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How to support children with dyslexia in their education

The first step to helping identified children with dyslexia, is for everyone who works with the child to be updated and informed about the results of assessments and for staff to know about teaching strategies that help the child learn.

Ways of doing this are:

  • To have a strategic meeting with all members of staff that teach or help the child, including the SENDCo, teacher, support staff, parents, and perhaps the child (depending on the child’s age). There may also be a necessity to meet with outside agencies involved.
  • To consider creating an IEP or Pupil Passport if provision goes beyond that of typical teaching strategies and is different from and/or additional to standard teaching practice.
  • Remember that some days are better than others and be aware that just because they remember a lesson or technique one day, they may not the next.

It’s important to involve the child in the process to find out from them what is working and what isn’t.

  • Talk to the child about their diagnosis and how they feel about it.
  • Let them know that you’ll support them and that you know it has nothing to do with their intelligence.
  • Build up their self-esteem and emotional resilience with positive praise.
  • Give them other creative/imaginative ways to record their work, for example, a laptop, iPad, Dictaphone, speech-to-text technology, pupil-produced videos, interviews, presentations, mind maps, illustrations, role plays.
Supporting children with dyslexia includes helping them learn to write

Creating a dyslexic friendly environment

It’s important to have a whole school approach when it comes to dyslexia.

A policy setting out a detailed explanation of how dyslexia is identified, assessed and monitored in your school will ensure schoolwide practice.

Sufficient resources should be available throughout the school and distributed across all year groups or curriculum areas.

Dyslexia friendly resources should include but are not limited to:

  • Coloured overlays (various colours).
  • Shape templates (e.g. 2D, letters, numbers).
  • Tinted loose leaf paper.
  • Tinted exercise books.
  • Dyslexia reading books – KS1 and KS2.
  • Rulers with attached handles.
  • Magnetic letters/numbers.
  • Handwriting sheets/handbooks.
  • Pencil grips (various styles).

Helping a child with dyslexia

Here are a number of ways you can support children with dyslexia in the classroom:

  • Give the learner time to think about their response after asking a question.
  • Break down instructions into smaller chunks.
  • Allow access to visual aids and timetables to improve independence and metacognition skills.
  • Create an inclusive classroom.
  • Follow clear and consistent routines.
  • Do not force a child to read aloud in class.
  • Give the child a printout with the date, learning objective and any other information to stick in their book, so they don’t have to copy from the board.
  • Highlight essential information.
  • Give opportunities to answer questions orally or in other creative ways.
  • Expect them to write less but record their ideas they give.

Multisensory learning

The primary sensory systems concerned with language perception and development are the auditory, visual and tactile-kinaesthetic.

Success can only be achieved when the learning involves a harmonious interaction of all the senses. For example, when the learner sees, hears, speaks and writes simultaneously.

This encourages the various parts of their sensorimotor system to support each other in making permanent sound-symbol associations.

There are numerous programmes designed for multisensory teaching such as:

  • The Hickey Multisensory Language Course (Third edition – 2000) – Kathleen Hickey and Margaret Combley.
  • Conquering Literacy (2011) – Kathleen Kelly and Sylvia Phillips.
  • Teaching Reading Through Spelling (TRTS) (1984) – Lucy Cowdrey.

All of the multisensory programmes are designed for 1:1 intervention for the greatest impact.

The premise of multisensory teaching and learning is to focus on building on the ‘Bottom Up’ theory of letter recognition, through the simultaneous actions of hearing, seeing, saying and writing or other movement of muscles.

The letters and the sounds they make are then taught within words in exactly the same way – hear, see, say, write.

Then the words are taught in sentences and then sentences used in continuous prose.

It’s important to remember that a child with dyslexia may recall the letter or word a day after you’ve covered it in the intervention, but may not recall it three or four days after.

Constant overlearning and repetition is the key here.

Through constant repetition, a dyslexic child is much more likely to remember letters, sounds and words and become more confident to use them when reading and writing.

Child with dyslexia using magnetic letters

Hickey’s multisensory approach

The Hickey Multisensory Language Course specifies the importance of the learner having a comprehensive grasp of the 26 letters (names and sounds) of the alphabet and its sequence.

Multisensory activities to learning the alphabet include:

  • Sorting and matching games.
  • Cutting out letter shapes.
  • Singing the alphabet.
  • Magnetic letters.

The Language Course then stresses the need for dyslexic children to have a structured, cumulative approach to reading using Reading Cards to build automatic responses to phonograms using the senses – see, hear, say, write.

Children are made familiar with all forms of the letter: capital and lower case, printed and handwritten.

Hickey’s multisensory approach – handwriting

The Hickey approach emphasises the necessity for dyslexic children to learn joined up handwriting. Very young children normally focus on print when they first learn to write and then progress to joined up when they have had sufficient practice at this skill.

Hickey states that children have more difficulty unlearning one habit and forming another and it is in fact “easier for them to learn the letters initially, with connecting strokes attached in readiness for joining them as soon as possible”.

Hickey’s theory suggests that when a child writes using print (separate shapes), the broken rhythm increases the tendency to reverse or confuse letter shapes. Spacing words out in the sentence is harder when the child is printing, for example, ‘On the other side’ becomes ‘Ont heot hers ide’.

It is much easier for a dyslexic child to learn spellings and write, as every letter follows the same routine. Children then learn one fluid movement for each word they have to write, instead of many shapes that could become out of order.

Conquering Literacy multisensory approach

Conquering Literacy is another multisensory programme that is designed for 1:1 intervention and is highly structured using Concept Cards.

It begins with the learner being taught in the following order:

  • Symbol and sound – The 44 sounds in the English language.
  • Letter names.
  • The alphabet.
  • The beginning, middle and end – Asking the learner to look at a CVC word and point to the beginning of the word, then the letter at the end of the word and finally the letter in the middle. Repeat with the learner listening to words and them identifying the beginning sounds, the end sounds, and then the middle sounds.

The next Teaching Points follow a highly structured curriculum. There are 157 Teaching Points in this programme.

Teaching Points are not to be construed as a lesson as more than one Teaching Point can be introduced in a lesson. The amount of new learning is strictly controlled and both phonograms and literacy concepts are introduced in a particular order.

According to Conquering Literacy, the programme:

  • Is based on more recent research.
  • Can be used more flexibly than other structured schemes.
  • Does not assume a learner should always start at the very beginning of the programme.
  • Provides an accelerated version.
  • Puts emphasis on the learner in control of their own learning.
  • Focuses on memory work and speed of retrieval.
  • Considers the different ages of learners.
  • Suggests activities for small group teaching as well as 1:1 teaching.
  • Encourages a variety of reading activities (e.g. paired, shared, recorded reading) and everyday reading as well as reading ‘in structure’.
Girl learning the alphabet at home

Toe by Toe

Many schools use Toe by Toe as a multisensory reading intervention for dyslexic children. By the creators of Toe by Toe’s own recognition, it is ‘the ultimate tool for the teaching of reading’.

  • Toe by Toe is a highly structured programme for use on a 1:1 basis.
  • The programme is designed to embed words in the student’s long-term memory through repetition and overlearning – the child must receive three consecutive ticks to move on.
  • Throughout the manual, before a task, there are coaching instructions to describe what you should say to the child and what the child should do.
  • Progress happens much quicker if the exercises are completed on a daily basis but sometimes this is understandably not feasible within schools due to staffing.
  • Nonsense words are introduced first and are designed to stop the child from pre-empting the answer by association.
  • Success is visible to the child as they work through the programme.

Hornet Literacy Primer and the Word Wasp

These multisensory teaching programmes are also highly structured and are concerned with the development of spelling.

  • These programmes are designed to dramatically improve a child’s reading and spelling and to encourage the child to ask what a word means rather than what it says.
  • The Hornet Literacy Primer and the Word Wasp start by teaching the student to spell simple sounds, then simple words, progressing through language.
  • Once the student has heard the word you tell them, they must repeat it back to you, then write the word or sound, using all senses.
  • Students can also read words and passages in order to see, hear and build the structures of language and make the link between spelling and speech.
  • The Word Wasp and Hornet Literacy Primer are based on repetition and the child must achieve two consecutive ticks to move on. This is to increase the likelihood of the word being stored in long-term memory.
  • Coaching before each exercise is invaluable and the preparation of the intervention takes hardly any time at all.
  • The Word Wasp teaches the rules and structure of spelling using a colour-coded system.

Precision Teaching

Precision Teaching is a programme designed to find out what the child can do in terms of reading and identify which words the child cannot yet read.

Many children move on to new tasks before mastering existing ones. Precision Teaching helps the child progress in small steps and helps you to identify when a child is ready to move on. This is done by charting the child’s progress. The child is involved in this process.

This programme enables children to succeed in their learning by having three words they are already competent in and only two which they don’t yet know. This increases motivation and self-esteem.

Precision Teaching can be used for reading and for spelling and multisensory strategies can be used during the ‘teaching’ stage.

The words are built (i.e. with Playdoh, magnetic letters etc.), said and discussed. The child will know how many syllables it has, what the word means, how to use it in a sentence, and what the tricky parts of the word are before being asked to read or spell the word.

Girl with dyslexia writing bubble letters

Multisensory approaches to spelling

The Multisensory Language Course, Conquering Literacy, Toe by Toe and Word Wasp are in-depth, comprehensive and structured programmes to follow on a 1:1 basis. There are other ways to incorporate the senses into your teaching to coincide with these programmes.

  • Writing with wet chalk on windows – This adds a new dimension to their spelling. The children can practise their spelling and even do their spelling test by writing with other mediums like chalk. Remember to encourage joined up handwriting as early as possible.
  • Rhyming words – Have the child write each of their spelling words. Next to each word have the child think of and write down a rhyming word. Ensure that the rhyming word follows the same pattern. It could also be a nonsense word.
  • Word searches – Find a time in your day to incorporate word searches into the child’s daily routine. Searching for the word forces the child to look for the spelling of the word and be aware of any patterns that could help them, e.g. looking for ‘ing’ on the end of a word or double letters in the middle of a word.
  • Visual strategies – For longer words that are trickier, children can think of ways to visualise that word. An example, USA in the word ‘sausage’ – students could draw a sausage and write USA inside, ‘sa’ on the left outside of the sausage and ‘ge’ on the right.
  • Bubble letters – Encourage the child to write their spelling words in bubble writing and then colour them in different colours.
  • Consonant/vowel circle – After writing their spellings, have the child go back and circle either the consonants or the vowels (not at the same time as it could become very confusing) in all the words. They should say the sounds as they circle.
  • Rainbow write – First have the child write their spellings in pencil, then they trace over each word three times in a different colour each time. If they trace neatly, they should see a rainbow. They should say the words as they write.
  • Squiggly words – Have your student write their spellings normally. Next have them write them in squiggly letters (like they are shivering…brrr).

Multisensory approaches to writing

Multisensory writing techniques should be used simultaneously with the other senses for reading and writing.

Here are some sensory activities for encouraging the correct formation of letters and joined up handwriting:

  • Writing in sand or shaving foam – This technique brings the tactile sense to the forefront, as well as sound. Using a finger or the end of a pencil, children can write letters or words as they say them. It can be messy, but fun.
  • Air writing or skywriting – Like the sand or shaving foam, this movement in the air reinforces through muscle memory and will help improve commonly reversed letters such as ‘b’ and ‘d’. They can also make the letters as big or small as they need to imagine the formation of the letter. This is a great way to improve joined up handwriting as the child has no choice but to join as they cannot take their finger off the air.
  • Read, Build, Write – When the child has sounded out and blended a word, the child can then build the word using magnetic letters, building blocks, letters cut out of paper or magazines. The child can then write the word.
  • Singing and rhyming – When learning a new letter or sound, try listening to music or singing a song where there is alliteration of the sound they’re learning. For example, if they are learning the sound ‘a’, play/sing a song with ants and apples.
  • Using Playdoh – Playdoh is a great and versatile way to learn letter formation. There are many things you can do that encourage children’s learning. One way is to roll the Playdoh into a long sausage, then try and drape the Playdoh into the letter as you would write it. Using Playdoh is also good for strengthening finger muscles.

Multisensory approaches to learning

Using the whole self

Let’s take the letter ‘c’ for an example.

Children are generally introduced to letters and sounds by alliterative ways, for example, a curly caterpillar – maybe called Colin. Children may be asked to draw a caterpillar in the shape of a ‘c’ and cut it out. This will be sufficient for most children.

A dyslexic learner, however, may not associate a caterpillar in the shape of a ‘c’, but may have seen one lying straight across in an ‘l’ shape.

Dyslexic children will need more time to experience different ways to remember the letter ‘c’ and reinforce memory pathways.

Perhaps have the learners watch how a caterpillar moves in a video, then have them make the same movements with their hand.

Children could pretend to be caterpillars in a PE lesson and curl up and wriggle like a caterpillar. Or perhaps taste could be included as they try and guess whether they are eating carrots, cabbage, crisps, etc.

Girl learning how to write using letter blocks

Using technology

Technology has improved massively and great work has been done towards the innovation of software programs and technology for dyslexic learners in school and out.

  • The Nessy Reading and Spelling Program is an evidence-based, online program based upon the Orton-Gillingham structured literacy methodology, designed to boost children’s spelling and reading age with fun and interactive games.
  • It has been awarded the British Dyslexia Association mark of quality assurance.
  • Nessy also has a dyslexia screener.
  • Studies suggest that learners should use Nessy for 20 minutes four times a week for the most significant impact to a child’s reading and spelling age.
  • This software enables teachers and other school staff to really assess a child’s reading ability in a fast and accurate way (97%) using eye-tracking technology.
  • Lexplore has an intensive intervention package once the assessment has been carried out.

As well as the multisensory programmes and online software, there are a number of assistive technologies that can help learners with dyslexia.

  • Scanning software and hand reading pens – These pens allow a learner to scan a word they are struggling with and listen to how it sounds. The C-Pen Reader is one example but there are many brands and styles.
  • Mind mapping software – This is a program specifically designed to help learners organise and plan their work more effectively.
  • Text-to-Speech technology – This software can read text to the student. The software can read emails, web pages, PDFs and other documents. It also includes highlighting options, and spell and homophone checkers.

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About the author

Evie Lee

Evie Lee

Evie has worked at CPD Online College since August 2021. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in Level 3 Business Administration. Evie's main roles are to upload blog articles and courses to the website. Outside of work, Evie loves horse riding and spending time with her family.



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