Strategies for specific problem areas

Developing phonological processing skills

Phonological processing can be developed by a variety of methods. For example:

Rhyming and alliteration – suitable techniques range from simple rhyming songs and games to more structured activities involving making books with rhyming or alliterative themes, playing rhyming snap or odd-one-out games with pictures and objects; using plastic letters to discover and create rhyming word families.

Deletion of the first sound (e.g. near–ear) or of the last sound (e.g. party–part), or of whole syllables (e.g. sayingalligator without the all).

Elision of the middle sound (e.g. snail–sail) or syllable (‘alligator without the ‘ga’).

Correspondence – e.g. tapping out the number of syllables in a word.

Recommended computer-based activities for practising phonological skills include Tizzy’s Toybox, Talking Animated Alphabet, Letterland and Sounds and Rhymes.

In general, younger students respond well to phonological training activities and skills swiftly improve. However, some dyslexic students may have more persistent difficulties that will require particularly careful literacy teaching. In such cases, a well-structured multisensory approach incorporating plenty of practice in phonic skills (over-learning) is recommended (see Developing phonic decoding skills). Without phonological training, many students with such weaknesses are liable to develop an over-reliance on visual (whole word) and contextual strategies in reading (especially if they are bright). They can easily slip through the net, only to re-appear as a student who is failing in reading and spelling later in their schooling.

Developing auditory memory

Memory limitations are more difficult to improve by direct training, especially with younger students, than are weaknesses in phonological processing. Older students can respond well to metacognitive approaches to memory improvement, i.e. techniques designed to promote understanding of their own memory limitations and to develop appropriate compensatory strategies (Buzan, 2006; Reid, 2016). However, that does not mean that memory training is not worthwhile with young students. Indeed, it may well be the case that with improved training techniques, remediation of memory weaknesses could turn out to be a much more promising approach in the future. The emphasis should be on variety and on stretching the student steadily with each training session. The tasks should not be too easy for the student (which would be boring) nor much too difficult (which would be discouraging), but they should give just the right amount of challenge to motivate the student to maximum effort. Use of prizes, star charts for improvement, etc., should all be used if these will help motivation. Activities can usually be carried out at home as well as in school. Competition can be motivating for some students, but it can also be discouraging for the student with severe difficulties, because they will easily perceive and be embarrassed by the discrepancy between their performance and that of others.

Auditory sequential memory training activities include:

I went to the supermarket – teacher says sentences of increasing length and complexity and the student has to repeat these back verbatim (e.g. ‘I went to the supermarket and bought three tins of beans, one loaf of bread, a carton of milk, a packet of sweets, two bars of chocolate....’ etc.)

Find the changed (or missing) word – teacher says sequences of words to the student (e.g. dog, cat, fish, monkey, spider) and then repeats it changing one (or missing one out altogether), either slightly or more obviously (e.g. dog, cat, fox, monkey, spider) and the student has to identify the change.

What’s their job? – teacher says to the student a list of name-occupation associations (e.g. ‘Mr Pearce the painter, Mrs Jolly the teacher, Mr Fish the hairdresser, Miss Brown the electrician’) and then asks for recall of one (e.g. ‘Who was the teacher?’ or ‘What is Miss Brown’s job?’).

Word repetition – teacher says sequences of unrelated words to the student (e.g. hat, mouse, box, cup, ladder, tree, biscuit, car, fork, carpet) and the student has to repeat them in the correct order. The length of the list can be gradually extended. If the words are semantically related it is more difficult, and if they are phonologically related (e.g. fish, film, fog, fun, phone, finger) it is more difficult still. 

Phoneme repetition – as word repetition, but with phonemes (‘oo, v, s, er, d’). Note that phonologically similar lists will be much more difficult (e.g. ‘p, b, k, d, t’)

Letter name repetition – as word repetition, but with letter names.

Digit repetition – as word repetition, but with digits. About one per second is the maximum difficulty for short sequences. Slightly faster or slower rates are both, generally, easier to remember, but dyslexics tend to find a slower sequence harder (because their rehearsal processes in working memory are deficient).

A good computer program for developing auditory sequential memory is Mastering Memory.

Developing phonic decoding skills

For the reasons explained above, the student who displays major difficulties in auditory memory is likely to have problems in acquiring effective phonic skills. The recommendation here would be for a highly-structured multisensory phonic approach to literacy learning. This should not only provide ample practice to compensate for memory weakness but should also make use of the student’s strong visual skills in order to reinforce learning and help to maintain confidence.

Examples of well-structured multisensory phonics schemes suitable for students with dyslexic difficulties include Alpha to Omega, Toe by Toe, The Bangor Dyslexia Teaching System, The Phonics Handbook, Sound Linkage, Spelling Made Easy, The Hickey Multisensory Language Course, Star Track Readingand Spelling, Sounds-Write and Sound Discovery.

Good computer software for practising phonic skills includes: Wordshark 5, Talking Animated Alphabet, Nessy and Lexia

Developing visual memory

It is widely acknowledged that the predominant problems found in dyslexic students are phonological rather than visual. Indeed, dyslexic individuals often have excellent visual skills. Nevertheless, teachers and educational psychologists are not infrequently confronted by cases of young students who appear to have inordinate difficulties in remembering various types of information presented visually. With students under eight years, this will tend to show up on Rapid in the results of the visual-verbal sequential memory subtest (Crayons).

Structured phonics work, with ample practice (over-learning), will compensate for visual memory weaknesses. A multisensory approach is strongly recommended, building on any auditory and kinaesthetic strengths (see Developing phonic decoding skills).

The following are suggested training activities for students with poor visual memory or poor visual-verbal sequential memory:

Find the missing part – create pictures of everyday things with parts of the pictures missing (e.g. doll with one arm, table with only three legs) and ask the student to identify what is missing. To do this the student has to recall visual images of the relevant objects.

What’s wrong here – use pictures of everyday things with parts of the pictures wrong (e.g. house with the door halfway up the wall; person with feet pointing backwards instead of forwards) and ask the student to identify what is wrong. To do this the student has to recall visual images of the relevant objects.

Kim’s game – place an array of familiar objects on a tray (or picture of an array of objects). The student scans this for two minutes (or whatever period of time is appropriate) and then has to remember as many as possible.

Symbols – show the student a sequence of symbols, letters or shapes of increasing length, and then jumble them up and the student has to rearrange them in the correct order.

Who lives here? – make a set of pictures of people (these may be cut from magazines) and a set of houses of different colours, or different appearance in some way. The people are matched with the houses, and then jumbled up. The student has to rearrange them in the correct relationship. If the people are given names then the task relies more on visual-verbal integration.

Pelmanism – put pairs of cards upside down and jumble them up. Pelmanism is a game of remembering matching pairs of cards from a set, when cards are individually turned over and then turned back. The student has to remember where the other one of the pair is, and if both are located these are removed from the set, and so on.

Card games – e.g. Snap, Happy Families.

A good computer program for developing visual memory skills is Mastering Memory.