Today I want to share with you some out-of-the-box strategies that have worked for many of my students with dyslexia and ADHD who struggle with reading and remembering letters, consonants, and blending sounds. These tips are based on my own research and experience working with these students. In my previous post, Teaching Kids to Spell and Read, I shared some teaching techniques that may be helpful for some, but I do understand that every child is unique, and these tips may still be too hard or confusing for others. So, let's explore some alternative approaches that have helped my students when those other tips didn't work.
Creating Custom Letter Cards
One common challenge for kids with dyslexia is differentiating between letters that have similar elements, like p, b, d, and q. I've had students tell me that these letters look very similar because they all have a stick and a round ball. The letters can look exactly the same as each other if one is flipped around (Similar to how, if you were to turn a package of Play-Doh upside-down, you would still see it as Play-Doh). To address this, I encourage students to create their own letter cards instead of using prepackaged ones.
For example, one student I worked with found it difficult to distinguish between the letters p and d. So, I asked him to draw something that would represent each letter in a way that made sense to him. He drew a picture of his own dog, Pingo, on the letter p card, and a generic dog on the letter d card. Although this might not make sense to someone who doesn't own Pingo, this creative approach helped this child remember the letters more easily.
By allowing students to use their own imagination and create personalized letter cards, we can help them see the letters in a way that makes sense to them.
Letter vs Letter
Another effective strategy is to have students draw different representations of letters that they find confusing. For example, one student struggled with differentiating between the letters t vs x. We drew a line and played a game of "versus" between these letters. Then, the student drew a tree for the letter t and a fox for the letter x.
This visual representation helped her to see the letters as distinct and she no longer rotated them in her head. She also had the same issue with q and a, since they both have a circle and a stick on the right side. So, she a quail for the letter q and an apple for the letter a.
This technique of drawing different representations can be more helpful than standard flashcards, as it teaches their brain to see the letters differently.
Using Sound Balls for Blending Sounds
If a child is struggling with blending sounds, there are a couple of strategies that can be helpful. One approach is to use sound balls, which involve attaching sounds to a tactile experience. You can use Play-Doh or kinetic sand to roll out the sound balls. Using your letter cards, place a consonant down, then a vowel, then a consonant, and place a sound ball above each letter. For example, you can create the word "map" by placing the sound balls for "m," "a," and "p" together.
Then, use the Smash & Squeeze method. First, the child will smash each sound ball while sounding out the letter.
Then, the child will squeeze all three sound balls together and blend their sounds.
This hands-on approach helps engage the child and makes the blending process more tangible and clear.
If the sound balls don't work, the student may have memory retrieval challenges. To address this, I've created a simplified paper worksheet approach. These worksheets only include the first two letters of a three-letter word, such as "mo" for "mop", "to" for "top", "co" for "cop", and "ho" for "hop".
Then I tell the child to keep their mouth open and say the sounds of the first two letters. In this example, that would be "mo", "to", "co", and "ho". Then, they add the sound of the final letter, such as "p". The key is to have the child keep their mouth open for the first two sounds and close it for the final sound. This is much easier for the student than trying to remember multiple sounds and blend them together. I don't have a specific name for this strategy yet, but I needed to share it with you because for me, it has been key to helping students with memory retrieval challenges.
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If you have any other dyslexia strategies or tips that have worked for your child or student, I would love to hear them. Sharing our experiences and knowledge can help us all better support children with dyslexia and ADHD. Together, we can make a difference in their lives and help them thrive.