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.



Dyslexia – How to help in Secondary School

Dyslexia – How to Help in Secondary School


My last blog explained the current definition for Dyslexia/Rose’09.  https://mainstreamsen.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/dyslexia-what-is-it/ .

Next week I will look at Dyslexia – How to help in Primary

What are the Indicators? requested by @suecowley will be the following week.


‘If you get SEN right in school you raise achievement for all.’


‘I know what to say but I can’t get it down on paper’ – students with dyslexia often say this and it impacts on writing.

I like the comparison to index cards: the idea that all the information is there but not in a neat, A-Z sequential order, rather, it is thrown all over the floor.

Concept mapping may be useful – it’s the ability to brainstorm first and then begin to plan thoughts into a linear, more ordered structure.  I love a programme called Inspiration http://www.inspiration.com/. This allows you to plan in a mind map or spider diagram and then press a button which changes it to a linear format.  I applied for my current job using this and it made the whole process less overwhelming.


Post-it notes are good too as they can be moved around; as a whole group exercise try putting them on different walls in the classroom – this really helps to cluster themes into subheadings/paragraphs etc.

Word processing helps due to being able to cut and paste – it takes away the finality of writing – think of those students who are constantly crossing things out, moving paragraphs around with arrows, using asterisks to add bits in.

Obviously grammar and spell checker is also an advantage.  Be aware of students who appear to have a wide vocabulary when they talk and yet their writing does not reflect this – it may just be that they try to use words they are confident in spelling.


Don’t assume students cannot comprehend what they are reading even if they cannot decode out loud to you.  I know this is controversial but I come across students with dyslexia who have single word reading scores in the ‘well below average’ range but comprehension in the ‘average’ range.  It is not reading in the decoding sense but it is reading.

Teaching reading skills to someone with dyslexia should be phonics based however,  due to phonological difficulties, learning words by sight is easier for many but this will not give them strategies to decode words they don’t recognise.  I advocate (but many disagree with me) a balanced approach. This encourages learning a bank of sight words for automaticity and fluency alongside a more structured, cumulative, multi-sensory phonics programme.

‘Oral language is the precursor to reading’ Snowling ’13.

Although students with dyslexia need support with letter-sound correspondence and phonological awareness, this will not help reading comprehension.  Dyslexia is a language based impairment so here, oral language is key.  And there is bucket loads of research to show spoken language work improves comprehension.

(There is however a difference between poor decoders/good comprehenders and good decoding/poor comprehension – crudely speaking the former may be dyslexic and the latter may have language impairment but there are many overlapping difficulties which does not make it so clear cut).

This http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1460-6984.2011.00081.x/abstract by Snowling and Hulme explains far better than I can.

For a more practical look at language in schools, Chris Chivers’ blog is worth reading.  In fact for good, inclusive strategies all his blogs are useful.  In fact he should be in charge of education full stop.



While I think I can teach pretty much everyone to read, I do not believe this is the case for spelling.  Of course I am describing the very severe cases; for most while their spelling may never be perfect; they can get by with ‘near enough’. (a term coined by Neil McKay 2014)

  • Use colour – colour phonic codes, colour vowel sounds, colour different sections of the word – hell, colour everything.
  • Vowels are really important to teach and telling students that words cannot exist without them (including y) is too. Many students I see struggle with the spell checker or predictive text to help them as they miss vowels out.  Library for instance might be written ‘lbry’ which a computer won’t pick up
  • Chunking syllables maybe more useful to older students than phonic codes – if you examine your worst spellers in an Upper school/college setting, look to see if they have used the correct amount of syllables.  Often students with dyslexia will be quite a way off – recently a boy had written ‘fart’ meaning to write ‘favourite’.  The main letters are there and in order but it is only one syllable.
  • Prefix /root word/suffix – this is sometimes a useful strategy to build words ­and linked to word derivation makes it great for key words in subject areas.  Quick question for you with the word du jour on twitter at the moment.  What does meta mean? Now put in the root word and suffix for English – meta/physic/al poets and for study – meta/cognition – this deep analysis of words is interesting and may appeal (you’ll see at the top of the pictures I use a beautifully drawn stick person lying down – head/prefix – body/root and legs/suffix).



  • For subject key words – etymology can help – in Romeo and Juliet – Benvolio (good) and Malvolio (bad)  in Twelth Night – link to other words with same prefix – benevolent, malpractice etc
  • Proof reading – this can be a real nightmare for those with dyslexia – they may not be able to ‘see’ the errors.  I have found using something like Balabolka ( a text-to-speech app which highlights the words as it reads) can be really useful for proofreading or, try turning text into an MP3 so students can listen to it  (thank you to @JaPenn56 for this question).

Revision strategies (thanks to @scjmcd for this question)

  • I have mentioned spider diagrams and post-it notes – I think they help.
  • Turning text into MP3s allows students to listen to revision notes (Balabolka will do this and it’s free)
  • Help with time management and organisation – both these can be issues for those with dyslexia, so advice on  ‘how and when’ to revise is beneficial
  • Students may struggle to filter relevant detail for exam style essays so lots of practice with structuring and planning without having to necessarily write the essay each time
  • Mnemonics are like marmite but often loved  by students with dyslexia
  • Narrative – having a hook to remember information – ‘tights come down for stalactites’ (sorry but I never forgot once my Geography teacher told me this)
  • Using songs to help with remembering poetic strategies:

‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone’ – pathetic fallacy

‘Lady Luck and Sister Vanity were not easy to ignore, opened up a door and let me in’ – personification

‘Light up like a candle burning when he calls me up, melt down like a candle burning every time we touch’ – simile.

More questions sourced by twitter

@Podgainy­_j – ‘How to verify the knowledge gap is shrinking?’

This is a tricky one – I have written about the Matthew Effect for poor readers here www.innovatemyschool.com/industry-expert-articles/itemlist/user/5115-julesdaulby.html.

Again, oral language is key: exposing children to books in other ways such as audio, reading to them, text-to-speech for subject based information.  These would all help but I don’t know if we can verify the knowledge gap is shrinking?  Stanovich argues that crystallised intelligence is affected by reading difficulties so you may wish to look at this.  (Does reading make you smarter/childrenofthecode.org).

@rashush2 ‘interventions or not? If yes, what helps?’

I have mixed feelings about this – if as much as possible can be done via Quality First teaching then brilliant.  Some students however do need support and 1:1 teaching by a specialist teacher is the Rolls Royce of interventions.  Small group work will never be able to pinpoint precisely each student’s difficulties but it is obviously a cheaper option.

What helps I have discussed above – what doesn’t help however is untrained staff.  This can actually do more harm than good.  The children with the most persistent difficulties need the highest quality support.

@evenicola1 ‘Is technology the answer?’

Assistive Technology has transformed the lives of many people with dyslexia.  There’s text-to-speech, speech-to-text, concept mapping, predictive text, even Captura now where you can take a photograph of any text and have it read to you. (I will blog on Assistive Technology)

I like the new livescribe pen which records lessons, allows you to handwrite and then change it to text with a swipe. One of my students has this and it’s wonderful.

All these technologies remove barriers to learning and often allow students to show what they are capable of without being disabled by reading and writing difficulties.

A few interesting Research morsels from The Dyslexia Debate – Professor Elliot

“Good interventions in early years reduces later incidence of problems but those left are more resistant”

“Effective interventions for young children result in lower success rates for adolescents with reading difficulties”.

“Phonics more efficacious for younger kids but still works for older children pp 127-129 and p 136 onwards but require more work with language and comprehension”.

This has became a marathon blog (hence why I’ve dealt with identification and primary separately) – if you have got to end – phew, well done.  Thanks for all those who asked questions, I hope I have answered some.

Are Coloured Overlays evil? Asking the right questions


I was pleased to see this, http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g5160/rr/763235, arguing coloured overlays can help reading speed.


But there is also this, http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g5160/rr/763262; here the author argues that dyslexia charities should be more honest about the efficacy of coloured overlays and categorise them under alternative therapies. I’m inclined to agree with this too.

Coloured Overlays get a bad press – partly because they may once have been over-hyped as a cure for dyslexia.  Visual difficulties do not mean someone has dyslexia  (it is a phonological processing difficulty – think ear rather than eye) 30% of those with dyslexia however may also have visual stress as a co-occurring difficulty.

Visual stress can affect students’ comfort and exacerbate reading difficulties;  the white glare of a screen or paper can make reading stressful. For others it appears to be more dramatic; students may report the words blurring or moving around or that the black print is swamped and the white background comes to the fore.  This can result in eye strain and headaches.

I have only come across two very severe cases:

One student, who rubbed his eyes excessively and squinted at text after a few minutes, nearly fell off his chair when I put a coloured overlay over some paper – he just looked in disbelief at the print. I sent him straight to a specialised optometrist (he didn’t have dyslexia). Another mature student from an FE college I once worked at found the use of a coloured overlay and a screen tint on her computer “life changing”.  She had dyslexia. From what I have learned since, I would still have referred her to a specialist optometrist to rule out any other problems.

Many students I meet see little difference with a coloured overlay but others report a ‘less stressful’ experience when reading.

For the price of a coloured overlay it seems wrong to deny them to students who say they help. Obviously for an expensive intervention I’d want harder evidence before I spent thousands of pounds but for such a cheap resource I’m willing to accept the students’ voice on this.


If your school can’t afford coloured overlays there are cheaper alternatives:

  • The first thing to do is teach the student how to change the background colour on a Word document/kindle
    (iPad has apps which will change background such as ireadwrite and goodreader)
  • It is also worth changing the background colour of your whiteboard (off white or light blue seem popular -maybe worth asking students which they prefer).
  • Have a stash of mixed colour poly pockets in the classroom.
  • Present your work on different shades of paper and allow students to choose.
  • Tintmyscreen and MyStudyBar are both free downloads for computers.




  • Reading Rulers may be useful for both visual stress and tracking.


I would add that those who do show a marked difference when using colour to read should see a specialist optometrist in visual stress who also examines focusing and binocular vision. They can rule out any serious problems.

Has research into coloured overlays asked the right questions yet?  In the articles above, one shows an improved reading speed which will please many and discredits the ‘comprehension’ research. The other cites studies showing little proof other than a placebo effect.  For me though, my question would be ‘does it make reading nicer for you?’ For those students who keep going back to worksheets on buff paper or who consistently use a reading ruler or who always change the shade of the word document – for them the answer is yes, and why should we deny them this?

More research.
Arnold Wilkins own web page where he summarises use of colour and provides lots of links.

Wilkins book Reading through Colour, available from Amazon.