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No-Fuss Literacy: Dyslexia Reading Strategies & Technology for Elementary Students

Nov 03, 2023
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For a child with dyslexia, learning to read isn’t always fun, nor is it quite the magical experience of “cracking the code” and quickly achieving fluency. Students who show symptoms of dyslexia often have trouble reading accurately and fluently, but when read to, they may have no difficulty understanding. As an educator, trying to understand the varying impacts that dyslexia can have on individual students can be frustrating, confusing, and, at times, exhausting as you work to determine what steps you will take. But, finding dyslexia reading exercises that are effective is possible. 


And, while dyslexia is a lifelong condition, systematic and explicit instruction helps to remediate the problem for most children who struggle with it. The key is finding fun, easy, and engaging activities that focus on developing phonological awareness and phonics through multi-sensory learning.


Our Top Dyslexia Reading Activities and Ideas


In the past, we looked at six classroom best practices to support learners with dyslexia. Today, we’ll turn our attention to the kinds of specific literacy activities you can implement in your classroom to support your students with dyslexia and how technology can help.


Dyslexia Reading Tools to Build Foundational Vocabulary with Phonics


1. Use pictures to make CVC words

Lay out a set of alphabet cards in two rows – one for consonants and one for vowels. Start with six letters: s, t, p, n, a, and i. Have a set of pictures that depict consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words using the given letters. Some examples are pan, tin, or tap. Ask the student to choose a picture and name the item. They should identify the initial sound and pick the matching letter. Then, do the same with the end sound.


Lay out the two consonant cards with a gap between them and ask the student to identify the missing vowel in the middle. Next, ask them if the other vowel could be used to make a word with these consonants. For example, if they make “pan,” they can also make “pin.” Ask the student to write out their CVC words to help cement them in memory. Add another letter each time you repeat this activity, building their CVC word bank.


2. Make DIY onset-rime manipulatives


You can craft onset-rime manipulatives out of paint chips. To do this, you’ll need several paint chips with a cutout and several strips. On the strips, have a set of single letter consonants for the onsets and on the cutouts, a set with rimes on them. These could range from basic short vowel + consonant endings such as “at” and “on’’ to more complex long vowel spellings such as “ine” and “ean.’’ For a challenge, include rimes such as “ight” and “ought.”


Use the first rime and flip through the onsets to have the student identify as many “real” words as possible. Have them write a word family list for the rime to secure its place in their memory. Focus on one word family each session, but find ways to revisit learning from previous sessions by starting a word family bulletin board or creating a book of all the word families they’ve studied to date.


3. Focus on complex onsets


To begin, when building onset-rime words, onsets should be single letters. As a student’s phonetic knowledge increases, look at words with onsets that are blended, for example, “tr” for tree or “str” for strap. Have a set of pictures of items that start with a specific blend. Ask your student to choose a picture, sound out the word, and write it down. Help them identify all the sounds in the initial blend.


Once they have worked out how to spell the blend, revisit onset-rime word family lists and see if they can add new words using the blends as onsets with the rimes they know. When your student learns about digraphs, for example, "sh," "ch," "th," you can add more words to the word families.


Game-Based Dyslexia Reading Activities Build Advanced Vocabulary


1. Adjective Alliteration


Ask your student to choose an object, place, or person. Focus on the first sound in the word and identify it. Now, ask them to come up with an adjective that has the same starting sound. Put them together and have the student draw a picture, for example, a blue balloon, a muddy mountain, or a happy Harry.


Next, encourage the student to try sounding out the two words and writing down the letters for the sounds they hear. Praise all correct letters, point out the value of a letter that may be wrong but represents a correct sound, and help the student work out what letters or sounds they missed.


2. Spotting Mistakes


Choose a book your student is familiar with or one that you have read together before. Rewrite the text but include some mistakes. Swap letters that are phonetically the same; for instance, turn "cat" into "kat." Leave out letters, for example writing "blck" instead of black or "tee" instead of tree. Use the wrong vowel, such as "cer" instead of car. Add an extra letter ("bookk") or forget to double a letter ("cal"). Leave out a silent letter, like the "e" in “line” – "lin" – or the "g" in “night” – "niht."


Then, ask the student to read this seemingly familiar text, but tell them that there are some spelling mistakes and they should circle every word they can find that does not look right. Praise all the problems they find and ask if they know what is wrong and how to fix the errors. For errors that they don’t understand or miss, talk them through what is wrong.


3. Twenty Questions

This is a classic game. The student chooses an object and keeps it a secret. You ask up to twenty yes or no questions about the item in order to guess what it is. Here’s the literacy twist—ask a mix of questions about the object itself, as well as how to sound it out or spell it. For example, Is it an animal? Does it start with S? Does it have an E in it? Does it rhyme with “cat?” This is a subtle (and always fun) way to get the student thinking phonetically.


How Online Tools Can Build Dyslexia Reading Skills


In addition to traditional activities like the ones suggested above, online programs can be a great tool to provide students struggling with dyslexia the extra targeted, individualized practice they need to build literacy skills. Here are some key advantages of incorporating online tools for dyslexia reading skills:


1. Accessibility Features



Digital tools can offer a range of accessibility features to accommodate different learning needs. Adjustable text sizes, customizable fonts, and audio support for text are just a few examples of features that can benefit students with dyslexia. Such accommodations ensure that reading exercises are accessible and comfortable for all learners. Bookshare is an online digital library with over 900,000 accessible ebooks for individuals with print disabilities like dyslexia. It offers customizable features like fonts and colors, integrates text-to-speech technology, and is compatible with various devices.


2. Interactive Phonics Games

Online platforms offer a variety of interactive phonics games that make learning enjoyable for students struggling with dyslexia. These games can focus on specific phonological skills, such as sound recognition, blending, and segmenting, providing targeted practice in a playful and motivating environment. For example, try an interface like “Starfall Learn to Read”, which provides a series of interactive phonics activities and games that gradually introduce letter sounds, blends, and sight words.


3. Progress Tracking

Online platforms often include features for tracking students' progress over time. Educators can utilize these tools to monitor individual advancements, such as identifying if a student struggles with certain phonetic patterns or consistently encounters challenges with specific word types. By pinpointing these areas, educators can then customize their instructional strategies to provide targeted support, helping dyslexic students overcome specific reading difficulties.


As an educator, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for supporting the development of literacy skills in students struggling with dyslexia. However, by incorporating the right tools and personalized interventions, teachers can create an inclusive learning environment that recognizes the diverse needs of each student. Through the thoughtful integration of technology, tailored strategies, and a commitment to understanding individual learning styles, educators empower students with dyslexia to not only overcome challenges but also to discover the joy of literacy at their own pace.


Interested in learning more about how you can build a solid foundation for your students’ reading skills? Explore 'The Five Pillars of Reading: Breaking Down the Elements of Successful Literacy Instruction' to discover the essential components—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

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