Teaching Reading to students with dyslexia

students with dyslexia


Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. The person diagnosed with dyslexia face difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition. What is more, poor spelling is a very common result of the deficit in the phonological development. Finally, reading comprehension as well as reading ability in general can be influenced and be in a lower level than expected. However, dyslexia also affects the psychology of those experiencing it, leading to low self-esteem, high levels of stress, and even social exclusion.

By Vicky Kaperoni, English Teacher, SEN Teacher, FL School Owner

Common place is the theory that dyslexic students have problems with phonological processing that leads to reading problems .The development of reading ability follows a process that is language –universal .A child first develops an awareness of syllables and later the intra-syllabic units of onset and rime. Phonemes seem to develop much later as a consequence of learning how to read and write. However, a child diagnosed with dyslexia face problems with phonological awareness as mapping of letter-sound relationships are poor. What is more, the process of reading follows the pattern of decoding words in their letters-phonemes and then combining them to their meaning.

To add to their burden, dyslexic students face difficulties related to short-term memory which is impaired only with regards to their reading and spelling ability-in contrast to mentally disabled children whose short-term memory is malfunctioning generally. What is more, they have problems with their visual and auditory perception and discrimination of the compounds of the words as well as with the spatial orientation and left-right discrimination. Therefore, the automatization of reading and writing which is quick for the average person it can be extremely slow as well as laborious for the dyslexic student.

Due to the abovementioned problems, dyslexic’s reading ability is low. Thus, their reading is slow, lacks of intonation, they mispronounce words, they often confuse words looking similar, and they face difficulties with rhyme and alliteration.For instance, the words “seat” and “sweet” can cause a problem of distinction to a dyslexic student because of the similar sound. In addition, dyslexic students often miss the line they are reading and they cannot pronounce correctly words with more than two syllables or unknown words.

Furthermore, they alleviate letters leading to read e.g. instead of “class” they read “lass”. They also substitute letters within words or even whole words with others that are easier and have the same meaning. What is more, they often guess the meaning of a word by the first letter, syllable, or even the overall appearance. Moreover, they often reverse letters within words like while reading “act” instead of “cat”. Finally, their fluency is also impaired  and even in later classes of primary school their reading may be humming and difficult to understand, while the pace remains slow. Unarguably, their reading competence is below standard.

As a consequence, dyslexic’s understanding of a reading text may also be impaired because of the slow short-term memory. The dyslexic student may have forgotten what they have read by the time they finish the paragraph or the sentence they are reading. Reading a text and answering comprehension questions can be laborious. Furthermore, studying History or any other lesson requires memorization can only be done with the help of an adult or an adequate reader. Finally, story-telling and story sequencing are activities that dyslexic’s performance is low.

Taking all these difficulties into consideration teaching those learners a second language can be difficult causing them stress and anxiety. For this reason, some important steps should be followed in order to improve their reading skills. Although many teachers may think that reading is a skill that should be taught at higher levels of language learning, in fact it is a process that should start at the early ages of a student. Teaching phonological awareness should be regarded as an important aspect of pre -junior classes. Therefore, teaching the alphabet should follow the following process:

  • Students learn the vowels first. It is important to learn the sound of the letters (short sound) first.
  • Students learn the consonants starting with those that look familiar to their mother tongue.
  • Confusing letters such as b-d should be taught separately.
  • Then they practice reading CVC words with short vowels.
  • After that they learn the long sound of the vowels and practice reading words CVC words with long vowels.
  • Diphthongs and blended letters should then be learned and practiced.
  • Finally, special cases are introduced, and sight words should be learned and practiced.

This procedure is very important to be followed to students diagnosed with dyslexia at any age level when they start learning English. In this way, they learn to decode and read a word and later the whole text that is provided.

When reading has progressed, there are some other techniques that should be used to help dyslexic students:

  • Before reading: building words on paper or plasticine as well as reinforcing text with images is quite helpful.
  • In addition, teaching the unknown words in advance and commenting on the title helps to understand the text.
  • During reading, teaching should be progressively made from individual words to sentences.
  • The use of a ruler so as not to lose the reading line as well as the use of colored gelatin over the text to reduce fatigue from white-black contrast.
  • In addition, reading can be done in pairs with the help of an adult.
  • Enhancing text with audio material is an important aid to enhancing multi-sensory learning.
  • One important step that a teacher can take is to prepare beforehand the text. That is to make interventions in order to present the text that in a larger font (at least 16p) as well as in vertical writing.
  • The extent of the text should be limited and incremental according to the learner’s level of competency.
  • Finally, it is advisable to teach some metacognitive strategies that enhance students' autonomy of learning such as prediction technique and keyword search.
  • Encouragement and positive comments every time a student achieves a reading goal can be used as many students suffer from low self -esteem
  • A reading chart can be used in order to show students how much they improve during the year.

All in all, teaching reading to students with dyslexia is a procedure that should start at the early stages of learning firstly through teaching phonological awareness. In addition, adopting teaching material in order to meet student’s needs is also a crucial factor in helping those students achieve understanding and fluency. They need to have more time and they should be given more opportunities to revise the vocabulary they have learned in order to improve their understanding.


Crombie M.,(1997) ,The effects of Specific Learning Difficulties(Dyslexia) on the learning of a Foreign Language at School , Dyslexia ,Vol3 (p.27-47)

Goswami U., Phonology, Reading Development, and Dyslexia: A Cross-linguistic Perspective, Annals of Dyslexia, 1/1/2002, Vol. 52, Issue 1, (p. 141-163)

Nijakowska J.(2010) Dyslexia in the Foreign Language Classroom ,πρόσβαση


Πολυχρόνη Φ, Χατζηχρήστου Χ., Μπίμπου Α., (2007) Ειδικές Μαθησιακές Δυσκολίες:Δυσλεξία , Ελληνικά Γράμματα

Ganschow L. , Sparks R., (1995) Effects of Direct Instruction in Spanish Phonology on the Native-Language Skills and foreign-language Aptitude of At-Risk Foreign-Language Learners


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