Five Critical Elements For Success with the Dyslexic Student

The first step is making sure students of any age are ready to read. Readiness begins with phonological awareness (the auditory skills that are necessary for reading such as rhyming, listening for beginning sounds, final sounds and vowel sounds, sound blending, unblending, and sound substitution). In addition, students must learn letter names, letter sounds, and be able to write the letters. The Sound Signs and SymPics programs are very useful for developing reading readiness.


Developing skills in phonics is important to take much of the guesswork out of reading. Students learn about the Alphabetic Principle (the letter-sound connection) and the dependable patterns for both reading and spelling. In addition to knowing letters and their sounds, there are specific rules and dependable patterns that apply to at least 85% of English words. All students, particularly those with dyslexia or a learning difference, benefit from learning syllable types, syllable division strategies, dependable patterns, and spelling rules.


Phonics (Orton-Gillingham-based) reading materials are structured to begin at a very basic level and move forward in small steps. To begin a reading program, students learn letter sounds for a few short vowels and a limited number of consonants. They practice sounding out and spelling one-syllable words. In a step-by-step fashion, more consonant and vowel sounds are added, and the level of difficulty is increased until students are reading paragraphs in a story format containing multi-syllable words. Gradually, more advanced letter combinations, reading and spelling concepts, dependable patterns, and rules or “Secret Codes” are introduced and practiced. Golden Gate Reading and Spelling is structured in this way.

Repetition, Practice:

It is very effective to start each classroom reading lesson with a review of all the letter names, letter sounds, dependable patterns, and Secret Codes taught to that point. A daily practice with a card deck (the reading and spelling warm-up) increases speed, accuracy, and automaticity of responses. These review activities provide the necessary practice for learning to occur, and struggling readers will be less likely to forget what has been taught so far. It is also important to provide lots of reading and spelling practice for each new concept, rule, or pattern taught.


Sound Signs and Secret Codes make any program multisensory and fun. Sound Signs are hand signs that help students remember letter sounds. Secret Codes (with hand signals) are recited as part of the daily warm-up to help students remember syllable types (vowel pronunciation rules), syllable/word division strategies, and spelling rules. These multisensory memory devices can increase the level of interest and the learning rate for students with learning differences.

Discovery Learning:

We recommend that teachers help students discover dependable patterns and rules as they progress through any reading program. The teacher facilitates these discoveries by asking questions and providing clues such as: What do you notice about all these words? How are they alike? I wonder what the pattern is. Do you notice anything about the sound these letters make?