Michael is an 8-year old third grader. He enjoys school and has always done well. His past teachers spoke of his excellent behavior and delightful personality. Michael has many friends both in school and outside of school.
One of Michael’s favorite parts of school is story time. Ever since kindergarten, he has loved to listen to the teacher and media specialist read stories. He especially loves mysteries. Sometimes during story time, the teacher lets kids tell stories. Everyone always likes the stories Michael makes up, especially his ghost stories. Michael is an avid reader, but usually selects books that are below his grade level. His mother helps him with his homework and reads with him every night.

Lately she has noticed Michael having some trouble when he has to read in one of his textbooks such as science or social studies. Michael’s grades in these subjects, as well as in reading, have begun to fall. When reading information that contains new or unfamiliar vocabulary words, he reads much slower and has trouble figuring out the words. Michael’s comprehension of the material is poor. He once commented to his teacher, “I just can’t figure out what these words mean.” When textbook passages are read to Michael, he understands the main idea, but still has trouble grasping the details of the information.

Michael’s basic math skills are right on target for this point in the year. He has automatized his addition and subtraction facts, and is making good progress with his multiplication facts. He is a terrific problem solver. He is able to visualize the problem and decide the best strategy to use. “These problems are kind of like mystery stories,” he once commented. However, when the class began learning about measurement, Michael had some trouble with metric activities. “It’s hard to know the difference between a centimeter and a millimeter,” he told his mom.

One of Michael’s favorite past times is playing team sports. He is currently playing basketball and is really quite good at it. His father thinks this could become an area of expertise for Michael.


  • Storytelling
  • Basic math skills
  • Problem solving in math
  • Basketball


  • Listening to and reading mystery stories
  • Playing basketball

Areas in need of improvement:

  • Vocabulary development in areas with high levels of decontextualized language (out of everyday context)
  • Use of context clues to determine the meaning of new words       
  • Recognizing patterns among prefixes in metric measurement

Possible Management Plan:

Talk to Michael about the problems he is having in social studies, science and reading. Explain to him that everyone has areas of strength and areas of weakness. Explain how the words he is having trouble with are words that he does not use every day, so they are more difficult for everyone learning them the first time. This is called decontextualized language.

Encourage Michael to think of figuring out the meaning of words in the same way he would figure out a mystery. Ask Michael if he has any ideas of strategies he could use. Apply this same concept to his problems with the vocabulary of math. Include Michael’s parents in the development of a management plan so that the strategies are consistent both at school and at home.

Leveraging Strengths and Affinities:

  • Build on Michael’s strengths in problem solving to work on his problems in reading. Allow him to use this strength to assist others in the class who are having trouble in this area.
  • Use Michael’s strong oral expressive language skills to explain concepts in science and social studies to other students in the class, encouraging him to use as many of the new vocabulary words as possible.
  • Because mystery stories are often full of “hidden” clues, use this genre to develop Michael’s understanding and use of context clues.
  • Michael’s affinity for and strength in basketball can be a useful tool in working on metric measurement comprehension. Have Michael investigate problems involving estimating distance (e.g., Can you shoot a basketball into the goal from one kilometer away? Michael must understand the prefix “kilo” to correctly estimate the answer. He could actually measure the distances, then attempt the shot.).

Accommodations and Interventions:

  • Spend time tapping into Michael’s prior knowledge of a subject prior to introducing new concepts and vocabulary words related to the subject. Have the class work together to develop a K-W-L chart for recording what they Know, what they Want to know, then what new information they Learned. The use of semantic maps to develop vocabulary would also be beneficial for Michael.
  • Provide Michael with a variety of ways to practice the new vocabulary and definitions so that he is able to consolidate learned words into long-term memory. Allow Michael to make his own set of matching cards to later be used as part of a concentration game. This strategy may also be used to help with the problems in math. For example, demonstrate how adding the same metric prefix to different root words (meter, gram, liter) changes the root in the same way. Explicitly reinforce the patterns which develop.
  • Provide textbook passages on audio tape. Have Michael fill in a prepared outline as he listens to encourage his attention to the details of the passage.
  • When reading together at home, encourage Michael and his mother to take turns reading paragraphs. Share strategies for using context clues and picture clues to determine the meaning of a word or of the passage. Model for Michael and his mother how to “think aloud” as you read to encourage the monitoring of Michael’s comprehension.