Understanding Dyslexia in the Upper Elementary Classroom

Dyslexia is not going away. Research shows that 1 in every 5 students have some form of dyslexia. (learningally.org) Although there is not a cure, there are many strategies for parents, educators, and even curriculum designers to help children with dyslexia be successful scholars. Read on to find out the truth and myth about dyslexia, what it looks like in the upper elementary classroom, and what strategies work.

What is dyslexia and the myth behind it?

People who haven't had the correct education about dyslexia tend to think it is reversing letters and numbers in writing. That is far from the truth. So what is dyslexia?

According to the International Dyslexia Association, "Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services." (DyslexiaIDA.org)

What does dyslexia look like in an upper elementary classroom?

Dyslexia in an upper elementary classroom may look different than in a primary classroom. Teachers should intervene if they see any of the following signs:

  • difficulty reading aloud or silently
  • struggling academically
  • not participating
  • not paying attention
  • can't keep up with note-taking
  • poor spelling
  • getting frustrated trying to organize a written response or paper
  • incorrect language-related math problems 
  • having memory difficulties (forgets homework, what month it is, phone number, math facts, vocabulary)
  • having poor planning and organization skills
  • lacking self-confidence
  • poor handwriting
  • avoiding difficult tasks

What strategies work well with dyslexia in upper elementary students?

Although there are many interventions and strategies to help children with dyslexia, I found the lists at Dyslexiahelp.umich.edu and Dyslexiaida.org to be extremely helpful for upper elementary students. Here are just a few highlighted strategies for parents, teachers, and curriculum designers!


Parents can be an integral part of the child's learning process. Start off with these simple tips to help your child:

Communicate:  First and foremost, parents need to share any private testing with their child's teacher. That way parents and teachers can work together to find successful strategies for the child. Talk to the school to discuss an individual plan and goals.

Small Chunks: When helping children study for tests, focus on a small chunk of the information at a time. Breaking large amounts of information will be less threatening to the child.

Repetition: Review content over a period of several days. Repeat directions for projects.

Simplify: Reword directions and teacher expectations in a more simplified manner.

Study Area: Provide a quiet, organized area where the child can work without distractions and has the neccessary tools needed to complete the task.


There is a plethora of resources for educators that provide ideas and stratgies to guide dyslexic students through a successful year. Here are a few to get started:

Step-By-Step Instruction:  When teaching any skill, break it down and start with the simplest steps. For example, when teaching THEME, start with story elements. Then step into the main idea, summarizing, topics, lessons, and then theme. Why? Students will understand it better if you start with the basics and scaffold to the more difficult skill. They need to know story elements to understand theme. On my Rockin Resources blog, I show step-by-step approaches to teaching text evidence, allusions, inference, cause and effect and theme is in the works!

Differentiation: Differentiating assignments can be a game changers for dyslexic students. Are they reading at a different level? Do they need typed notes? Do they need different line spacing? Do they need a smaller assignment? There are so many ways to help dyslexic children be successful through differentiating. It is a powerful tool that doesn't take away from the outcome, assignment goals, or the standards! Grab this freebie in my store. It has differentiated reading levels, question formats, and fonts! LEARN ABOUT DIFFERENTIATION WITH THESE BLOG POSTS.

Organization:  Explicitly teach students organization. It will help them plan out their writing, project, or assignment. Graphic organizers are effective tools for organizing! They can be used for taking notes, brainstorming ideas, reading comprehension and more!

Highlighting: Provide students with text that can be highlighted. It is known that dyslexic students can benefit from highlighting text when looking for answers and it is also helpful when the teacher highlights important information for them prior to a discussion about the text.

Simplify Important Information:  Are you giving a big assignment? After reviewing the directions with the class, simplify the directions for these students. Are you having a large unit test? After teaching the content, simplify it for these students. Give them key points and important vocabulary. This will break down the amount of information to study and help them learn the content without getting frustrated.

More strategies for teachers can be found HERE!

Curriculum Designers

Not only can curriculum designers provide explicit step-by-step instructions and differentiation in their resources, but they can offer the text with a Dyslexic Font!  Say what? A Dyslexic Font? Yes, there is such a thing. Dyslexic fonts have been created, tried, and tested. Here is a free font download at OpenDyslexic.org. I decided to test it out in the same freebie in my store so if you are curious, go check it out.

Thank you for visiting us at Upper Elementary Snapshots! We hope that you find useful teacher tips and information! VISIT ME AT ROCKIN RESOURCES FOR MORE TEACHING IDEAS! I believe all students should have the opportunity to learn!

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