Dyslexia in the ESL Classroom – 5 Ways to Beat It!
Everybody has the right to learn and be well-educated and like in any classroom we can find people from a number of different backgrounds in an ESL classroom.
Often people are quick to pre-judge others with dyslexia and often they’re cruelly labeled with ‘lazy’, ‘unwilling’ or sometimes even ‘stupid’. Many others are quick to dismiss students with dyslexia and brand them ‘impossible to educate’. These students are neither lazy nor stupid and they’re definitely not impossible to educate. As teachers we need to be prepared for every kind of student and understand that each student has different learning needs – in other words we need to revert back to the very beginning of our teacher training days and remember what we were taught about adapting our lessons.
Firstly, we must examine dyslexia to understand what it is and how it affects our students. While many people are under the assumption that dyslexia just affects reading and writing skills, it actually affects all four skills. Each case of dyslexia varies from the next and the symptoms can be different among students, however, there’s one difficulty that all dyslexic people encounter and that’s with the written word and their failure to decode or recognize and interpret letters. Other signs of dyslexia can be reversed shapes, skipping words or phrases while reading, incoherent and inconsistent spelling, word blurring, confusion between left and right, illegible writing and even difficulties pronouncing certain phonological sounds. The biggest misconception with dyslexia is that it can be cured. While it can’t be cured so to speak, we can help train the brain in order to manage dyslexia properly. So how can we help promote learning among dyslexic students and facilitate their learning so they get everything they need out of their ESL lessons?
Facilitate Dyslexic Students’ Learning in an Efficient Way
Recognizing Consonant Blends
One of the biggest problems that dyslexic students face is recognizing and distinguishing different letters. While it’s difficult for them in their own language they probably have an even harder time with their L2 – not because their L2 is more difficult, but because they not only have to manage their dyslexia but also try to learn English at the same time. If you’ve caught on to the fact that your student has dyslexia from the onset then you’ll be more prepared.
Using a simple 10x10 squared grid, randomly place three different sounds in the different squares for example, SN, SP, ST. After this ask your student to count how many SN sounds they can see and so on. This will help your students scan across the lines looking for specific information and learning how to recognize the letters within a smaller cache.
Another way to practice consonant blends is to make flashcards. Each consonant blend will be made up of two different cards – one with only the sound e.g. CL and the other with a word that features the consonant blend and a picture e.g. CLIP. Have the students match the cards and read the words after having matched them. This activity can be used not only with dyslexic students but any lower level student that is learning phonological sounds and word recognition.
While most dyslexic students can train themselves to read without too much trouble they still continue to have problems with spelling, which is made worse when learning English as it is not a phonetic language and there are too many exceptions to the rule. There are number of fun different ways to help a dyslexic student improve their spelling which in turn will also be beneficial to your other students as spelling in English is notably harder than most other languages.
Chunking is a great way to help students learn to spell longer words correctly. Take one word, break it up into different sounds and write the sounds vertically down the board. E.g. com – mun – i – ca – te. Have the students read out each sound one by one without telling them that it makes a word. Once the students have learned the different sounds and memorized the simple two or three letter combinations have them put them all together as one word. This activity will give students more confidence in tackling longer words and dealing with spelling difficulties.
For more advanced students, who really feel silly breaking down words, mnemonics could benefit them especially if they’re visual learners. Mnemonics is the art of visually forming an association with the word. The first trick could be to visually recognize through their eyes. E.g. Tendency – the word tendency has the letters EN on either side of the D which helps students add to the layers of the memory which will help them learn how to spell the word easier. Try to encourage students to use their imagination when they picture words. With the word ‘possession’, you could explain to the students that the S letters are protecting the letter E. If they turn the S letters into $ signs the word would look like po$$e$$ion and we could remember it as a ‘valuable possession’. Having the students make up little quirky phrases to match the word’s spelling is also a fun way of helping students learn how to spell words correctly. For example the word ‘because’ could be broken down like this: Big Elephants Can Always Understand Smaller Elephants. While learning spelling through mnemonics could be more time consuming, it will help students draw their own associations and create their own rules and of course the more imaginative a student is, the more fun it will be.
Recognizing Your Bs, Ps & Ds
Because the written language is directional and those suffering from dyslexia often get muddled up between right and left, it’s easy for them to get confused with the way the letter should go round or even with the direction in which the letter should be read. In English and other languages that use the Latin alphabet there are a number of letters with mirror images meaning that if you placed a mirror on a letter, it would represent the appearance of a different letter. The letters that are mixed up the most are p-b-d. It can be really frustrating for students when they experience difficulties with directions and they need to be taught a couple of useful tips as to how they should approach it. If you can, have your students always remember the word ‘bed’ – this can be done by holding your thumbs together and pointing your fingers upwards. The left hand will represent the ‘b’ and the right the‘d’. This will not only help dyslexic learners, but it will also help those learners who are beginners or who have a different written script in their L1.
Using flashcards is also a great way to help students differentiate between the p-b-d sounds. Have a number of small flashcards with only pictures that represent words starting with the troublesome letters. For example you could have pictures of a pin, pan, dog, dinosaur, ball, bat and so on. Go through the flashcards and have the students say the word that corresponds with the pictures. Afterwards, using exactly the same order as before, go through the pictures again, this time having the students not only say the words but to write them too. Remember while we can’t cure dyslexia we can train the mind to deal with it and as the old adage goes, ‘practice makes perfect’.
Classification of Words
Words in English are made up of different syllable and can often be classified with the beginning sounds for example ‘pro’ and ‘con’. Classifying words and then practicing with the same groups of words but with different exercises will help not only students suffering from dyslexia but your regular ESL students too. First write a group of words in a box that can either be connected to the words beginning with ‘con’ or ‘pro’ for example, professional, program, prohibit, pronounce, confess, concentrate, conceal…. Have the students classify them into groups under the corresponding categories of either ‘pro’ or ‘con’. Have the students then break the words up into different syllables and write them using dashes to separate each syllable. Finally, to give the students some extra practice in recognizing and writing the words, have them directly associate them with written lists to describe the word. For example you could write the words ‘doctor, teacher, lawyer’ on the board and the student must write down the word that is related to, in this case it would be ‘professional’.
A native English person who has dyslexia has a hard time with the language; imagine a person who is learning English. Dyslexia is not a life sentence, although in some cultures parents fail to recognize it in their children due to a loss of face or seeing as a parenting failure, but with a little bit of hard work and a lot of patience and right learning methods dyslexic learners can also enjoy learning English. If dyslexia is left undetected or untrained it could lead to a whole new kettle of fish such as social problems. In fairness, we need to adapt lessons for everyone and even those students who don’t suffer from dyslexia could benefit from the techniques that are used by teachers.
If your dyslexic student is in a class, your lessons should be varied.
Try not to bombard the students with just worksheets or exercises to benefit a student with special needs, instead integrate it with other methods and remember the golden rule of ESL teaching, have something for everyone and something for every style.
Victoria Zurakowski is an experienced teacher and has been teaching for 11 years. After graduating university, she moved to China and worked in a public high school. From there, her job took her to Sth Korea, Poland, Greece, the UK and now Albania where she is the head of the foreign language department at a private high school. Graduating with a BA hons she went onto further education in ESL teaching by doing her DELTA in 2011, in which she was awarded a distinction.
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Yes, it can be very challenging at times. A lot of patience is needed. I find that the more I experiment with different methods the easier it becomes, like anything! Dyslexia in children and adults are the same, the only difference would be is if the adult student has never learned how to control their dyslexia. It can be extremely frustrating for students with dyslexia, but once they learn a few techniques how to help them overcome it, they will feel more confident.
Witchouille - these are just 5 symptoms and suggested methods of beating dyslexia. Not each method works for every student. In order to get around this and help your students you need to trial different activities. The idea for picturing of words is to help memorize them - not about the shape - the shape is related to the visualization process which in turn will help SOME students remember. Thanks for your feedback.
I'm sorry but although your description of dyslexia is very interesting, the 5 ways to beat it won't help my students at all. I am a teacher in France and I teach to teenagers and I have 8 dyslexic students in my class. I agree with you that all dyslexic students have different needs but my students don't find it difficult to recognize bs, ds and ps, they don't need to classify the words, but they have difficulties pronouncing the words and certain sounds. The idea of picturing is interesting but not for the shape of the words but for memorizing the meaning of the words.