleted format. We have listed here some non-invasive ideas that involve the use of color to help readers of any age who are challenged with reading. The following ideas are conservative interventions one might consider before moving to more expensive options:

1. Use colored paper for all printed materials including worksheets, outlines, notes, etc. Experiment with pastels as well as bright shades. One particular color may produce significant results for an individual.

2. Consider the use of colored overlays or focus cards for increased focus and to help with “visual stress” as the white background of a page of text can be visually “offensive” to some readers/learners.

3. When possible, fold worksheets or printed pages into fourths or even eighths so that only what needs to be read or worked on at the moment is visible.

4. Try using focus cards with iPads and other e-tablets (Model #002-Longer). They are also good for use with Kindles, Nooks, and other e-readers (Model #001-Shorter). NOTE: It is recommended that a non-scratch film be used to protect tech devices’ screens with this application.

5. Seriously consider a visit to a developmental optometrist for a non-invasive and conclusive evaluation of a struggling reader (of any age). This medical professional can effectively test, evaluate, diagnose and prescribe particular treatments or therapies for vision-related reading and learning challenges.

We hope this list will give you a few good places to start. As always, please feel free to let us know of your experiences or success stories with “color” for struggling readers. We’ll appreciate it!

For more information: Tools for struggling readers of all ages! Info & support for struggling readers

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Comment by Joan M. Brennan on April 12, 2012 at 6:47pm

Carrie-Anne, I appreciate your enthusiasm with this.  You must be teacher who wants the best for her students---excellent!  We need more of you in education.

Just one thought on this little experiment---You will notice that with the background-changing tool, not all colors of the rainbow will be available.  There is no "red" or "deep purple" or other colors that can help with symptoms often associated with some forms of dyslexia and other conditions.  So again, use this as a starting point.  Remember that a developmental optometrist can make a complete evaluation of a child concerning vision-related reading challenges.  Just wanted to direct you properly.

Comment by Joan M. Brennan on April 12, 2012 at 6:39pm

I am pleased to know that you are willing to try this with your students, Carrie-Anne.  Good for you ---and them!  You might try the background-changing tool at before you purchase any materials.  Clicking on the tiny colored buttons at the top of any page on the site will allow you to change the page backgrounds one color at a time to see which might provide the most focus, comfort, and concentration for your students.  Please let us know how the students do with this activity.  It will give you some guidance on colors that might work best with some of your struggling readers.

Comment by Carrie-Anne Irby on April 12, 2012 at 6:37pm

Thanks Joan! I have one student in mind that I think would benefit. I will try the site tomorrow with him!


Comment by Carrie-Anne Irby on April 12, 2012 at 5:59pm

I would like to practice with this and my students.

Comment by Joan M. Brennan on April 12, 2012 at 12:46pm

Thanks, Martianne, for the update on your niece's reading progress with the overlays.  It sounds like she is well on her way to enjoying reading and academic success!  All the best to her--and you!

Comment by Martianne Stanger on April 12, 2012 at 11:01am

My niece has made huge strides.  She has not had vision therapy, but does use overlays.

Comment by Joan M. Brennan on April 12, 2012 at 1:19am

I certainly appreciate this Irlen link here, Martianne.  Will bookmark it to use as a good reference for parents.  Would like to know how your niece is doing now.  Does she continue to use the overlays?  Has she had vision therapy since that time?  Thanks for your good input here, as always.

Comment by Martianne Stanger on April 11, 2012 at 9:20pm

My niece benefited so much from color overlays.  I am a true believer in them!  There are self tests my SIL did at

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