Dyslexia – What Teachers Need to Know

Chances are you have at least one student with dyslexia in your classroom. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates between 15 percent and 20 percent of American students have dyslexia. That means, in a class of 20 students, 3 may have dyslexia. Because teachers influence a child’s desire to learn, it is important for you to understand dyslexia and know how to best help your students with dyslexia succeed in the classroom.

Dyslexia - What Teachers Need to Know

The International Dyslexia Association has stated that dyslexia is specific learning disability that is characterized by:

  • Difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition
  • Poor spelling
  • Poor decoding abilities
  • Children with dyslexia often have poor reading comprehension skills and may avoid reading.

In addition, young children with dyslexia may have problems:

  • Reading single words
  • Learning to associate letters and sounds
  • Confusing small words, such as “a,” “at” and “to”
  • Letter reversals
  • Word reversals

Because children with dyslexia are usually average or above average intelligence, their problems in school can go unnoticed or be blamed on laziness. It is not true that students with dyslexia are not motivated or interested in learning. However, their frustration with reading, writing, spelling and sometimes speaking can make it hard. They may avoid reading or have a difficult time completing assignments within a specific amount of time. They may appear as if they are not trying even when they are working harder than the other students.

The following are a few examples of areas children with dyslexia have problems:

  • Writing letters/numbers backwards, especially confusing /b/ and/d/ or /p/ and/q/
  • Difficulty blending letter sounds together to create words
  • Difficulty separating words into syllables
  • Using phonetic spelling
  • Substituting homophones in writing for example, there/their/they’re or grate/great
  • Trouble rhyming words
  • Problems sequencing
  • Poor word recognition

To effectively teach children with dyslexia, teachers must see not only the student’s language weaknesses but understand their strengths. In her book, Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level, author Sally E. Shaywitz explains that teachers should take critical thinking and problem solving skills into account. Some of the strengths she sees in children with dyslexia are:

  • Reasoning
  • Concept formation
  • Comprehension
  • General knowledge
  • Problem solving
  • Vocabulary
  • Critical thinking

By highlighting these strengths, teachers build upon a student’s natural abilities and target specific areas students need additional help.

Some of the specific ways teachers can help students with dyslexia include:

  • Developing a multisensory environment. The International Dyslexia Association lists multisensory teaching as an effective approach to helping students with dyslexia. Multisensory approaches use two or more senses during the learning process. This can be using oranges to help teach fractions or creating sand letters to help learn the alphabet.
  • Encourage verbal participation. Some teachers may offer to give tests orally rather than written or may assign oral presentations instead of written reports. Before asking a student to read aloud, ask the student if this is something he is comfortable doing.
  • Teach phonemic awareness before beginning reading instruction. Phonemic awareness is the ability to break words down into their smallest unit of sound. Many students with dyslexia have difficulty with phonemic awareness and if this is not addressed, reading will continue to be difficult.
  • Use memory strategies. Mnemonics or making up silly songs or stories to help remember spelling rules or word lists can be helpful.
  • Focus on reading comprehension. Students with dyslexia pay attention to each individual word when reading. They concentrate on sounding each word out. Because of this, they often miss the meaning or concept of what they are reading. Teach specific reading comprehension skills, such as stopping and summarizing what has been read, asking questions and making predictions while reading.
  • Provide reading assignments on tape. There are many books available on tape. Students can listen and follow along written text to help gain understanding.
  • Provide simple and brief directions. Because students with dyslexia have a hard time sequencing, offer short, direct instructions and give one or two steps at a time.
  • Outline lessons before beginning. Before starting a lesson, give a brief description of what you will be teaching or a synopsis of what a book is about. When ending the lesson, summarize the main points.

Most of all, take time to work with students individually. Just as all children are different, all students with dyslexia are different. As you work with the student you will see the specific areas of concern and can focus on these areas.


“Dyslexia Statistics,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Nemours Children’s Health System

“Dyslexia: What Teachers Need to Know,” Date Unknown, Ron Schachter, Scholastic.com

Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level, 2003, Sally E. Shaywitz, Alfred A. Knopf Publishing