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How to teach kids with dyslexia to read

By Julie Rawe

What’s the best way to teach kids with dyslexia how to read? The most helpful approach is called structured literacy. This way of teaching reading is:

  • Systematic: Reading skills are taught in a logical order. Kids have to master the basics before moving on to more complex skills. Example: A teacher makes sure kids can blend two letter-sounds before asking them to find those blends in words.

  • Explicit: Teaching is clear and direct. There’s no guesswork. Example: A teacher points to each letter in the word sit and says, “The first sound is /s/, the next sound is /ĭ/, and the last sound is /t/.” 

  • Diagnostic: Teachers constantly assess students to make sure they’re mastering concepts before moving on. Instruction is individualized. Example: After working on blending sounds, a teacher notices one student needs more practice. 

Structured literacy helps all kids learn to read. But it’s extra helpful for kids with dyslexia, who often have trouble with the basic skills of reading. Structured literacy helps kids build a solid foundation so they can develop more advanced reading skills. 

See a structured literacy lesson for grade-schoolers and middle-schoolers.

Dive deeper

6 core skills of structured literacy

Structured literacy focuses on six core skills needed for reading:

  • Identifying the sounds in spoken words 

  • Connecting sounds to letters

  • Dividing words into syllables 

  • Studying meaningful parts of words, like prefixes and suffixes 

  • Understanding sentence structure and the order of words 

  • Understanding the meaning of words and sentences 

Kids with dyslexia often have trouble with the first two skills — breaking down the sounds of language (phonological awareness) and matching those sounds with written symbols (decoding). 

Learn more about phonological awareness and decoding .

Orton–Gillingham and multisensory reading programs

Many structured literacy programs use sight, sound, movement, and touch to help kids connect spoken language to written words. Here are three examples:

Engaging different senses can help make the information “stick.”

Learn more about multisensory instruction .

For parents and caregivers: What to do next

Some schools use structured literacy as part of their regular reading program or as part of special education. Some families hire tutors to provide extra instruction. 

Whatever route you take, be sure to have frequent check-ins with the school. With the right support, kids with dyslexia can learn to read.

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