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No-Fuss Literacy: Activities and Technology to Support Elementary Students with Dyslexia

Thursday, November 9, 2017 -- McKenna Wierman

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 that 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 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.

Last week, 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.

Activities to build foundational vocabulary with phonics:

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.

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 cut out 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 they can. 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.

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 blends, 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 activities to build advanced vocabulary:

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, or a muddy mountain, or happy Harry.

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

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, for example 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.

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 Help Support Student with Dyslexia

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. Edmentum’s pre-K through 6th grade program, Reading Eggs, is one such dynamic online learn-to-read program that makes learning to read feel like a game.

A short placement test administered to every student starting the program ensures that they’re provided with lessons and activities at the optimal level. The program only moves forward when they have grasped each new reading concept, providing literacy instruction and practice at the student’s pace.

The Reading Eggs program begins with phonemic skills—identifying beginning sounds and rhyming words, matching sounds and letters, sounding out words, and blending sounds to read words. Later lessons build on these early phonemic skills to help students develop the foundational knowledge necessary to read words, sentences, and entire books.

Each lesson in Reading Eggs begins with a short video clip in which friendly animated characters introduce a particular element of the English language—sounds, letters, rimes, sight words, spelling rules, and more. The scaffolded activities that follow provide the repetition needed for the skills and knowledge to become part of the student’s long-term memory.

Additionally, each Reading Eggs lesson ends with a book matched to the student’s current ability, which lets them enjoy the thrill of reading on their own. Most lower level books include a read aloud feature, then students can reread the book to themselves. And with over 2,000 Lexile® levelled books for your students to choose from in the Reading Eggs digital library, they’ll never struggle to find a selection they’re interested in.

Finally, Reading Eggs rewards students at every step, with immediate feedback, Golden Eggs, collectable critters, and printable certificates. Your students will grow in confidence while building their foundational reading skills.

Interested in learning more about how Edmentum’s online solutions for early literacy can motivate and engage your learners with goal-focused individualized learning paths? Explore Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress or start your free trial today!