Building Vocabulary And Spelling Skills For Dyslexic Students

Date: May 8, 2014 Author: Jill Categories: Dyslexia

Building Vocabulary And Spelling Skills For Dyslexic Students

Learning vocabulary can be challenging enough for dyslexic students, but becomes even more so when trying to learn spelling as well. English spelling is notorious for being difficult; some people believe that it is incredible even English speaking children without dyslexia can learn how to spell effectively. While most dyslexic students will learn to read and develop a good vocabulary, spelling often remains a struggle.  Some activities that can help with building vocabulary and spelling skills include:

  • Movement can be productive with younger kinesthetic learners: draw hopscotch with letters instead of numbers and have the student say the sound each letter makes as he /she hops on it. For a higher level, use prefixes or suffixes instead of letters and have the student say a word that uses it as he/she hops on it.
  • Visualize letter patterns by having students create colorful word art. Rather than drawing a simple picture, the student needs to use the actual letters of the word to form the drawing; for example, for the word “yacht” a student may draw a shape of a boat with the “ht” leading up to the sail, and the “y” leading down to an anchor.  Once the student is able to make this mental image of the whole word, he/she will be better able to spell it in the future.
  • Play games: students of all ages love games, and there are many that are contingent upon spelling and will help them learn as you play: BoggleScrabbleJargonUnjumble: Stellar Speller (Discovery Toys),  cross word puzzles, word scrambles, and word searches (many of these games are also easily downloaded on a smartphone or tablet).

While dyslexic students (really any student) may always struggle with spelling, that does not mean they cannot build an impressive vocabulary.  Complex words are challenging because of difficult pronunciations, but even the simplest words can be hard to master.  Dyslexic individuals will often know a word when used in context or read aloud, but it means noting on a vocabulary list. Teachers, tutors, and parents can help dyslexic students learn and develop vocabulary in a number of ways:

  • Color codewords to help dyslexic students learn the basic parts of sentences. Pick a different color for verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc. Write sentences together or choose a passage to color. Then have the student write his/her own sentences using the new words. (it is best to focus on one or two types of words per lesson, but being consistent in color helps the student retain the information as new parts are taught later).
  • Draw words: have the student draw a representation of the word. So if the student is trying to learn the word “boat” he/she would draw a picture of a boat with the word written next to it.  This process helps to make meaning from the word and will generate a visual association.  Having students make flashcards with pictures in addition to the words can also be helpful.
  • Act out words: similar to a game of charades, this activity requires the student to fully understand the word in order to act it out.
    • In a variation of this game, students can learn adjectives and adverbs by acting out sentences (for example, “stand up quickly,” “look at the person next to you happily,” “hum merrily”).
  • Write a story using vocabulary words:  Dyslexic students remember words and concepts better when the information is attached to a narrative. Not only will they will learn how to use the words in context, but also by coming up with imaginative tales, they will more easily remember the words.
  • Flash cards: provide something tangible for students to look at while also giving them something to hold. Use colors to write words, incorporate pictures that relate to the word’s meaning, and have the student read the card out loud.
  • Sand trays: small containers with sand (or beans, beads, flour, etc.). Younger students can use these to spell words or draw pictures in the sand engaging their sense of touch. – In South Florida, we can take this concept a step further, and instead of making sand trays, you can use the natural sand tray at the beach!

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