Professor Angela Fawcett, Liz Horobin, Dr Kate Saunders| View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Supporting dyslexic pupils with spelling

Spelling is one of the greatest and most entrenched difficulties for children and adults with dyslexia. Many children with dyslexia will improve their reading skills but their spelling will remain severely impaired. The type of error that dyslexic people make is likely to be more extreme than others, and they do not seem to have the ability to write down the word and then check that it is right.

It is not entirely clear what the basis of this difficulty is, although the orthographic complexity of the English language certainly plays a major role. This complexity means that knowledge of regular phoneme/grapheme correspondences are inadequate for tackling all of the words in the English language. Learners also need to have a knowledge of sight-words (e.g. the, said, was) and irregular spelling patterns (e.g. light, night fight, etc).

In order to spell words correctly, we have to be sure that children are hearing the individual sounds of the word correctly. We also have to be sure that sounds are being remembered in the correct order. These skills can be challenging for pupils who are experiencing difficulties with phonological processing and memory. A great deal of rehearsal and repetition may be required to practise auditory discrimination and to fix a clear representation of a word in the auditory memory of the dyslexic child.

For younger learners, multisensory over-learning again plays a key role. Children can be encouraged to write letters and words in sand trays, on each other’s backs, or in the air, while naming the letters out loud. (NB – because of the irregularity of the English language, it is more effective for children to spell out loud using letter names rather than by ‘sounding out’ the letters – think of the problems that arise if a child sounds out the word ‘was’ using regular phoneme-grapheme correspondences). Note, too, that cursive writing should be introduced at as early a stage as possible in order to aid the development of motor memory.

As children are required to spell longer words, they will need to develop an awareness and understanding of syllables. Singing (notice how each syllable usually has its own note), or clapping and tapping syllables will help pupils to hear individual syllables. Pointing out that a syllable almost always contains a vowel or vowel blend may help children who have a tendency to omit vowels from words.

Many irregular spellings in the English language fall into ‘word families’ (e.g. tough, rough, enough). Grouping such words together or asking pupils to draw a picture to represent words from the same family will help to reinforce these spelling patterns.

As vocabulary become more complex, explicit teaching of affixes and spelling rules associated with affixation will help. Cutting up words or using colour coding to emphasise prefixes, roots, and suffixes provides an effective visual device to reinforce memory.

Older dyslexic learners may also appreciate learning about the derivation of words and their spelling – again, this helps to provide a memory peg.

Further ideas and information about teaching spelling can be found in the MESH Guide to Spelling.