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How To Help A Student With Dyslexia Learn To Read

Have you got a student in your class that just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ how to put it all together and be able to read? Or maybe you have a…

Have you got a student in your class that just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ how to put it all together and be able to read? Or maybe you have a student who repeatedly misspells and misreads commonly used words? Maybe you’ve tried a few different strategies and techniques, but nothing has really helped this student. You’ve thought to yourself that there seems to be something more going on….

I’ve had these same experiences and wondered why some of my students just weren’t getting it. I often wondered if some of them had dyslexia. If you’ve often wondered this as well, then have a look at my handy reference chart that provides you with some tips that will help you begin the identification process.

11 Warning Signs That A Student In Your Class May Have Dyslexia

It may be that some students are left behind due to ‘bad instruction’. Yep you heard me….I think many teachers are confused about the best way to teach reading and spelling, which leads to a disconnected approach that just doesn’t work for some kids. I never knew how to best teach reading and I definitely knew nothing about phonics. My students received bad instruction that I’m sure left some kids completely confused…..I know I was as the teacher!

I have since retrained to be a dyslexia specialist teacher and have learned a new approach to teaching reading: Sounds-Write. If you’d like to read about my journey with this program then have a read of:

How To Teach Children To Read

Since September last year, I’ve been working with a 9 year old girl who has a diagnosis of dyslexia. I’ve written a couple of articles about the assessment I conducted with the student and how the first lesson went. Read these if you’d like some further information on the student’s strengths and weaknesses and where we began with intervention.

What I want to share with you now, is how far we’ve come since we started and how this student now considers herself to be a good reader and speller……which really makes my heart sing 🙂

Free fluency activities

Before we go any further, I also wanted to share a freebie with you. Many of the students you work with probably have difficulty with accurate and fluent reading (as did this student). I’ve put together a PDF that has some further ideas and strategies about how to help your students become more fluent readers. Fill in the form below so that I can email this to you.

FREE Fluency Activities

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive regular teaching tips and updates & get instant access to the free fluency activities PDF:

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In the beginning

When I first met this student she was friendly, and for our sessions together she has been engaged and motivated. She’s one of those students that is an absolute joy to work with. But, no matter how hard she tried in class she just couldn’t seem to get better at reading and spelling. This was definitely not due to lack of effort, or laziness, but rather because she wasn’t being taught in a way that suited how she learned.

The student has severe gaps in her phonics knowledge and had limited decoding skills. In order to compensate for this she relied heavily on visual cues when reading, which resulted in a high number of inaccuracies which then impacted on her ability to be able to comprehend what she had read. The student also had many mispronunciations of sounds represented by individual letters. She would often add an ‘uh’ to the end of the sound, e.g. ‘muh’ for m. The student could also not identify most of the common two letter spellings, e.g. er in her, ay in tray, oa in coat.

As this student had many gaps, I decided to start working with her towards the end of the Initial code in the Sounds-Write program. Specifically looking at adjacent consonants. I noticed that the student had a great deal of difficulty reading 5 sound words that have adjacent consonants.

I used a number of different strategies to assist the girl with reading and spelling a variety of words that have 3 adjacent consonants and 5 sounds:

  • Use gesturing and chopsticks to point to each sound as it is being said;
  • Word building activities using puzzles;
  • Reading from word cards;
  • Sound swap activities: both real and nonsense words;
  • Dictation of sentences used in reading; and
  • In words where it’s difficult to hear the sound (such as fifth), place a dot under the corresponding line and remind student that this sound is hard to hear.

Below are a few pictures of some of the activities listed above.

dyslexiaThese strategies worked well and this student can now read these words. Occasionally when we’re reading she may come across a 5 sound word with adjacent consonants that is not recalled automatically. What is wonderful though is that rather than guess the word as she would have done previously, the student will now say each of the sounds and then read the word. It is quite automatic. And we now also have excellent pronunciation of all sounds!

Where next?

We then moved on to the concept of digraphs, being able to correctly read and spell words that have two letters, but make one sound. For example:

  • <sh> for /sh/
  • <ch> for /ch/
  • <th> for /th/
  • <ck> for /k/
  • <wh> for /wh/
  • <ng> for /ng/
  • <qu> for /k/ /w/

Quite often when the student comes across words with these she will say, “this word has these two letters, but it is just one sound.”

We also began to look at the concept of one sound, different spellings. In particular, I introduced the following spellings:

  • <c> <k> <ck>
  • <l> <ll> <le>
  • <ch> <tch>

This was great to introduce now as it leads nicely into the extended code of the Sounds~Write Program. The student mainly had difficulty with the <le> spelling, so we played many games of tic tac toe, sound bingo and we generally practiced lots. I still now go back to these sounds and spellings as I know it’s an area that the student has trouble with.

What now?

We have now moved in to what is known as the extended code. This part of the program looks at the concepts of:

  • Reading and spelling words where the sounds can be represented by more than one spelling. For example: first spellings of the sounds:

/ae/<ai ay ea a-e>, /ee/<e ea ee y>, /oe/<o oa ow oe o-e>, /er/<er ir or ur>, /e/<e ea ai>, /ow/<ou ow> etc.

  • Correctly read and spell polysyllabic words that have the target sound.
  • Reading and spelling words where one spelling can represent more than one sound. For example <ea> /ae//ee//e/ – break, seat, head

I used many of the same strategies listed above as well as:

  • Playing games, such as Trugs, using chatterboxes, spin read write… just to name a few. We love playing games 😉
  • Word building activities such as making puzzles, using prepared puzzles and using written letters;
  • Word sorting activities: sort sounds into different spellings;
  • Seeking the sound/s in reading books;
  • Writing sentences and stories with target words;
  • Reading polysyllabic words from word cards that include the syllable breaks and no syllable breaks;
  • Speed reading (fluency board) to check fluency of 2/3 syllable words;
  • Review spellings to check for correct spelling; and
  • Reading in context: Alba Series and Totem Series.

The student knows that some sounds can be represented by more than one spelling. She has worked through Units 1- 8 in the extended code. For those units she knows the different spellings for the sounds. When spelling words from these units she is able to select one of the spellings for the sound, although sometimes it is the incorrect spelling. More revision with 2/3 syllable words from these units is still required.

The student is now also able to segment and blend words into syllables and sounds in order to be able to read and spell them. However, she will need to continue to use the techniques learned to be able to spell and read these words in the context of reading books and writing sentences.

This girl has made such wonderful progress throughout the year and her reading and spelling have improved tremendously. Moving forward, we will continue working together through the extended code of the program. We will also cycle back and review previously taught concepts. It’s exciting to see what further progress we can make.

FREE Fluency Activities

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  1. Helen

    Thanks, great resource

  2. Ajitha

    Thank you


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