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Teaching English to Dyslexic Learners

Teaching English to Dyslexic Learners

In general, the performance of adolescent students preparing to sit for B1/ B2 exams is reinforced by the teacher’s methodical planning and the graded application of the most appropriate teaching strategies. However, the same principle does not seem to apply when setting an attainable goal to be reached for the dyslexic learners taking the same exams.

The approach towards students with dyslexia, therefore, needs to be viewed in relation to a variety of cognitive and situational factors. Firstly, it is important to take into consideration the exact amount of time that a specific student has been engaged in the learning process under the guidance of a specific teacher, thus, making the correct estimation that will allow for an accurate student profile, as well as a precise evaluation of both their learning strengths and, equally, their shortcomings, according to, of course, the type of dyslexia they are facing.

Some things to consider

Secondly, we must take into account the time and effort they devote to learning the language, their willingness, and the ability to follow the course’s corpus and the teacher’s instructions and guidelines. All of the above functions as the incentive provided to facilitate the student’s goal, passing the exam, the type of exam being another key element to consider. Overall, it is in the students’ best interest to be encouraged to take an exam that matches their current profile, not one that surpasses their level, the primary examples of such level of difficulty being the FCE or the ECCE.

Moreover, it is the teacher’s duty to inspire such students, boost their confidence and distill in them a sense of emotional security that will strengthen their self-perception. This way, the students are given the tools to believe more in their own potential, and once this process is set into motion and becomes an inner reality, the beneficial results will be mirrored in their performance.

In addition to all of the above, the effective role of the student’s family, school, schoolmates, peers, and friends forming their close circle, is of major importance in relation to the progressive mental development of learners with dyslexia. Dyslexics tend to be more open to sharing and describing their problems when a bond of trust has been established. However, this willingness to express their view or confront an issue in a spirit of togetherness formed with you, their teacher, can be just as easily disrupted or even shattered if their enthusiasm for personal
improvement is not immediately fulfilled, leading to instant frustration.

A student example

To provide you with an example, a sixteen-year-old dyslexic learner student of mine, Marios, while preparing for the B2 exam, exhibited signs of hesitance to continue drawing outlines, and composing essays with my aid, as a reaction to me implementing more discipline in my teaching style. His attitude seemed to stem from the fact that I corrected him much more, pointing out, in a more emphatic manner, the lack of preparation and diligence in his work, leading to unnecessary spelling errors. As a result, his performance dropped, he was not eager to put his ideas into practice, and he kept inserting redundant or wrong vocabulary in his sentences. It took him a considerable amount of time to re-establish his previous level of efficacy in his writing skills and reach his original learning standards.

Meeting the emotional needs of learners

It is essential to mention, at this point, another determining factor concerning dyslexics. When the emotional needs of these students are not met at home, or not validated when they are singled out or being made fun at school and their social environment, they are quick to abandon their target scope related to the exams. As a teacher, you are called to adjust your methods, mainly by showing patience and persistence in applying constant repetition in a wide variety of tasks. Goals. Students should be encouraged to be active participants in the lesson, as the content unfolds and gradually develops. Once the route is mapped out and reset after possible failings, students become aware that they can always strive to achieve their learning goals.

As a general principle, if the educator follows certain guidelines while instructing such learners in the actual time of the exams, he or she will observe remarkable improvement and outcomes. Such guidelines include:

1. Following certain steps in every lesson,

even if, at first glance, they seem suited for small children. Correcting their homework should always come first, so as to remind them what they have achieved as students, and boost their confidence.

This process should be followed by an oral repetition of the right answers, as many times as necessary, to help establish language patterns in their brain. It is, after all, an opportunity for them to engage more in oral speech. As teachers, we are well aware of the pivotal role of oral practice in the progress of these students (this type of student).


2. The writing of the dictation immediately follows

in the exact order it was taught to the student, who should be encouraged by the teacher to stick to the “image” of the words they have learned. Meanwhile, the student repeats the meaning of the words orally, inside out as many times as possible. Through this repetition, they will be offered the right aid, instead of being forced to use the image in direct correlation to the translation, correcting over and over again the definitions, falsely used as equivalent meaning.

Overall, dyslexic learners benefit greatly by sticking to a routine in various facets of the lesson. Special attention should be paid on the visual elements set inside their head, so as to absorb dictation in an efficient manner. This process, if reinforced correctly, will contribute to the betterment of their writing skills as well.

3. It is preferable to avoid the “structural approach”

methodology when it comes to the Reading comprehension and Use of English activities. For the dyslexics, it is the functional and multidimensional, as well as the communicative aspect related to the book’s tasks that prove to be useful and meaningful in the long run. Students with dyslexia in general, but also specifically when it is time to sit for the exams, reach a higher degree of awareness of the grammatical and lexical functions of the English language, and its correct use, in terms of “conceptualization” and use in context. Also, the provision of specific examples can further help them grasp the meanings.

4. When it comes to essays,

it is in the best interest of the student to be given the instructions orally first, so that they can proceed in a more natural flow with the production of the written form. This method familiarizes the students with the topic of the essay and helps them navigate through the process of the writing task on their own.

Go at their own pace

Another helpful tip for the integration of the tools that lead to the productive completion of an essay is to allow them to go through the model essay at their own pace, and encourage them to er to come up with their own version in spoken/oral form. This facilitates the students to produce an outline that will serve as a guide on how to write the essay. If they find the process difficult, the teacher could ask them to work together on the essay, putting together an outline that will serve as a useful tool for the development and completion of the written task at home.

Abstain from personalising

Furthermore, it would serve the teacher, at this stage of the writing lesson, to keep in mind that they should abstain from personalizing when spelling mistakes occur. Also, students should not be interrupted while they are sharing their ideas. The reason why this interruption of flow can inhibit the learning process for a dyslexic learner is that based on the way their brain is “wired,” they are more adept at formulating a model essay-answer inside their head before they can feel comfortable with making the transition into speech. The speaking task, in its turn, allows them to receive the mental stimulation and feedback so that they can, subsequently, complete the written form. It is also important for the teacher to remember not only to correct but also make suggestions when the students hand in their essays in their next lesson.

5. As far as speaking and listening tasks,

the process is more straight-forward, thus, simplified, because dyslexic students, as a norm, find these tasks less burdensome, and, therefore, significantly more enjoyable. It is crucial that the teacher at all times includes a variety of topics in the corpus plan and delivery of the speaking task, such as health, animals, hobbies, technology, to name a few. These specific topics could be examined, reevaluated, and repeated as frequently as possible. If the need for more in-depth clarification arises, the teacher can use less complicated words so as to define the meaning of a word and re-visit orally the same topics from different angles at every given opportunity. The effects are immediate and tangible and can be witnessed in progress the students make in their writing skills as well.

When it comes to the listening tasks,

it is key to notice that they work/function interchangeably with the speaking tasks that students are required to tackle. This means that practicing thoroughly the order of the words that form the whole of a sentence helps the students expand their knowledge of vocabulary, especially when combined with topics the students can relate to. Considering the fact that repetition works best when attached to concepts a dyslectic can enjoy, it would be very useful to play the CD as many times as required. This will allow them to find the correct answers without feeling pressured or overwhelmed.


All in all, the performance of adolescent dyslexics in English, on a larger scale, but in exams more specifically, can be enhanced, even allowed to reach its highest potential, if the teacher follows certain pathways when employing methodology designed for the particular needs of the students. Mainly, combining teaching techniques and learning structures aimed at encouraging the students to become active participants, and enjoy not only the learning process but also, the fruit of their own labor at every lesson.

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