Teaching Letters to Dyslexics

Recently I was blogging about how using an image of a “person, place, thing or animal”  to represent a letter of the alphabet was confusing for a dyslexic child trying to memorize and print letters.

Often you will notice in classrooms or workbooks that a picture of an animal or object is used to help the child learn what a letter stands for.  This can create a problem for a student because they can end up thinking  the picture with the letter represents what  the letter is.  Then when they are  trying to put the letters in a word together they are seeing a jumble of animals or objects in their minds connected to the letters.  This can completely confuse them when trying to understand that letters are symbols and when placed in a specific order represent a word in our language.

I came across this clipart above and found it to be a perfect example of how this teaching method can be so devastating to a dyslexic child trying to learn to spell.  If a dyslexic child memorizes this image and statement “F is for FROG who lives in a pond” then to them an “F” is a frog who is living in a pond.   Every time from that point forward when they see an “F” they will imagine a frog!

A better way to help them learn their letters is to have them print or “draw”  the images of the letters several times and say the name of the letter out loud as they print.  You should always have an image of the letters in front of them as they are practicing.  This helps to stimulate memory because you are using the visual, auditory and kinesthetic .  Dyslexics often have trouble with drawing the letters neatly so start with a practice sheet with dotted letters to trace.  Then use a sheet with a single letter printed on each line for them to copy and leaving room to draw them several times.   Take a look at a portion of an example:

You can download a free full set of copies in a pdf format for the Upper and Lower Case Letters at this link:

Alphabet Practice Sheets for Dyslexics

Then begin to introduce sight reading which is learning a whole word as an image for the word.   Have the student practice drawing the whole word and saying its name so they learn that a specific sequence of  letters  represents  a specific word.  For example, take the word “Frog” to practice with.  Print the word on a piece of paper in large black letters and then have the student practice printing it several times.  As they are printing it have them say the word out loud each time.  This process  of  using the three senses (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) again will help them memorize the image of the word so they are more able to spell the word on their own and identify it in a list of words or in a passage they are reading.

So a better version of the above image would be to have the word “FROG” instead of  “F” with the statement “FROG lives in a pond”.

One more consideration.  When teaching them their letters and using them in words it is always best to start with printing all capitals, then  small letters, continue on to capital letters with small letters and then finish with cursive writing.  This process should be gradual so they can make the adjustment from upper and lower case and then mixed such as capitalizing  names or the first word in a sentence. Learning these skills could take a few day or months depending on the student’s specific issues so don’t hurry.

Many dyslexics however, have a really difficult time trying to master cursive writing.  Connecting the letters together is very confusing since they learned them as separate images and joining them together is a significant departure from what they have learned initially.  If it is a real issue, rather than trying to force this form of writing on a dyslexic, let it go.  If they can learn to print and/or use a computer, that is all they need.

If you are interested in more information I have a blog entry that discusses the confusion of working  with upper and lower case letters.  Click here to check it out.  We also have lots of solutions and ideas for these issues with learning letters and spelling words on our website:  Dyslexia Victoria Online


Karen L Hope

14 thoughts on “Teaching Letters to Dyslexics

  1. Children under 4 do best learning concretely. Counting with objects make sense. That is real. Numbers are real, numerals are not. They will connect quicker with numerals when numbering things are involved. Concrete, concrete, concrete.

    But seriously, he is really young to be doing what he is doing. Most kids don’t really get going on letters and numbers until after 4. He sounds brilliant to me.

    Regarding my son who was talking well at one. It was bizarre, my children were not tall so he almost looked like an infant walking and talking. I probably could have made money off of him as a sideshow. People were really curious. Really ticked off the other one who was not talking. So here is an interesting addition to the non talker’s story. He started to lisp when he began to talk. Quite common with Dyslexics. Doctor said not to worry about it, it would straighten out in time. When he was in kindergarten they asked me if he could work with a speech pathologist in the school to correct his lisp. I said sure. When he came home from school he asked me why he was seeing this person. I told him it was to help with his lisp. What is a lisp, he demanded. Well, it’s when you say words with a “th”. Is that wrong he demanded again. Well, not wrong, just not clear speaking. So it’s wrong. Well….. The next day I get a call from the speech pathologist. Was Casey (my son) having her on with the lisping? No, he’s lisped since 3. Well he isn’t lisping now. She didn’t believe me. So I guess with a 168 IQ one can make changes. He never did lisp again except pasghetti which isn’t lisping and another word I can’t remember. Amazing. He always has been a handful. What is interesting is he never has been one to be an excessive talker. Very restrained. The younger one, on the other hand, has never stopped, much to the irritation of many teachers when he was growing up.

  2. Such interesting story, really!
    Yes, I understand the alphabet numbers skill is rather unusual. If you google early alphabet recognition, you get either gifted or autistic! So since there is the mild speech delay, I jumped into the spectrum route.
    But…no one thinks he is on the spectrum. He has great joint attention and appropriate interest in kids,so after lots of worry, he is probably not. He is very active though, and I am always amazed how he even learns anything, because he just never stops to listen.
    He just really showed interest in the “academic” concepts on his own, and he will be going to preschool soon…he won’t have much to learn other than social skills (which is most important anyway).
    Other funny things of note…pointing to apple computer sign and saying “apple”…or a little drawing of circle with a dot and a tail was “fish”…I felt that maybe this is quite abstract for 20 months old….but the silly speech delay did occupy my time…so I never thought of Oh maybe he is just smart!

  3. I guess I should clarify…he was tested and he is not showing ASD red flags. So the psychologist said ok you have no family history of adhd or any other condition, and he sounds smart…he is probably gifted :)

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