Dyslexia – How to Help – Primary


This is a series of dyslexia posts.  So far, I have covered:

Dyslexia – What is it?


Dyslexia – How to help – Secondary


and next week I will blog on Dyslexia – the indicators requested by @suecowley

Question from @alarter

What are the absolute Musts in any generic primary lesson?

  • Quality First Teaching
  • TIME (so much is linked to this – in the short term and with schemes of work – schools move fast and this can often leave students with little time to consolidate their learning)
  • Opportunities for rehearsal/constantly going over material
  • Beware of too much language – short, concise instructions and wait for response if required
  • Allow ‘less is more’ – let them create a quality piece of writing with bullet points for sections of work or a story board with only one paragraph written (but really well)
  • Give opportunity for alternative assessments – TA scribing, video, photos, recording – Vlog (video blog), peer work
  • Scaffolding – sentence starters, writing frames, key words etc.
  • High but reasonable expectations
  • Try to unpick what students can do – should they really be on a lower ability table? Or, if mixed age, should they be with much younger students? Is this appropriate for them? Are they mature? Do they find the activities embarrassing even if this is appropriate for younger students at similar phonic stage?
  • Use whiteboard for reminders not large pieces of work
  • Writing will be easier to read if large, clear and well spaced (I still struggle reading long hashtags – there is some tentative research showing the spacing of letters maybe as important as the size)


Colour helps –  ‘ ar’ in shark, bark for instance; then let them draw pictures of the words.  This student was doing the ‘ur’ sound with pictures.

IMG_0531 IMG_0533 IMG_0532

We also went on an ‘ur’ hunt – where the student had to find words with ‘ur’ around the school – ‘burn now find purple’ and so on.

Rainbow writing is helpful – the student goes over the word in lots of different colours

Writing the word, saying the word, discussing the meaning of the word then saying it in a sentence, then writing it in a sentence.

Writing in sand or on sand paper, writing in shaving foam, drawing in chalk then using watering can to wash it away – all alternative ways to learn spellings.

There’s a lovely app called Spellosaur which allows students to put in spellings, record themselves saying it in a sentence, and then spelling the word using strategies which get more difficult.



I do believe the phonics approach should be tried first and foremost and a reading programme to match however, I have written about other approaches here:  https://mainstreamsen.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/break-prohibition-welcome-to-my-speekeezee/ for those who do not seem to be making progress.

Professor Goswami was recently quoted as saying the current synthetic phonics programme missed out onset and rime and word families.  I agree with this – it feels like the missing link, especially for those with dyslexia (this means rather than going from c./a/t to cat, you include c/at).

There are lots of activities for this.  Let’s take ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ for instance.  Have buckets with these on and bean bags with ‘ut’, ‘air’ ‘op’ and get students to throw into the buckets.  A colleague of mine uses a hoody with the sh and ch on one side of the zip and air and op the other.

I am teaching a small group of students next term and I want to make some big boards with initial blends on like str, sl and then big boards with ing, ap.  I then want to get students to move towards each other saying their onset or rime until they collide to say the word.  I have no idea how this will go, I’ll let you know.

Oral language is vital – dialogic reading is something I’ve become interested in recently – it’s really conversations through books.  The idea being that you use prompts to discuss the story with a child. Reading Rockets is a great website for reading difficulties and explains dialogic reading here (I know it says pre-school but I think relevant for some Primary age:


Rose (2009) argued that a ‘language rich’ environment was important.  I am hearing in upper schools, that while students appear to be better decoders, comprehension is poorer. Professor Bishop mentioned this at ResearchEd 2014.  Telling us that comprehension may have been neglected and the ability to decode words was not always sufficient citing Professor Margaret Snowling’s research.

Phonological Awareness

Having fun with language can really help students learn skills such as rhyme, syllabification and alliteration. A few favourite books I use are ‘Tiddler’ by Julia Donaldson, ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen and ‘The Gruffalo’, again by Julia Donaldson.  Using rhyme and rhythm with these books, discussing the words, talking about the illustrations are all effective ways to improve skills in manipulating the sound structure of words as well as lots of opportunities for oral language work.


While the younger students will still be at the sounding out stage of writing – what happens to the older students in primary? How will they record what they know if their spelling and reading are not as developed as their typical peers?  I favour allowing them an app or piece of software such as Clicker.  This helps them to write using the words they need but without having to spell them and allows them to have words read to them.


If they are handwriting however, make allowances for presentation and spelling if it is content you are marking.  It can be liberating for a student with dyslexia to be told they will be assessed on what they write not neatness and spelling.

For @moodybill

While reversing letters doesn’t equal dyslexia (probably more visual motor issues and dyslexia is a phonological deficit) this is often a co-occurring difficulty.

Reversing words (saw/was), letters (b, p, d and q) and numbers (13, 31).  Students do usually grow out of reversals but there are a few ideas which may help.  ‘bed’ is great for remembering b/d (a person can lie on it head on top of b and feet on top of d – also putting your thumb and index fingers up (the left hand is b and the right, d – say with bed and they can usually remember it.

There’s also a great app by Dexteria which deals with reversals called Letterreflex – you have to tilt the tablet to get the ball into d, b, p or q and flip numbers such as 6 or whole words such as saw.


Cursive writing really helps with reversals – it’s much harder to reverse letters when the join starts at the bottom of the page (I am going to blog about cursive handwriting soon).

Much evidence points to early intervention being key for dyslexia and using a structured, cumulative, multi-sensory phonics programme.  Little and often, chipping away – there is no silver bullet but it is clear support needs to continue until students are fluent readers, have good comprehension, can spell adequately and write – if persistent, this will need to continue through secondary school, into sixth form/Further Education and onto University or the work place.

Does your primary school want to be part of some research?  The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) are looking for schools to be part of the ‘Literacy Octopus’.  It’s funded by #londoned so I don’t know if that means just London schools it didn’t say? Anyway here’s the link http://www.nfer.ac.uk/octopus.


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