Reading Methods That Work With Dyslexia

by | Jan 13, 2015 | By The Subject | 26 comments

The bottom line in knowing how to teach kids with dyslexia to read is that there are methods and approaches that have been proven to work and those that haven’t.

Welcome back to day 3 of this 5-day series on Teaching Kids With Dyslexia to Read.  To read the entire series from the beginning, click here.

Today we’re talking about which teaching methods really work with dyslexics.  The majority of what I am telling you here was learned through years of researching the most effective ways to teach my own dyslexic kids how to read and, more recently, from my studies to become a certified Orton-Gillingham dyslexia tutor.  The bottom line in knowing how to teach kids with dyslexia to read is that there are methods and approaches that have been proven to work and those that haven’t.


The traditional methods that are readily available in forms ranging from inexpensive paperback books to elaborate game-based ‘systems’ won’t work with kids with dyslexia.  That is because people with dyslexia learn differently.  This post will briefly cover how and what to teach kids with dyslexia.  For more in depth information, including information on many of the ‘alternative treatments’, see my 1-hour course, Reading Instruction That Works.

The How of Teaching Reading to Dyslexic Kids

All people with dyslexia can learn to read with the right methods.  Effective methods must be:

Personalized:  People with dyslexia have similar difficulties but dyslexia can be mild, moderate or profound and it can affect other areas of learning such as spelling, writing, math, organization and attention or focus. An effective reading program will be personalized for the individual student.  In practical terms, this means that when you purchase a reading program to teach your dyslexic child at home, it will not just magically be a perfect fit for your child, even if it is an Orton-Gillingham-based program. You will need to modify it as you go. Some things will need more review and others they will master more quickly. Sometimes you will need to be creative and find ways that will help your child learn. By understanding the way your child learns best and the methods of teaching reading that work, you will have the skills you need to customize your child’s reading instruction at home.

Multi-sensory:  Reading instruction should include as many of the senses as possible: seeing, hearing, feeling (tactile), and awareness of motion (kinesthetic). The more senses used, the more areas of the brain that are going to be stimulated and more learning is going to take place.  By making instruction multi-sensory, say by building words with tiles and tapping the sounds to read, we are using sight, hearing, and feeling. For more troublesome tasks such as say learning sight words, we can add in more kinesthetic exercises like tapping on the arm to make information more sticky. The more senses used at once the better as well.

Direct and explicit: Everything in each lesson is explicitly taught – all content is explained to students – what is to be learned, why it is to be learned, and how it is to be learned. It should never be assumed that a dyslexic learner will infer information that has to do with reading. Everything must be taught, practiced and discussed.

Systematic:    I never fully understood this until I did my dyslexia certification course. What this means is that each rule, that is directly and explicitly taught, is taught in the same manner – or systematically. For example, when I teach the closed syllable – I teach the rule, provide a rule card for reference, demonstrate the rule with letter tiles and then word cards and have my child sort word cards with both open and closed syllables. Then when I teach each new syllable type (there are 6 or 7 depending on who you ask) I follow the same routine. The idea behind this is that the progression becomes familiar and less brainpower is used to grasp the method and is saved for the more important task such as remembering and practicing the rule being taught.  Also, lessons are the same every day.

Sequential and Cumulative: Instruction begins with the simplest of tasks and moves in a logical fashion to more complex tasks – only after mastery. So readers will not have any words that they cannot sound out with the rules that they have been taught. There will be plenty of practice that works the previously learned materials into the practice.

Synthetic and analytical: Synthetic refers to presenting the parts of language and showing how they can be put together to form different parts of language. For example, we have taught the sound-symbol correlation or phonics. Next, we teach how these sounds can be placed together to form words. Analytical is the opposite – this is providing a word and breaking it apart into its individual sounds. Going both directions, so to speak, can help a child really understand the material and is a precursor to spelling.

These attributes are the basis of the Orton-Gillingham approach. It is not a curriculum or a method per say. Rather they are what needs to be included in any instruction that is used with a dyslexic learner.

Best Reading Programs for Teaching Kids With Dyslexia

If you are like I was when I first began on my dyslexia journey, this post was completely overwhelming!  There is good news.  There are several affordable, effective, research-based programs that can be used at home without becoming a certified dyslexia tutor.  Here are our top picks:

All About Reading All About Reading and their spelling program All About Spelling are hands-on, simultaneously multisensory introduction into the written word. Every lesson comes with an engaging phonemic awareness activity that is so fun, your kids won’t know they are learning one of the most foundational skills of reading success. Lessons are completely scripted so there is little prep time for mom. The customer service at All About Learning Press is top notch. Specifically designed for the homeschooled student that struggles with reading. This program has all of the elements of an Orton-Gillingham research-based reading program. For more information, click the image below.


Barton Reading  Another one-on-one reading tutoring system, completely scripted for easy parent use and Orton-Gillingham based.

Logic of English  A comprehensive, completely scripted reading, spelling and grammar program based on the Orton-Gillingham approach.

The Wilson Program Not as user friendly as All About Reading/Spelling or Barton but an affordable, evidence-based program that really works.

Rewards  An intervention program for reading and writing designed for grades 6 and up. An excellent resource to increase fluency rates, deepen comprehension and increase precision in sentence writing.

AVKO Spelling  Teaches spelling by teaching the patterns of spelling. Some kids do better with this approach to spelling instruction.

For the Older Struggling Learner

Older struggling readers have the same problems as younger readers and need to learn and master the same skills. The good news is that all kids {and adults} can learn to read. The key is to find a program that is not ‘babyish’ and that systematically teaches at an intense enough pace to keep progress steady thus motivating the student. Reading Horizons is all of these things. Click here for more information, my review and purchase options.



The bottom line in knowing how to teach kids with dyslexia to read is that there are methods and approaches that have been proven to work and those that haven't.

Thank you for joining me here for day 3 of a 5-day series, How to Teach Kids With Dyslexia to Read.  Read the entire series from the beginning here.  Join us here tomorrow when we will talk about How to Teach Sight Words to Kids With Dyslexia.

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  1. natalia

    Thank you for such an informative post!!. I recently ( last week ) found out that my oldest son (7 years old) has Dyslexia. I started using All About Reading since August and I saw some progress during the first 4 months, now after coming back from vacations ( 3 weeks) no teaching I find that he has forgotten at least half of the rules :(. Could it be that I am doing something wrong? I appreciate your thoughts in this matter, THANK YOU!! 🙂

    • marianne

      Natalia. That sounds somewhat typical of a dyslexic learner. Take the time to go back and review. The first stages of learning to read take a while to establish. I have modified AAR to include a LOT more review. We can break up lessons or repeat them for up to 4-5 days. Just keep going back and reviewing the things he has forgotten. Try to make it fun, short and sweet.

  2. Kim

    Do you think AAR or Reading Horizons has worked better for your children? Since you have worked with them both, do you feel they offer the same elements that are necessary for dyslexic learners? or for reading in general? thanks

    • marianne

      Hi Again 😉
      It really depends on the age of the child. Our younger kids have done very well with AAR. I like it because I feel like it is teaching me how to teach them and make learning hands on and fun. Reading Horizons is more for older kids. I have all of our kids go through Reading Horizons at 10-11 years old and would repeat the program if I felt they were still lacking in fluency. In the younger years I prefer AAR to Reading Horizons, mainly because it is easier to use.

  3. Nancy

    Thank you for another great post! I’ve learned so much from your blog and website. Per your reviews, I started using AAR and AAS with my 3 dyslexic children (ages 5, 8, 10). I know I need to incorporate more review in both the reading and spelling for the 8 and 10 yo. Do you mind giving specific examples of how you review while still moving forward? My 10 yo gets frustrated when he doesn’t think we’re learning something new even though he’s still struggling with a implementing a concept. Currently it’s the silent e from level 2 of AAR. He understands the lesson and concept but still misreads the words. Any advice?

    • marianne

      If you need more review you can use the letter tiles and have him build words with the silent e rule. Also I find that there are a lot of free printable games on line that are good for review. I often save these types of games to my Teaching Reading board on Pinterest.

  4. Marcie

    Have you used Barton as well? I would love a comparison of the effectiveness between Barton and AAR (because obviously AAR is way more affordable, but Barton has such a stellar reputation). I want to feel confidant making my purchase decision but that is tricky because there is so many different opinions out there 🙂 Thanks!

    • MamaLibrarian

      Hi Marcie,
      You have probably already purchased curriculum for this year, but if you still have questions, I can tell you more about comparing Barton to AAR/AAS. Here’s the gist, from my experience: I too looked carefully at AAR and Barton, but ultimately tried Barton and am so happy with the results!

      I wanted to use AAR because it was less expensive! I borrowed it from a friend, and also tried the example lessons from other levels that are available online. I discovered that for my kid, AAR moves too quickly without enough review. We had already used The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking, aka “Riggs”, the author’s name, (another Orton-Gillingham program) prior to learning the my child has dyslexia. It also moved too quickly and did not provide the bite-sized repeated review that enables “over learning” which is what dyslexic kids often need. AAR/AAS reminded me of Riggs, but it is much more user-friendly!
      In the end I went with Barton, level 3. We were able to start there based on the placement test that I requested from them because my child had already been using a thorough Orton-Gillingham program (Riggs). I based my choice on the reviews and comments from other parents on The Well-Trained Mind Forums, specifically the “special needs” forum. We have used Barton for 9 months, and have completed a “review” of levels 1 & 2, level 3 and half of 4. Level 4 is a good bit harder than level 3, so several lessons have taken 2-3 weeks.
      In my opinion, Barton is worth every penny! It works. Not immediately, but slowly and surely. My child can now read Magic Tree House books without help. (She just began 3rd grade). When we started Barton in 2nd grade, she was still hacking through level 1 readers.
      Overall, if your child’s dyslexia is milder, or you are up for creating more review work, or if your child can tolerate repeating lessons, AAR should work. None of those applied to us! Overall Barton has not been super-expensive if you consider it spread over 9 months. Also, levels 1 & 2 are often available on EBay for a slight discount. Higher levels are not.
      Hope this helps if you are still thinking about these programs. If you have AAR/AAS, use it for a few months and decide if it works. If not, try Barton. Good Luck!

  5. Brenden

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience! My 9 and 8 yr olds are both dyslexics, but with completely different presentations. One struggles with reading and spelling and the other with processing writing (dysgraphia) and math facts/memory (dyscalculia). My third came along with no glitches and taught herself to read at 4 years old. Observing her has taught me SO MUCH MORE about the older two’s struggles. AAS has been a life saver, as well as the Reading Eggs online program. It is VERY strong on phoneme training, and is very motivating for older children who can earn the “egg” money by doing lessons and spend it in their virtual world. My struggling reader was highly motivated by this, and it is what got her over the hump of decoding words into phonemes. Each lesson is presented in the same way, with the same review games, and it is very regimented and highly visual. The 9yo reads beautifully, but struggles more with comprehension and processing. There is also a Reading Eggspress level that gives comprehension practice for readers as well.

  6. Gail

    Do you know if public schools are require to make accommodations for a child with dyslexia?

  7. Lisa

    How does the Sonday System compare to those mentioned in the article?

  8. Anka Popovich-Krstic

    I enjoyed reading your article, but am puzzled as to why you did not list Lindamood Intensive Phoneme Sequencing Program as one of the useful programs for teaching people who are dyslexic to read. I am an SLP who spent 3 years co-teaching in a speech-language learning disabilities classroom and a total of 45 years as an SLP teaching pre-K through adult level. I got certified in LD in the 70’s right after I finished my masters in Speech-Language and Hearing Science. From what I see Orton-Gillingham and LIPS are very similar, but as an SLP I love the Mouth Pictures and discovery method used with LIPS. Perhaps there is something I don’t know that makes you leave out LIPs from your article.

  9. Stacy

    Logic of English has been wonderful for my dyslexic daughter. We used AAR for two years with absolutely no progress. We started LoE and she is finally making consistent gains. I taught public school for seven years before we had kids and worked with many dyslexic students. LoE is very similar to the approach we used in our tutoring program for them.

    • Marianne

      That’s great to hear Stacy! How old is your daughter?

      • Stacy

        She is 6 1/2 now. We started AAR when she was four, but put it aside until she was five. She was so young, I couldn’t tell if she was dyslexic or just need more time to mature. We started again in kindergarten and used it through the first half of this year. Between LOE and her dyslexia tutoring twice a week, we are finally seeing some progress. I’m so thankful for the ability to homeschool so we can move at her pace!

  10. Christina Abrams

    I have a daughter who is 9, she has been homeschooled. We have gotten to a point where I didn’t think I could help her anymore and we just aren’t getting anywhere(I wasn’t using a dyslexic curriculum). I believe she is dyslexia and we are trying to get her tested and have enrolled her in public schools. She isn’t happy at all in school. So we are looking in bringing her back home. And possibly trying something again or just supplementing with something at home. All that to say, what curriculum would you use with a 9 year old that really is not reading, but seems to get frustrated when the curriculum looks like it is for kindergarten age children. Thanks so much, Christina

    • Christina

      I have a daughter who is 9, she has been homeschooled. We have gotten to a point where I didn’t think I could help her anymore and we just aren’t getting anywhere(I wasn’t using a dyslexic curriculum). I believe she is dyslexia and we are trying to get her tested and have enrolled her in public schools. She isn’t happy at all in school. So we are looking in bringing her back home. And possibly trying something again or just supplementing with something at home. All that to say, what curriculum would you use with a 9 year old that really is not reading, but seems to get frustrated when the curriculum looks like it is for kindergarten age children. Thanks so much, Christina

      • L. McBride

        I’d like to offer the following information for you to consider. Your struggle is one that I’ve lived also as my daughter was just a little younger than your daughter when I learned she is dyslexic. At the time, I was employed in the pharma industry and knew how to identify the best scientists/medical researchers/physicians in any therapeutic category (disease area). I took that knowledge and applied it to the many options in the world of Orton-Gillingham instruction. There are so many programs, as well as the “OG Approach” (which is not a program) that I needed to figure out what was the best overall method/approach and then find someone who could teach my daughter that way. I did hours of research and reading, finally landing on the Academy of Orton Gillingham. Their work, called the OG Approach, is truly individualized to each student since each student needs slightly different emphasis in their learning to read, write, and spell. Their standards are very high. They teach at the best private schools in the country for dyslexic students. Further, you can find the experts in this organization who were trained by Anna Gillingham herself or Dr. Orton himself and their protégée are now teaching new trainers …so there is a true link back to the original masters of OG. That link is important because Anna developed methods that have been shown to work time and time again. With that I will encourage you to reach out to the Academy at and find an Academy Fellow, or someone Certified or at the Associate level who can teach your daughter. I think so well of this organization and the standards that they set for OG instruction that I chose to also be trained. Who knows, you might too!

  11. Kimberly Richardson

    Hello! I am a first grade teacher in a small, private school. My class is also very small–6 students. I have a sweet student with dyslexia and I am trying to figure out the best way to help him feel successful. (He’s felt pretty discouraged about school in the past.) When we started this year, he basically refused to even attempt to read or write, but now he tries! I have done what I thought would instinctively work for him–(hands-on, sensory, large print, time to think, oral and visual cues, etc) and given him tons of encouragement and love, but I am searching for a more systematic approach. I really appreciate your insight! I don’t know much about dyslexia and the methods that work best for students. I will be reading and exploring more. Thank you very much!

  12. Nicole Carnes

    Me again! Do I’ve looked into both the AAS & Reading Horizons. Still not sure where I should start with my 15 year old daughter. I’m feeling confused & overwhelmed. If I started her with AAS, I’m not sure which level to start with. She reads ok, but definitely struggles. Her biggest struggle & source of frustratuon & embarrassment is with her spelling. Then there’s the Reading Horizons which I think will benefit her. But I’m having difficulty choosing between the 2 levels of that as well. She certainly enjoys a more animated reward system & thinks that decorating the club house would be fabulous, as she is extremely creative. She’s still very innocent because of being homeschooled from the start. But I’m concerned as to weather or not the child’s level will challenge her enough. The adult library definitely doesn’t seem like it has subjects that will interest her, from the brief overview given on the site. I have the highest respect & regard for your experience & knowledge & would greatly appreciate your recommendations for my daughter in regards to both of these programs you have suggested!

    Thank you very much!


  13. Karen

    Hi! Would you do/ have you done a review of Calvert curriculum’s Vertisy Language Arts for dyslexic students? It may be available through our local Cyber School. Was wondering if it’s a good option.

    • Marianne

      Hi Karen. I’ll look into the possibilities today.

  14. Michelle Meader

    Thank you so much for the great reviews of the multitude of reading programs out there for dyslexic kiddos. We have tried Barton and AAR with very little progress. In fact with AAR, we had to step back from level 2 to level 1 for my 3rd grader when we hit a wall due to some missing building blocks. Now, she is becoming super sensitive if she gets anything wrong and shuts down. Have you heard anything about the PRIDE reading program and if so, what do you think? Thank you!!!

    • Marianne

      Hi Michelle. Yes, I have seen it and it is very good. It is similar to All About Reading and Barton – a systematic Orton-Gillingham, user-friendly program. 🙂

  15. Ann Coffeen Turner

    I have print-and-cut materials for both tutors and the home-schooling parent whose child can’t learn in a group, even a small group. Many schools operate under the rule that tutoring is not cost-effective. Before retiring and going private, I was a school tutor that got a lot of mileage out of two half-hour lessons a week, using methods that cut down on the drudgery of rote memorizing abstract symbols. My materials are also user-friendly for parents because they involve games that beginners enjoy playing. My aim has been to charge affordable prices: $20, $25, and $30 for collections of materials. To make this possible, a parent or tutor has to print the games and materials in color on paper or card-stock, cut out the cards, and organize them using lots of rubber bands. Some people aren’t willing to do all this work, even though they make lessons so much more productive. The important thing is that these materials incorporate systematic, explicit, intersensory Orton-Gillingham principles (I am a grandpupil of Gillingham), with improvements like embedded picture-letters, phoneme-awareness training with actual letters (picture-letters rather than taps and tokens), and color-coded vowels that make almost all words phonetic, and quantities of games, plus thorough manuals. Parents. like private tutors, have the luxury of more than half an hour and more than two lessons a week, so that they can make progress with severe dyslexia. My website:



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