how to teach dyslexic students
Feb 09 2021
Updated at: Mar 07 2022

How to Teach Students With Dyslexia? 14 Evidence-Based Tips

Positive Action Staff
A dyslexic student’s arrival in your classroom can forge a step into the unknown, especially if it’s the first time you’ve had that experience.

Dyslexia affects somewhere between 5 and 10% of the population, so it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

Here’s the good news: there are many easy-to-implement teaching tips and tricks educators continue to use with great success. Quite a few of them will benefit your entire class — and not just your students who have dyslexia.

And there’s more good news to add. If you’re not strictly teaching students to read, write, or spell — you can still use many of the tips we’ll be discussing. So math, science, and even art and P.E. educators can benefit from these tips, too.

Here’s an overview of the types of teaching tips for students with dyslexia we’ll be covering today:

A Brief Look at How Dyslexia Affects Students

Beyond Teaching Children With Dyslexia to Read

We most closely associate dyslexia with difficulty learning to read and with other language and reading skills like writing and spelling. Dyslexia, however, goes beyond letters, spelling, and learning to read and write.

Dyslexia can affect how a child comprehends what they read and even what they remember. It can cause students to have difficulty following directions.

Dyslexia and Math Skills

Somewhere between 60 and 100% of people with dyslexia experience difficulty learning math.

Children with dyslexia often struggle with math because they have problems following directions, remembering steps, keeping things neat and ordered, and recognizing the meanings of symbols — all required aspects when learning math.

For example, a child with dyslexia may have trouble completing a crowded, busy math worksheet. The student may not remember the complicated steps to solve a mathematical equation or geometric proof.

Yet, challenges in learning are just the beginning.

Students With Dyslexia and Bullying

Children with dyslexia are often teased and bullied — partly because they’re viewed as different from the other students and partly because their learning differences often single them out for special attention from teachers.

Bullying is a significant problem for all students with special needs, as their differences make them easy targets for bullies. Low self-esteem from simply living with a disability adds to the problem.

For ways to counteract and prevent bullying in your classroom, have a look at our bullying products and services.

That said, there are also certain positives for children with dyslexia.

Advantages of Dyslexia

Now for some advantages students with dyslexia experience. Studies at Harvard, MIT, and elsewhere have proven that adults and children with dyslexia better understand visual information — such as spotting differences and gaining a broader, more inclusive view.

In the words of one researcher:

“While typical readers may tend to miss the forest because its view is blocked by all the trees, people with dyslexia may...miss the trees, but see the forest.” — Matthew H. Schneps

And these abilities are not just limited to visual perceptions, but sound and hearing, as well. Students with dyslexia can often detect softer sounds, hear a single voice in a crowded, noisy room, or excel at musical abilities.

So while it may be more challenging to teach children with dyslexia to read or spell, they may have surprising other talents your students without dyslexia don’t have.

Let’s look at methods you can adopt to benefit all your students.

Teaching Tips That Benefit the Entire Class

Take Some Advice from the OG (Approach, That Is)

Two very famous educators named Orton and Gillingham developed an approach to teaching children with dyslexia that has since been found to help non-dyslexic students as well.

It’s called the Orton-Gillingham approach.

While it’s specifically geared towards helping students learn to read — from letters to phonics to independent learning with proficient reading skills — the method introduces aspects that can help you teach any child any subject.

The Orton-Gillingham approach stresses teaching methods that are:

  • Multisensory — since dyslexia affects the way the brain processes visual information, engaging the other senses like touch and sound works around this deficit

  • Direct — it’s helpful for the students to know what they are to learn, why they need to understand it, and how it will be taught

  • Systematic and sequential — step by step, building upon the skills already mastered

  • Positive and reinforcing — focus on the successes, the work that was done well, and the individual skill strength, rather than overall performance

  • Emotionally sound — focusing on the positive and on each child’s success concerning their prior skillsets creates a learning environment that fosters positive mental attitudes and self-esteem

There are many ways to implement these strategies into your teaching methods, no matter what subject or age you teach.

From Scrabble tiles and magnetic letters for teaching spelling, to math manipulatives at any grade level, to hands-on science, art, and music lessons — this approach’s multi-sensory aspect benefits all students.

And whether it’s a lesson on how to spell three-letter words or Einstein’s theory of relativity — knowing what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will learn it gives all students a sense of the goal and the structure of their learning.

Nearly every subject from math to P.E. should be approached similarly to teaching language arts: as a set of subskills that can be mastered in a systematic, ground-up, sequential way.

Awareness of this approach can make a massive difference in a student’s performance.

And what student wouldn’t benefit from a focus on success and individual progress in an atmosphere of positive reinforcement?

General Classroom Tips

Here are some other tips that can help all your students, in all of your subjects — from teaching a five-year-old child with dyslexia to read, to teaching middle schoolers to spell, to teaching teenagers trigonometry:

  1. Don’t punish students for forgotten or lost items. Instead, set up systems to keep everything in its place.

  2. Create bookmarks or take-home slips with homework assignments that include numbered step by step instructions.

  3. Allow voice recorders in place of note-taking.

  4. Allow typed and printed assignments instead of handwritten. Using word processors on computers can eliminate spelling and grammar issues in essays, reports, stories, and poems.

  5. Create an “oral” classroom with “thinking time” that allows for more spoken answers. Prompt answers from more than one student for each question to provide different linguistic and auditory inputs.

  6. Provide opportunities for private reading and writing every day. This will help reinforce skills without the potential for public embarrassment.

  7. Explicitly teach how to break down assignments and tasks into their ordered, separate, sequential parts.

  8. Include “fun” learning in your curriculum — board games, puzzles, workbooks, computer games, and other fun and exciting activities (especially those created specifically for people with dyslexia).

Now let’s look at some ways you can help the student with dyslexia in a more personalized manner.

One-On-One Teaching Tips

What NOT to Do With Your Students With Dyslexia

Let’s first look at some things not to do when teaching a student with dyslexia, regardless of age:

  • Don’t ask them to read aloud. It can lead to embarrassment and a sense of failure.
  • Don’t ask them to copy things from a board or text.
  • Don’t expect them to complete assignments as quickly as the rest of the class.

Tips You SHOULD Be Using

Now, let’s get to the things you should do for your student with dyslexia:

  1. Set up a study carrel or individual space with noise-canceling headphones to help eliminate distractions.

  2. Allow the use of headphones and text-to-speech screen readers for any in-class lessons on a computer. The software will “read” the text on the screen, so the student doesn’t have to. Encourage them to set one up at home, too.

  3. Provide an Aline reader to help with written text and create templates that highlight just one math worksheet problem at a time.

  4. Provide copies of the text and highlighter markers when you are covering textbook material. Guide the student on what to highlight for future reference.

  5. Work with the student’s parents so they can help their child at home in an appropriate manner, using some of your tips and tools. Simple awareness of dyslexia might not equate to proper management of the learning disability at home.

  6. Ensure parents follow through with their child practicing the non-academic skills they’ll need to succeed throughout life — like following instructions, breaking tasks into smaller parts, “everything in its place,” etc.

How Positive Action Can Help

Positive Action supports teachers of all grade levels. We offer evidence-based curricula for special needs kids that enhance learning skills, improve classroom management, create positive school communities, and strengthen your students’ families and your school’s community.

Register for a 15-minute webinar overview of everything we offer. We can help you create the classroom, the school, and the community all your students deserve.