3.3.2 Reading

For teaching reading 

For the sake of clarity we have considered literacy in what follows under the four headings of reading, spelling, comprehension and composition but, as you will see, some techniques can be used in several areas.

Before going into these techniques, we suggest two principles to avoid children with dyslexia being trapped in a cycle of failure with the written language.

Working ‘in structure’

One multisensory method used among others in the Dyslexia Institute Learning Programme from Dyslexia Action, UK is that of ‘working in structure’. It consists of presenting only those materials (words and sentences) whose components (‘sounds’ and ‘letters’) have already been taught by using multisensory links.

Structured progression benefits everybody. It forms a tacit contract by which children will not be asked to do something for which they have not acquired the required knowledge. They will not be put in a situation of failure.

Using self-correction tools

One way of your not having to show children their mistakes with a ‘red pencil’ is to provide the means for self-correctionas they go along.

It avoids placing children in situations of failure for which you, as teacher, are having to say, ‘No, wrong!’.

Allowing children to find and correct their own mistakes makes them responsible for their own learning. It nourishes:

  • – self-confidence: ‘I can do it.’
  • – development of internal motivation rather than external motivation:
    ‘I want to learn for my own sake.’
  • – autonomy: ‘I must master my learning.’ ‘What tools will help me do it?’
  • – metacognition: ‘Now I know how to avoid making the same mistake next time’

Self-correction sheets can easily be prepared for tracking or discrimination exercises. Ask the pupils to check if they found all the ‘letters’ or pictures, for example by superimposing the two sheets and holding them up to the light so that they can check their own answers.

Spelling is another subject for which it is equally simple, and desirable, to give self-correction sheets. The correct spelling should be written in a big and legible font, preferably cursive.

Grouping words into ‘families’

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Since each child learns in his or her own way, not all techniques work equally well for all children. But here are some suggestions.

In using multisensory phonic techniques, it is important to start teaching regular ‘letter’-‘sound’ correspondences first in order to establish the decoding system.

This also applies to larger units which are generally regular such as the onset:

sp > in < spell >, < spill >, < spun >, …

the rimes

< –ight > in < fight >, < right >, < might >, …

< –ing > in < string >, <spring >, < hoping >, …

< –ed > in < planted >, < lifted >, < omitted >, …

or the common final syllables

< –tion > in < station >, < mention >, < portion >, …

< –sion > in < pension >, < television >, < tension >, …

< –ture > in < capture >, < picture >, < furniture >, …

Children with dyslexia often find it difficult to spontaneously detect these regularities; that is why it is important to teach them explicitly.

A technique often used for reading and spelling is to train pupils to systematically group words in families by detecting recurring patterns, ideally putting them in colour-coded groups, for example in words like < bat >, < mat > and < sat > or < pain >, < rain > and < train >, which contain the same rime in speech and writing.

This technique is important because it helps phonological analysis and memory.

It also develops metacognitive skills so that when the pupils come to less frequent words (e.g. < combat > or < maintain >) they are able to make associations with the corresponding family.

(1) As a first step, we advise presenting pupils with families of words – one family per sheet – and asking them to circle or underline the similarities, then say which part of the words are the same, ideally using different colours for different families.

(2) Next you can mix up the families of words that have been taught and ask them to group the words by families as in ‘Happy Families’.

(3) Then you introduce words which have not been taught but belong to known families.

Segmenting longer words into smaller units

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In due course pupils are confronted with longer and more complex words.

Some children will find it hard to read these words and to understand how to break them up into smaller units.

Teach children how to segment long complex words into smaller units.

You may put these words on little cards and ask the children to cut them up with scissors into units which they can handle. Later, words can be divided using a pencil.

Many children will be helped if you teach them to ‘hide’ the part of the word using a strip of card or their thumb: the pupil hides the ‘end’ of the word, focuses on the first syllable, which he reads, then uncovers the next syllable to read, and so on to the end of the word.

Additionally, children may mark up words for reading. The mark-up will not only help identification but will ease working memory (retention of the parts already identified). Also, it will free up resources needed for comprehension.

See this example taken from the Dyslexia Institute Learning Programme from Dyslexia Action:

Take the word < knowledgeable >.

  • – underline the complex grapheme(s), i.e. of more than one letter or irregular ( < ow >, < ea >, < ble > )
  • – cross-out silent letters ( < k > )
  • – frame the prefix or suffix ( < -able > )
  • and so < knowledgeable >

For other words:

  • – circle final regular syllables which have a similar pronunciation ( < -er >, < -sion >, < -tion > )
  • – if the words have a < c > or < g >, then mark them for saying < s > before < i > < e > or < y >, by putting a little squiggle under them to show that this ‘looks more like’ < s > and is softer
  • – for the < g > before < i > < e > or < y > put a dot above it so that it looks a bit more like a < j >

Obviously, this marking up will not be suitable for very irregular words. But do not lose sight of the fact that some parts of every word have regular correspondences, especially consonants, for example:

s > and < d > in < said >

The pupils must be helped to rely on these regular associations.

Practice irregular words at frequent intervals and offer many opportunities to read them at school and home. You could also make up a ‘reading pack’ of irregular words.

Children with a good visual memory will benefit from seeing irregular words written on cards.