“Boxing Words” to help Dyslexics Learn to Spell

Gen, my dyslexic daughter who started my search for answers.

Gen, my dyslexic daughter who started my search for answers to understand Dyslexia and how to manage it.

When my daughter Genevieve and my other two children were assessed as having Dyslexia back in the 1980’s I began a long journey to find ways to teach them. The school system in California did not have any programs for their learning difference so I had to look else where for ideas.

Not much was known about Dyslexia at the time but I was fortunate to meet many interesting people in the San Francisco area who were studying Dyslexia and working with children and adults to help them with their learning problems. We tried all kinds of therapy; some worked, some worked a little and others not so much.

One surprising and extremely simple idea was given to me by a teacher from a school called New Horizon School and Learning Center in Santa Rosa, northern California for kids with learning disabilities. I had heard good things about them so I gave them a call. The person I spoke to suggested I bring my daughter in and they would see what they could do to help her (New Horizon provided assistance that provided insight to help me understand my daughter and taught me how to teach her successfully!). One idea she told me over the phone along with some tweaks of my own over the years became one of my best tools working with Dyslexic children.

"Boxing Words" to help Dyslexics learn to Spell

“Boxing Words” to help Dyslexics learn to Spell

Gen, a fifth grader at the time,  was a very poor speller. The lady from the school suggested trying an experiment to show Gen a different way to remember spelling words. She told me to get a yellow piece of paper and print a word on it in large thick letters in felt pen she didn’t know how to spell. Then she told me to have Gen sit looking straight ahead and hold the yellow paper with the printed word up and to the left of her head. Then as she is staring forward she moves her eyes up to the piece of paper. As she is looking at the yellow paper with her body and head sitting straight and eyes up and to the left she looks at the word, says it, and then reads the letters out loud right to left and then left to right (frontwards and backwards). Gen repeats this process 3 times. Then closes her eyes, imagines the yellow paper and word printed on it. She says the word aloud again and says the letters she sees in her mind frontwards and then— backwards!

I kind of scoffed at this but I thought worth a try. I had tried a lot crazier things with my kids. I decided to pick a  long multi-syllabic word because of course I didn’t believe it could work. I put Gen through the process that had been described to me and she did it – frontwards and backwards – easily. There is extensive research on eye movement and what it means as far as  memories and imagining things. However I haven’t found any conclusive evidence on what eye movement means but lots of speculation such as this article: http://www.livescience.com/1473-moving-eyes-improves-memory-study-suggests.html.

The lady I talked to from the school said memory could be aided by looking up to the left. This was back in the 80’s and I don’t know if this is true but what I learned, in my opinion, it is important to have Dyslexics visualize something as a picture with parts in order to retain it. So a word is a complete picture with parts (the letters). The colored paper helps them create an image of the word in their mind by providing a background and the colour helps the word stand out.

Over the years through research and experimentation I have found a way to accomplish memorizing words effectively with this method with a few changes and additions. This method has been called “boxing words” or “word boxing” by some teachers I have talked to over the years. I have been trying to find some information on the net about boxing and this article is as close as I have gotten so far:   http://www.visualspatial.org/files/app2spell.pdf

I describe my method in one of our manuals called “14 Steps to Teach Dyslexics how to Spell and Read”. All the Dyslexic children I have worked with have been able to visualize words this way. Boxing words for DyslexicsThe image here of the word “dog” on the blue paper is how we create  flash cards for “boxing”. This type of practice will help a Dyslexic visualize words in their minds so they can start to retain them. The 14 Steps has 13 other practice methods to help Dyslexics improve their spelling  and reading fluency.

14 Steps to teach Dyslexics how to Spell & Read

14 Steps to teach Dyslexics how to Spell & Read

Try it. If you have difficulties trying to do this exercise, email me at khope@dyslexiavictoria.ca
Karey Hope
Co-founder Dyslexia Victoria Online
Karey Hope deGraaf of Dyslexia Victoria Online

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“WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?” Dyslexia Victoria Online is introducing videos on Dyslexia Awareness, Teaching, Accommodations & Resources

We are introducing a series of videos about Dyslexia awareness, teaching and learning strategies, accommodations, computer programs and resources for children and adults. If you are interested please email us at: khope@dyslexiavictoria.ca”.

We are also planning to have some webinars and involve people in the discussion portions of the webcast.
We welcome you to join us!

Cheers! Happy New Year!
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

The Story of a Dyslexic Mother and Daughter

I would like to tell you a story.
Twenty-four years ago when my daughter, Genevieve was in grade two, I was called in for a meeting with her teacher. He told me that he suspected that she had a reading problem and he thought it might be “dyslexia”. I had heard the term when I was in university studying to become a teacher but I didn’t know anything about it.


He wanted me to talk to the teacher in charge of the program for slow readers. She did some tests on Gen and then told me she was setting up an appointment with a specialist for learning disabilities. More tests followed and then I was told that Gen was very bright and most likely dyslexic. She also said there was no assistance or tutoring help in the school system for her problem.

This was the beginning of a very long and frustrating journey.

The internet was not available back in the 1980’s and very little was known about dyslexia. It was also difficult finding anyone in my children’s education system that really believed it existed. Most teachers, principals and school psychologists who make up the majority of the individuals at an IEP(Individualized Education Program) meeting told me my expectations were too high for my child.


I said if she couldn’t read, write or do basic math she couldn’t even work at a gas station! My expectations were too high… can you imagine? I even had one school psychologist tell me about a girl with dyslexia she knew in middle school who was a cheerleader, an artist and very popular. She told me the girl seemed very happy and wasn’t concerned about her spelling and reading problems. I asked her how being a cheerleader, artist and being popular was going to help in the REAL world?

Realizing the schools would be no help I started to look for tutors or specialists in the phone book. I found a a woman who was running a school for dyslexics and had  her assess Gen.  She confirmed that she was dyslexic.  It was explained to me that she needed to have everything taught to her in whole and real images, not abstract. Also a dyslexic sees the complete picture of something first and then the parts. Think of the expression “forest before the trees”. People who are dyslexic would need to understand what a forest is in its entirety before they could identify, see or visualize the individual trees. Learning in whole concrete images or concepts is the key to their thinking and learning style and how a right-brained individual processes information.

So I started to explain everything to her with real life concepts and when I taught her a new piece of information I gave her the whole idea first. I’ll give you an example. One day Gen was working on a arithmetic sheet in grade three. The exercise listed specific amounts of money like $1.00, 75 cents, $1.50, etc. The directions asked what six coins (pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, etc.) would you need to add up to those amounts. This was too abstract for her. She couldn’t begin to imagine what those coins would be. I got her a jar of change, poured the coins out in front of her. She knew what coins were because they were real, she knew what to use them for and how much they were worth because she had bought items from stores with me. I then said count up different coins until they added up to the amounts on her sheet. So a $1.00 could be 3 quarters, 2 dimes and one nickel. She understood immediately and went through the exercise sheet in minutes!

Suddenly after years of confusion she could be taught! This was the start of FINALLY understanding my daughter and how she thinks and how she learns.

From there I found some help from tutors who worked with dyslexics,  I read any books on the subject I could find and anyone  who had some ideas. I started to come up with ways to help her with her class work and how to work with the left-brained teaching methods she was being taught at school.  She was able to follow the teacher by knowing what questions she needed to ask to understand and comprehend what was being taught and what was expected of her.

I also developed methods to teach her spelling, reading, arithmetic, telling time, etc. that helped her stay caught up with the class.

We had terrific success!

Genevieve successfully graduated high school with good grades and the ability to go on to college successfully.

We also had the rest of my kids, my husband and myself tested for dyslexia. We all have varying degrees of dyslexia. Turns out my father, my sister, one of my brothers and many of my husband’s family are also dyslexic.  We are all coping with it and many of us are using our “right-brain dyslexic gift” very effectively! I have discovered that being right-brained and dyslexic can be an incredible asset.

My three dyslexic children are now adults starting their own families. They are all doing very well in their fields of work and have overcome the stigma of dyslexia. They all can spell, read and write.

Today Genevieve manages our family fence construction business with 23 employees. She handles all aspects of the business which includes those skills she wasn’t able to do back in elementary school when we first became aware she was dyslexic. She is also married, has a husband and two children and somehow finds time to help family and friends with their problems!  Because she is right-brained , Gen has incredible problem-solving skills which is a trait of this learning and thinking style.

Any questions, I encourage you to please email me at: khope@dyslexiavictoria.ca or check out our website at: www.dyslexiavictoria.ca or www.dyslexiavictoriaonline.com

Thanks for listening.

Karen Hope