How to teach reading to dyslexic students

In this article, I will be explaining strategies to teach reading to dyslexic students.

This is a question I get asked quite a bit in my practice and today I want to share with you five tips to make sure that your reading program is the best you can offer for dyslexic students.

It’s important to remember that what makes good practice for dyslexic students is actually the best practice for all students so in order to be able to rapidly accelerate the progress of even the very top students in our class we would use the same methods as we do for our dyslexic students.

Explicit Teaching

The first thing you need to make sure is that you are using what’s called explicit teaching. Explicit teaching is a method where the teacher has a clear goal or learning objective for the lesson. They model or demonstrate or explain to the students how to perform this particular skill. They practice it with the whole group or the whole class to make sure that all of the children have had a guided practice turn at trying the skill. After the student has practised, they give the students an activity to independently practice and show that they can perform the skill that has been set for them.

Now explicit teaching is kind of falling out of favour in recent years as we tend to use more approaches like student-centred learning or exploratory learning. There’s definitely a time and a place for those teaching methods but cracking the English code is so incredibly difficult. We don’t want kids to have to figure that out themselves or leave them to explore literature and hope they crack the complex code.

We want to make sure that we teach it to them really explicitly. So the first thing your program needs to be is explicit.


Structured and SystematicHow to teach reading to Dyslexic students

The second thing your reading program needs to be if you would like to teach reading to dyslexic students is structured and systematic.

That means that we break down that English code into all of the components that feed into it:

  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Etymology

We teach these skills one at a time in a really clear order using just a few words so that the students can achieve mastery and that they’re introduced to the code from the easiest and basic levels right through to the most complex and difficult levels.

One of the things that we tend to see with dyslexic students who are a little bit older is, a lot of them get the phonics approach early on which is absolutely critical in getting children to learn to read.

But because English is actually morphophonemic, that means it’s informed by meaningful units:

  • Prefixes
  • Bases
  • Suffixes
  • Phonology

Children don’t often spell correctly when they’re older, they spell quite phonetically.

So it’s absolutely essential to get kids reading by using a structured and synthetic phonics program.

We need to make sure we continue teaching spelling to them long after the first two to three years of schooling and right into years four five and six.

They need to learn all of those spelling rules and morphology and etymology again because cracking the code isn’t something that just happens naturally for them. They’re very unlikely to stumble upon these patterns themselves.

Dyslexic students tend to overuse memory strategies like visual memory because they tend to be better at visual memory so it’s really important that we give them alternate strategies because there is a limited number of words they can be held in visual memory.

They need to crack the code and break the code all the way through from beginning to end.

The best way to help them do this is by making your reading program structured and systematic.




I wish I could remove phrases like:

“Let’s wait and see”.

“They’re struggling but let’s wait and see.”

“He’ll come good.”

“Maybe she’ll come round.”

“Some kids just need some more time.”

Those kinds of things.

We’ve actually shown through research that if a student starts school behind in reading and if they don’t receive targeted and evidence-based intervention, they are very likely to continue to fall further and further behind their peers. They don’t just magically catch up with time.

Reading problems are not fixed with time they’re fixed with intervention so please if you’ve ever used these words to describe a student, that’s just not correct.

Please remove those words from your vocabulary.


Explicit instruction in morphology and etymology

The fourth thing that your reading program must include is explicit instruction in morphology and etymology.

There’s more and more research emerging suggesting that older learners really benefit from morphological and etymological instruction.  This is not to say that we wait until the child is older before we start teaching morphology, we start introducing these things very early on very simply simple sorts of ways so that we alert the students to the fact that morphemes exist and that they should be looking for them and thinking about them in their reading and spelling.

Quick reminder – morphology is a study of prefixes bases and suffixes and the spelling rules that we use to join them together.

So you need to make sure that your program includes instruction in morphology and etymology as well.


Decodable Readers

The fifth thing that your reading program should include is decodable readers.

Decodable readers are readers that have been very carefully selected to introduce phonics patterns one at a time and not include words the child hasn’t already been explicitly taught. They quite often get a bad rap for not being genuine literature and that is true.

They are not really authentic literature but they’re not there to provide the language aspects of teaching reading, they’re there to help the children crack the code. It’s really important that we teach both aspects of reading.

Something that quite often gets prioritized in reading programs is the language aspects of comprehension, talking about the book, talking about how it relates to your background knowledge and those sorts of things. It’s really essential that we put just as much emphasis on being able to read the words on the page and decodable readers are an absolutely essential step for fledgling readers and struggling readers to be able to crack that code.

You can’t make meaning from a text if you can’t read the text so we use decodable readers to help children learn the code and become fluent with reading word reading so that they can move on to develop reading comprehension skills.


Online Courses

Inspired Education Services has developed a number of online courses that bring you the most relevant, research-based teaching practices. Some of our courses include:

Synthetic Phonics Course. 

Vocabulary Course.

Phonics Word Lists.

Click the link above to visit the specific course page or click here to go to the online course page.


Inspired Spelling Resource Library – get free access

As a teacher myself, I understand the challenges of teaching spelling. There is so much to know if you’re going to explain it to students in a way that makes sense. That is why I have created Inspired Structured Literacy. 

Inspired Structured Literacy provides a clear, systematic program, lesson resources and training to enable them to confidently teach every child in their class using only the most evidence-based methods.

To kick things off, I’m offering you FREE access to 8 resources that allow you to learn as you teach! With teachers’ notes and clear explanations, you don’t need to do hours of lesson prep to work out how to use these fun spelling lesson ideas.

Inside you will find:

  • Phonemic awareness ladders
  • Comic strip activity
  • The magic ‘e’ go fish game
  • Magic ‘e’ worksheet
  • Consonant ‘r’ blends
  • Ch worksheets
  • Smart targets for English
  • Semantic Gradients

Click here to access the resource library. 

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