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Developing Writing Skills for Students with Dyslexia

Like reading, writing is a complex process that requires students to multitask.  In fact, all students must master a number of fundamental skills before they can be expected to become competent writers. However, for students with dyslexia, the process can be even more challenging as their learning disability may impact cognitive tasks such as spelling, word finding, as well as the formulation and organization of ideas.

What are the Fundamental Skills Required to Write?
The fundamental skills include:
  • Transferring the inner voice into words on the page - spelling
  • Formulation of letters or typing skills
  • Access to a rich vocabulary and creative ideas
  • Awareness of grammar, sentence structure, and literary elements
  • Cognizance of transitions, and paragraph structure  
What are the Key Features to Consider When Teaching Students with Dyslexia?
  • Help Students Learn to Automaticity: The fundamental skills required for writing must be done simultaneously, therefore, to become efficient and effective writers, many of these tasks must be mastered to a degree of automaticity.  In other words, students should be able to do these tasks with little thought or effort.  If the fundamental skills are not fully learned, student will not have enough cognitive space to unite these skills and write.   
  • Make Learning Multisensory: Integrating as many of the 12 Ways of Learning into your lesson plans will help students' encode the needed skills.  Here is a free Prezi that reviews these diverse teaching modalities.
  • Include Enjoyable Activities in the Learning Process:  Consider what your students love to do and integrate that into lessons about writing.  For example, if Peter likes to draw, get him to create a story board where he illustrates pictures that represent the sequence of ideas.  If Sue likes balls, consider brainstorming ideas while tossing a ball back and forth.  If legos are popular, place adjectives on red pieces, nouns on yellow pieces, verbs on green pieces and so forth and then have fun joining them to create silly sentences.  Finally, come learn about how to make free word collages and wriggle writing to increase the fun factor.
  • Play Games that Allows Students to Practice their Lessons: Play sentence building games such as DK Games: Silly Sentences and Smethport Tabletop Magnetic Sentence Builders. You can also master grammar skills with games like Grammar Games Glore and the Best of Mad Libs. If you want to develop creative writing abilities consider the writing game Show Don't Tell.
  • Teach the 5 Ws:  The 5 Ws are questions students can ask themselves when they are trying to formulate the whole story. Who is it about?  What happened?  When did it take place? Where did it take place?  Why did it happen?  If you would like to practice this, consider the game The 5 Ws Detectives.
  • Teach Students to Visualize before Writing: One of the best ways to bring the fun factor into writing is to have students visualize the setting, characters and plot before they begin writing.  Then all they have to do is paint the images with words.  If you need to develop this skill, consider teaching this skills with products like Mindful Visualization for Education.
  • Teach Grammar and Literary Devices: Here are a number of tools that can be used to help students master grammar and literary devices: A Writer's ReferenceThe Giggly Guide to Grammar Student Edition, Word ShuffleMastering Literary Devices, and Grammar Games Glore.
  • Expand and Develop Vocabulary: There are many tools that can help students to broaden their vocabulary.  Workbooks like Wordly Wise 3000, or free sites like Free Rice, can develop this skill.  What I really love about Free Rice is that students work is reinforced because for each correct answer, the site donates 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.  Also, teaching students how to use a thesaurus to vary word choice and learn new words is a terrific strategy that they will use for the rest of their lives.
  • Teach about Transitional Words, Phrases and Sentences: It is also important to instruct students about transitional words, phrases, and sentences so that their writing is understandable and flows from one idea to the next.  Here is a free transitional word sheet, and if you would like some activities to develop this skill consider Categorizing, Paragraph Building and Transitional Words Activity.
  • Use a Scaffolding Approach:  Like a scaffolding that supports a weak building, adults can help students develop their writing skills by assisting young learners with the process of writing.  For example, if handwriting is labored and monopolizes a student's attention, acting as a secretary for a student can lessen the cognitive load so that he or she can learn some other aspects of writing such as the development and organization of ideas.  If you would like to learn more about scaffolding, read The Joy of Writing: A Scaffolding Approach.
  • Analyze Good Sentences and Paragraphs:  Look at sample sentences and paragraphs from each student's favorite books and talk about what makes the author such a great writer.
  • Use Software to Help with the Writing Process:  My favorite products are Kidspiration (for K-3) and inspiration (4-adult).  These two programs help students generate and organize ideas.  They offer the full software for free for one month.
  • Teach the Formula Behind Writing:
  1. Sequence the Steps: It is important to also review the steps required to formula sentences and paragraphs.  Here is a free Prezi that reviews the sequence required to write a 5 paragraph essay.
  2. Teach about Main Ideas and Details:  Each new paragraph introduces a main idea that is then supported with details.  Therefore, teaching students how to formulate main ideas and details is a vital step in teaching the writing process.  I have two games that teach kids how to generate main ideas and details.  The first publication, the Main I-Deer, offers instruction on main ideas and details as well as two games.  The second publication is a game, Hey, What’s the Big Idea.
  3. Provide Graphic Organizers: Graphic organizers help students to visually brainstorm, organize and connect ideas before writing.  There are many sites that offer free graphic organizers to help students with the writing process.  In addition, it's always a great idea to help students create their own graphic organizers.  Come learn how to create your own templates.
I hope this was helpful.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to &  

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