I must begin this with a disclaimer that I am not a dyslexia specialist but I do take an avid interest in supporting dyslexic learners across the curriculum. I had a fabulous mentor during my Schools Direct year who specialised in supporting SEND students, particularly those with memory issues. Before working in schools, she supported stroke survivors so had a plethora of experience and strategies on hand to support our learners. So, this post is both inspired by and in honour of everything Mrs Murray taught me.
“I’ve just looked at the context data for my classes and I’ve got a couple of dyslexic kids. I’ll just stick it on some yellow paper.”
I can’t express how much I would cringe as fellow trainee teachers would say this.
Not all dyslexic pupils are the same.
You can’t rely solely on the label of ‘dyslexic’ to tell you what works for that child and what doesn’t. You can’t just put their work on coloured paper and hope for the best.
So, what this post is aiming to do is offer some practical and manageable strategies to implement in the classroom. That isn’t to say that they wouldn’t need some level of adaptation but hopefully they are a starting point!
Secondly, the majority of these strategies rely on students taking the onus upon themselves to use them in the classroom. I feel very passionately about creating independent students and giving them transferable approaches which will allow them to access the wider curriculum.
Coloured Paper & Overlays
Okay. Regardless of what I just stated above…this can work for some pupils! I’ve spent some of the literacy budget on x2 new sets of reading rulers which have a variety of different colours. At the start of the term, you could have a lesson where pupils can test these out. Make it regular practice in your classroom for pupils to use reading rulers.
Model it for them! Secretly, I like using a reading ruler to follow as pupils are reading because it allows you to do the ‘teacher stare’ and easily pick your line back up. Bonus!
Word Art & Sketchbooks
This can work beautifully with some students who are potentially quite creative but struggle academically. Students create pictures from the words with a particular focus on the sounds or perhaps a silent letter.
For example, one pupil I worked with last year would confuse ‘which’ and ‘witch’ so they wrote the word ‘witch’ out and turned the ‘t’ into a broomstick with a cauldron underneath so they now remember which one is which (forgive the pun).
How is this going to work in a classroom situation? Give pupils a small sketchbook or allow them to write in the back of their exercise book freely utilise this strategies.
I love this one and is one of my fondest memories from the entire Schools Direct year. One pupil I worked with last year would struggle to remember how to spell the word ‘beyond’ as they would often forget the ‘y’. So, they came up with a little story to help them…
They split the word into ‘bey’ and ‘ond’ and in the spirit of all things Queen Bey would remember it by saying ‘beyonce on the dance floor’.
The more ridiculous, the better. I love this and can’t spell beyond without thinking of this pupil or their story.
Gosh – I’ve got such a love for post-it notes and if any of you are on Twitter, you will have seen the outpouring of love for Tiger’s big post-its which would be great for this.
One of the issues that dyslexic students may struggle with is the organisation of their thoughts/ideas. This could be especially useful for chunking ideas/getting bits of ideas down onto paper before re-organising them on the page until they are happy with the order.
The post-it note strategy has worked wonders with my KS4 classes last year – particularly with the literature essays whereby pupils are tempted to write down everything they know rather than what the question is asking of them.
Now this is a fabulous strategy, if you have the resources available in school to use it. Pupils who are perhaps stronger orally than they would be writing could benefit from this.
Students can record themselves and once it has been saved, they can plug in their earphones and listen back to their writing and transcribe it; editing as they go.
Whiteboards or Gel Boards
Using these are a great way for pupils to try out a spelling before they put it down on paper – a low-pressure; low-risk strategy. Gel boards are similar to whiteboards but in my opinion, the gel boards are much better. They are more tactile, quite satisfying to write on and last much longer.
These boards can be quite expensive which is the main downside to using them. As a school, we buy them in wholesale and then use some of the literacy budget to subsidise the cost to parents when we re-sell them at a lower price.
Colour Coding & Highlighting
This can be a hit and miss strategy and normally one that takes a bit of ‘training’. If your pupils have their own copies of the GCSE texts, this is one that could work wonders when used correctly. I tend to use these highlighter strips as they are moveable and students can write over them.
They are fairly inexpensive and encourage independence in students which is one of the big things I focus on. Students can also transfer this over into other subjects when revising or reading long chunks of text.
Pupils could have a different colour for various characters or themes so that when it comes to revising, it feels more manageable instead of being faced by a huge block of text which could otherwise be intimidating.
These are more suited to intervention time as opposed to in-classroom time as they are rather time consuming and messy. That isn’t to say that they can’t be used in class but they may not be the easiest to implement. There are a few so here we go:
- Writing on the windows with board markers – allows students to feel unrestricted by the size of the page etc. Good for those with poor fine motor skills as well. This can also be applied to chalkboard walls/doors, if your school allows.
- Spelling words using playdough (easy to home-make as well to save money) where students can use different colours to represent the grapheme-phoneme relationships or maybe a silent letter that they easily forget.
- Letter/phonics pebbles these are really satisfying to touch as they are smooth and heavy – good for learners who are kinaesthetic. They have key phonics sounds as well as the regular alphabet. Can be used as a visual aid to help students remember key sounds in words they struggle with.
You can use these as a warm up in intervention sessions or set them as homework. They can often be a diagnostic test to check pupils’ strategies – whether they are aware of them or not. Here is one example from the BBC Scotland website.
In addition to all of this, try to use fonts that are dyslexia friendly. Those with even spacing and slightly rounded letters such as: Helvetica; Comic Sans; Arial; Chalkboard; and Veranda seem to work quite well.