3 Ways Teachers Can Help Students with Dyslexia: Pt. 2 – Overcoming Reading Difficulties

July 26, 2010, Angie Barnett

3 Ways Teachers Can Help Students with Dyslexia: Pt. 2 – Overcoming Reading Difficulties

This post is part of a three-part series which discusses tips for helping teachers reach dyslexic students. To read the first post of this series, visit the link next to #1.

1. Understand How Dyslexia Affects the Student

2. Help Students with Dyslexia Overcome Language Difficulties

Although it might feel daunting to think about helping students with dyslexia improve their reading skills, it is possible.

As discussed in the first post of this series about understanding dyslexia, the dominance of the right brain of students with dyslexia is what makes language tasks difficult for them.

To know how to help your students with dyslexia improve their reading skills, you must use the simple logic found in a line from one of my favorite Disney® movies, Hercules:

Hades: “How do you kill a god?”

Panic: “Um… they’re immortal…?”

Hades: “Bingo! So, first, we got to turn the little sunspot mortal.”

(I apologize if that is not word for word since I derived it completely from memory.)

Likewise, in order to help students with dyslexia improve their reading skills, we have to first change the conditions.

How is this done?

Have you ever done a logic puzzle (such as a Sudoku) and gotten to the point where you feel there is no way you can figure it out or find one more answer. But, you keep trying and out of nowhere, you have a moment of genius! The next thing you know you have solved the once deemed “impossible” puzzle. 

These “moments of genius” are a result of new connections in your brain; the same thing that is needed to help students with dyslexia improve their reading. 

You need to include two things in your reading instruction in order to help students dyslexia make the new brain connections that will allow them to improve their reading:

  1. Teach phonics with an explicit & systematic approach (also known as structured literacy instruction)
  2. Engage students in multisensory instruction

Explicit and systematic phonics takes a step-by-step approach to teaching students how to decode words starting with a single letter or sound before progressing to the whole word. This helps students with dyslexia understand the sounds and rules of language and transfer these concepts to what they are reading.

The lack of foundational knowledge that comes from many strategies for teaching reading is what prevents many dyslexics and struggling readers from excelling with reading.

When teaching explicit phonics to students with dyslexia, it is important for you to realize that these students have developed many coping strategies that help them get by with language tasks. Because of this, this type of instruction can feel below their level or too basic. However, the reason this instruction helps them with reading skills is not that they are unintelligent, it works because it helps them make new connections in their brain.

The other concept that you need to incorporate in your teaching is multisensory instruction. By engaging multiple senses during instruction, students with dyslexia can make new connections in their brain.

Because students with dyslexia are not always the strongest visual or auditory learners; connecting hands-on (kinesthetic) activities to visual and auditory instruction, allows their brain to make new connections and understand concepts in a way that didn’t make sense to them when they were only being taught through auditory channels.

(Although these concepts are crucial for helping students with dyslexia improve reading, they are beneficial for any student that is learning to read.)

3. Focus on the Strengths of Students with Dyslexia


Free Dyslexia Webinar:

“Dyslexia: From Symptoms to Solutions,” presented by Reading Horizons Dyslexia Specialist, Shantell Berrett.

View the free dyslexia webinar! ›


Learn how Reading Horizons elementary reading program and reading intervention curriculum help students with dyslexia improve their reading skills.

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