25 Must-Have Tools for Learning Specialists, Educational Therapists, and Literacy Tutors

Have you ever been over the moon to receive a new teaching book you ordered, only for it to fall flat?

Have you ever wondered what great books and tools your colleagues are using?

Today, I’d like to invite you to a virtual visit of my office. Let me show you my favorite books, games, tools, and software programs. I’ve highlighted several of my favorite materials below, but feel free to hop over to our resources page for a complete list of teaching goodies.

I’d love to hear your suggestions too! What are some of your favorite teaching resources? Please chime in by sharing a book, program, or material you love in the comments section.

Teaching Kids to Read

1. Locating and Correcting Reading Difficulties

by Ward Cockrum and James L. Shanker

If you’ve just started working with a struggling reader and you’re not sure where to begin, this is an essential tool in your literacy toolbox. You can use a variety of informal assessments to pinpoint a student’s area of difficulty. The book also includes activities to build up those skills. I especially like to use this book to measure progress in phonics, multisyllable decoding, and sight word acquisition. (www.baytreeblog.com/difficulties)

2. Seeing Stars Letter Cards

I use these cards to teach kids sound-symbol correspondence (i.e. learning the sounds that letters make). They’re sturdy enough for daily use. (www.baytreeblog.com/vccards)

3. Seeing Stars Decoding Workbooks

Once kids have cracked the alphabetic code, they need tons of practice decoding. These workbooks are divided into six levels based on word length. I find workbooks #2 and #3 most useful. The first workbook includes CV/VC words with just two sounds, the second workbook includes CVC words with three sounds, and the third workbooks include CVCC/CCVC words with consonant blends. I like to use these words as a jumping off point for phonemic and orthographic awareness activities. (www.baytreeblog.com/seeingstarsworkbooks)

4. Quick Reads

Once kids are decoding accurately, they need to apply their skills. The Quick Reads program includes short passages that can be used for repeated reading and other activities that build reading fluency. I like that the articles are grouped by topic so that students get many exposures to topic-specific vocabulary. (www.baytreeblog.com/quickreads)

5. Unlocking Literacy: Effective Decoding and Spelling Instruction

by Marcia K. Henry

New to teaching reading? Not sure how to best help a struggling reader? This is THE book for you. Henry shows how children learn to read and how to best teach literacy. She focuses on morphology (the meaning system) and orthography (the writing system), which are two vital, but overlooked, layers of language. The 100-page appendix of prefixes, suffixes, and bases is worth the price of the book alone. This is an invaluable resource, especially for teachers of children in the intermediate grades. (www.baytreeblog.com/unlockingliteracy)


by Vicky Vachon, Mary Gleason, and Anita Archer

Anyone who’s offering you a silver bullet for solving reading problems is probably selling snake oil. However, this inexpensive, accessible program is probably the closest thing to a decoding cure-all. Here’s why. Each lesson includes explicit, structured practice with:

  1. a vowel pattern
  2. decoding a single syllable words with that vowel pattern, and
  3. a multisyllable decoding strategy.

Students are taught to identify common prefixes and suffixes, so they can successfully read multisyllable words. I’ve seen kids’ reading ability grow by leaps and bounds. The intermediate version is for children in grades 4-5. The standard version is appropriate for middle school students, high school students, and adults. (www.baytreeblog.com/rewards)

Teaching Kids Who “Hate” Writing

1. The Checklist Manifesto

by Atul Gawande

Ok, this book actually has nothing to do with writing or teaching. It could still transform how you teach writing! Harvard Medical School Professor Atul Gawande details how simple checklists help professionals successfully complete complex tasks. Writing is arguably the most complex task students perform in school. Modify a task that feels unmanageably difficult by involving students in making checklists. Watch their writing improve before your eyes; and, most importantly, before their eyes. (www.baytreeblog.com/checklist)

2. Dragon Dictate

If you’re working with students of any age who confess that they hate writing, explore how easily and legibly they write. If handwriting is tough, most students will grow to dislike the entire writing process. You can circumvent these difficulties by using dictation software like Dragon Dictate. It takes some finesse to train the program and a good quality microphone. This is not a quick or cheap fix, but it can significantly improve a student’s experience with writing. (www.baytreeblog.com/dragon)

3. Ginger

Another common reason kids dislike writing is that they’re embarrassed or frustrated by their spelling mistakes. Ginger is a free program you can use to help students who make spelling mistakes. Ginger’s more effective for kids with dyslexia than a standard Spellcheck. Unlike Spellcheck, Ginger was designed to help with severe spelling errors. For example, Ginger changes “chould i add anything” to “Should I add anything?” (www.baytreeblog.com/ginger)

4. Inspiration

This is a great tool for kids who have disorganized writing or who lose their train of thought while writing. Inspiration is a visual tool for brainstorming. The best feature is that it syncs up with your word processing program; this helps students transcribe their outline into their first draft. That’s what I call efficient! Kids will need explicit instruction and modeling to use this tool effectively. (www.baytreeblog.com/inspiration)

5. Powerful Writing Strategies for Students

by Karen Harris, Steve Graham, Linda Mason and Barbara Friedlander

This book introduces an instructional writing technique called “Self-Regulated Strategy Development.” Each chapter includes a specific strategy, lesson plans, and blackline masters for expository and narrative writing. This book is a huge time saver for teachers, educational therapists, and tutors. (www.baytreeblog.com/writingstrategies)

6. Time Timer

One of the biggest reasons kids “hate” writing is that they feel overwhelmed by the task. Other kids may grossly overestimate how long writing tasks will take. Help them break down writing projects into smaller chunks and then estimate how much time each task will take. Finally, encourage students to set the Timer for the allotted time. Watch the worries melt away. (www.baytreeblog.com/timetimer)

Teaching Kids to Comprehend

1. Teaching Reading Comprehension to Students with Learning Difficulties

by Janette Klingner, Sharon Vaughn, and Alison Boardman

If I had to recommend just one book on reading comprehension, this is the one! Written by researchers, the book covers assessment, vocabulary instruction, and effective instructional techniques. Great for elementary, middle, and secondary teachers. (www.baytreeblog.com/teachingrc)

2. Six-Way Paragraphs

by Walter Pauk

This is a great tool for reinforcing expository comprehension skills. Each short passage is paired with factual, inferential, and vocabulary questions. Each book includes five different levels, broken down by grade level. (www.baytreeblog.com/6way)

3. Jamestown Critical Reading

These books are simply fabulous. Interesting, engaging real-life stories with comprehension questions that make kids think. You couldn’t ask for anything more. If you read enough of these books, you’ll never run out of conversational tidbits to share at parties! (www.baytreeblog.com/jamestowncr)

4. Visualizing and Verbalizing

by Lindamood-Bell

Some kids benefit from explicit instruction in how to create “mind movies.” I like to start off a session with one short paragraph from these workbooks. It’s also a great tool to support language development. These workbooks are an important supplement to any reading comprehension program. (www.baytreeblog.com/visualizingverbalizing)

My Favorite Teaching Books for Kids with LD

1. Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching

by Anita Archer and Charles Hughes

When I first read this book, I said, “I could have just read this book instead of going to graduate school!” Seriously, this book is essential for any educator. You’ll learn how explicit instruction can help all students succeed. The book includes practical suggestions on how to design lessons, organize and deliver your instruction, and provide appropriate, independent practice. (www.baytreeblog.com/eeteaching)

2. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

by Carol Dweck

What if our praise actually demolishes student motivation? Stanford social psychologist Carol Dweck’s seminal research shows how two different types of belief systems impact children’s enthusiasm for learning, their love of challenge, and their ability to persevere. Her suggestions are practical and easy to use. A must-read for every educator and parent! (www.baytreeblog.com/mindset)

3. The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience

by Martin Seligman

Do you have students who beat themselves up over tiny mistakes? Or do you know kids who struggle to bounce back from setbacks? Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, offers concrete advice to help kids cultivate a more resilient mindset. Children learn to recognize negative events as temporary, contained, and external to themselves. (www.baytreeblog.com/optimisticchild)

4. Smart but Scattered and Smart but Scattered Teens

by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare

These are must-have books for anyone who works with kids who need help getting organized, staying focused, and completing work. In this practical book, the authors tackle common challenges for kids who have weak executive functioning. There are lots of actionable strategies in each chapter. (www.baytreeblog.com/smartscattered)

5. The Whole Brian Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind

by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

This little book is a quick read and packed full of practical advice. It features twelve different strategies for helping kids thrive in the face of common childhood challenges. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. “Connect and Redirect: Connect emotionally, redirect logically.”
  2. “Name It To Tame It: Taming emotions through storytelling.”
  3. “Let The Clouds of Emotion Roll By: Teaching your kids about temporary feelings.”

The cartoons and illustrations are engaging too! (www.baytreeblog.com/wholebrainchild)

My Favorite Teaching Books for Kids with Dyslexia

1. The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan

by Ben Foss

This book is hands-down my favorite book to share with parents about dyslexia. The book focuses on how to help identify children’s strengths, foster resilience, and build social support. Best of all, Ben Foss writes from experience – he has dyslexia! (www.baytreeblog.com/dyslexiaplan)

2. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain

by Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide

Have you ever noticed that many children with dyslexia are gifted storytellers, inventive builders, and amazingly creative? The Drs. Eide explore the four areas where individuals with dyslexia often shine, discussing the benefits and challenges for kids with these learning styles. Vignettes from successful adults with dyslexia are sure to inspire. (www.baytreeblog.com/dyslexicadvantage)

3. Overcoming Dyslexia A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level

The author, Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention, knows dyslexia. This book includes some of the best information on what we know, right now, about the neurological underpinnings of dyslexia. (www.baytreeblog.com/overcomingdyslexia)

4. Teaching Students with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia Lessons from Teaching and Science

by Virginia W. Berninger and Beverly J. Wolf

This book successfully melds information from scientific studies and classroom lessons to show how to teach kids with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and oral and written language learning disability. If you’re not familiar with Virginia Berninger and you work with children who have working memory deficits, you need to read this. (www.baytreeblog.com/teachingstudentswithdyslexia)

The resources I’ve showcased in this post are some of my favorites, but they only scratch the surface of the great teaching materials that are available today.

If you’re looking for more or other types of teaching tools, please visit the resources page for a broader list of the materials I use in my office.

A great resource or teaching tool can mean the difference between a successful intervention and a frustrated student. If you’ve had success using a teaching method, application, book, or tool, let us know about it in the comments. Also, feel free to ask questions about the resources I’ve highlighted here or other resources you’re looking for. I’ll help if I can, and lots of other teachers may wish to jump in to the conversation as well!


13 Replies to “25 Must-Have Tools for Learning Specialists, Educational Therapists, and Literacy Tutors”

  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing, Anne-Marie! I nearly purchased Archer & Hughes book earlier this year after watching Anita Archer via webinar. Sold! Will place order shortly… 🙂

    I’ve used ‘Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students,’ & found it tremendously helpful. Watch for Dr. Charles Haynes 2nd edition of ‘From Talking to Writing’ in 2015 (Landmark College).

    I generally like Sopris’ products. Another handbook I use is, ‘Phonics and Spelling Through Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping’ by Kathryn E.S. Grace, available from Sopris.

    I’ve considered Dr. Hiebert’s ‘Quick Reads’. You’ve spurred me on… 🙂

    For some of my criterion-referenced basic reading skills testing, I use: CORE – Assessing Reading: Multiple Measures (2nd Edition) [Arena Press]

    There’s a second edition of ‘Teaching Reading Comprehension to Students with Learning Difficulties’ coming out shortly. I’ve ordered it & eagerly waiting. Enjoy anything written/co-written by Sharon Vaughn.

    Also like having LiPS (Pro-Ed) on hand for my students who aren’t necessarily mapping some of their phonemes onto corresponding graphemes.

    Finally, liked using 95% Group’s ‘Blueprint for Intervention: Phonological Awareness’ kit, too.



    1. Ceci, you’re the best. Thank you so much for sharing these great ideas. I’m realizing that this post could get expensive if I start buying lots of new books and programs. I’ve definitely got to look more into the work from the 95% Group. Anita Archer is my hero 🙂

    1. Diana — you’re the best! I’m glad we’re looking clean and fresh! Ross does really great work with the graphics!

  2. I tutor a 3rd grade boy with the NOW! Foundations program, developed by the company I work for (Neuro-development of Words – NOW!®). He went from struggling to read on level last year to reading at about a 5th grade level in five months. You should check it out.

  3. Love the list, so helpful! Would you recommend Locating and Correcting Reading Difficulties as an effective screening tool for students K-8? I am looking for a comprehensive reading tool for the learning specialist in my office. We are at an independent school and I am in the midst of planning and implimenting a “child study” protocol if you will. I would like to start with a screening of students brought to the table, which would allow us to provide explicit interventions to be used and monitored in the classroom, before we recommend any intensive remediation. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    1. Hi Rochelle — What a great question. I wouldn’t actually recommend “Locating and Correcting Reading Difficulties” for diagnostic purposes. It’s informal testing, so it won’t give you benchmarks which would be helpful for planning decisions. Has your school used DIBELS for universal screenings? I’ve heard good things about DIBELS Deep for info on how to differentiate instruction. Let me ask a few of my friends who work at independent schools what tools they prefer. You might also enjoy these resources from the IRIS Center on Assessment.

      1. HI Anne- Marie,
        Thank you for your response. We implemented the DIBELS two years ago, but I’m not as familiar with DIBELS deep. There is so much controversy around DIBELS testing, I met much resistance with that. I will take a look at the IRIS Center on Assessment. Thank you.

    1. Cathy — Great question. I’ve read The Gift of Dyslexia, but have not used any of the techniques with my students. I’ve found that Davis’ methods don’t adequately address the underlying difficulties that most children with dyslexia experience, i.e. deficits in orthographic, morphological, or phonological awareness, working memory issues, and rapid naming concerns. The International Dyslexia Association has a great Recommended Intervention resource.

  4. What an amazing resource this is! I can’t believe I just found it now. Thank you so much! One thing that I feel is so unfortunate is how the terrible last year’s of Dr. Mel Levine’s life overshadowed some pretty amazing work. One book that has been essential in my work with parents is “The Myth of Laziness”. Once again thanks!

    1. Susan — thanks so much for your comment. I’m delighted you’re finding the blog helpful. I agree with you about Mel Levine It’s hard to know what to think AND his publications are a very helpful tool. I regularly recommend Educational Care. I like the Myth of Laziness too.

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