Kate Griggs is the founder and CEO of global charity Made By Dyslexia and she’s here to share her expert tips to help dyslexics learn tricky spellings.
If you’re dyslexic, it can feel like your spellings have a mind of their own. 89% of dyslexics struggle with spelling and grammar. Dyslexic brains are ‘wired’ slightly differently, meaning they have a different way of processing information. This difference results in a pattern of strengths like critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence and communication skills. It also results in challenges affecting traditional learning such as learning to read, write and spell, as well as things like remembering lots of facts and figures or concentrating and following instructions.
This can make school particularly frustrating for dyslexic children. Things like spelling are often the skills that children are assessed on and benchmarked against, or which people generally link to intelligence. This can make dyslexic children feel as if they’re not as smart as their peers, which can, in turn, make others think that too.
To be good at spelling, punctuation and grammar you have to learn and memorise a series of information, skills and rules. Challenges with memory systems make it difficult for dyslexics to learn and apply these rules, which is why tests are particularly tricky for dyslexic kids and can make them feel embarrassed or even stupid, which they are NOT! When a spelling or grammar mistake is made, others are often all too quick to pick dyslexics up on it and call us out for carelessness, for not checking our work. But if dyslexia is spotted in kids early and they are given the right support, they can and will do well -and there are things we can do to help dyslexics learn tricky spelling.
5 tips to teach your child’s brain to learn and remember tricky spelling:
Can you make a silly sentence?
A mnemonic is a silly sentence, where the first letter of every word matches the letters of the tricky spelling. Imagining, saying and hearing these silly sentences help our dyslexic brains to remember tricky spellings right. e.g to spell ‘competition’:
cats only meet pandas every tuesday if they ice-skate on neptune
Ask your child to make up their own. One mnemonic can unlock lots of words that follow the same pattern. e.g
Oh U Lucky Duck
can help to spell lots of words with the same ending, like could, would and should.
Can you spell words in a tray of shaving foam, sand or glitter?
A multisensory approach works brilliantly for dyslexic brains. Getting ‘hands on’ helps children learn better and memorise the word effectively. Even just using your fingers to spell a word in the air can be helpful.
Can you make the word in play doh?
Lots of children who are Made By Dyslexia are born to ‘make’. So getting hands on can help us engage with the spellings we’re shaping.
Can you make up a silly song? Or a dance?
For children who learn through movement and music, singing and dancing is a great way to teach our dyslexic brains the rules our working memory struggles to hold on to.
Make a word jigsaw.
If you are spelling words with the same ending, try writing each one on a piece of card. Then cut the word in half. Mix them up. Now put them back together again.
Spot dyslexic thinking early in kids
It’s really important to spot dyslexic thinking early in kids so you can offer them the right support for challenges and adapt the way you teach them to how they will learn best – like with these tricky spelling tips. This is key to building their self-esteem. Because otherwise, they lose confidence in themselves and their ability to learn. There is a real danger that when children find things challenging that their friends find easy, they lose heart and mistakenly believe they are less able or less intelligent than their peers (when neither is the case). Not being taught to recognise their valuable way of thinking, and using it to their advantage, means many dyslexics never fully realise their potential. And that is something we can and MUST change. After all, Nine in 10 dyslexics have poor spelling, punctuation and grammar but are great writers, proving that with the right support, children Made By Dyslexia can and will succeed. That’s why Made By Dyslexia has created our free online dyslexia awareness training films, so parents and teachers around the world can gain the knowledge they need to begin to support their children.
Give lots of praise
It’s also important to remember when teaching dyslexic children things they find challenging to give them lots of praise. Research suggests that we are most motivated to improve when we hear negative and positive comments in a ratio of 1:5. That’s five pieces of praise for every one negative comment. Even if certain things are challenging, or progress is slow, each small win – like learning to spell a new word – should be celebrated. It’s also vital to acknowledge and highlight Dyslexic Strengths in every dyslexic child, so these children can experience the success they deserve too.
Kate Griggs is the founder and CEO of global charity Made By Dyslexia and author of dyslexia guide This is Dyslexia (Penguin, £11.99) and children’s book Xtraordinary People: Made By Dyslexia (Penguin, £6.99).