If the title itself sounds like the TEFL equivalent of a 12 metre fence to be jumped, remember that your students will be even more frightened than you are!
It’s a pity, because often dyslexic students are holistic learners with great imaginations, with a little help they can produce some great work, and more importantly, enjoy doing so. Here are some ideas to help you and your students.
Many students need a little longer to collect their ideas on a given subject, so give the topic for homework, or post it on the class blog so students who wish to can prepare some thoughts or vocabulary before the lesson.
Some students prefer to draw scenes of their story before describing them with words and bring these drawings to class, this not only provokes an interesting discussion on the subject but also allows some students to demonstrate one of their strengths in a place where unfortunately it is rarely the case.
At the start of the lesson use these and other visual resources to encourage brainstorming in pairs.
If you choose your pairs carefully then this part of the lesson actually becomes a form of informal peer tutoring.
To help students organise their ideas in a visual way encourage them to produce a mindmap®, the various sections can then form paragraphs later.
Offer students a writing framework, with checklists including, for example: who? When? Where? What happened? Describe what you can see, smell, hear, or feel. Some frameworks include paragraph titles, first and last line, keywords and connectors that must be used, etc.
Sometimes you can give out these lists but it can be motivating to come to a group agreement about what to include.
If you are lucky enough to be able to allow word processors in the classroom then there is a lot of great software available. Programmes such as Texthelp® and iReadWrite® have features that include word prediction to help students find the word they are looking for, phonetic spellchecks, definitions for homophones, image dictionaries and the possibility of reading the finished text ( or any other imported text) aloud.
Even with no special software, changing the background colour to a pastel shade and avoiding black ink can help, as can using a dyslexia-friendly font such as open Dyslexia, or the more commonly used Comic sans or Times New Roman.
If this material cannot be used in class then perhaps students could complete the work at home, this also removes the stress of having to complete the work within a given time.
If the writing is to be done in class, there are still opportunities to support dyslexic students, offering a scribe can be detrimental to self-esteem, but pair writing can overcome this, with one student providing more work in terms of preparation and ideas and the other producing the majority of the written work.
When writing, encourage dyslexic students to have a word list of commonly misspelt words to hand, and refer to it when necessary.
Many students prefer writing on coloured paper too.
Give extra time
Let them use their spelling lists or computer spellchecks.
When marking teachers can choose not to use the same assessment grids for all the class, concerning spellings for example.
It is important to add a comment to the result, every student needs positive feedback, more so those with learning difficulties, where it is just as important to valorize the work done as the final result.
It may seem tough to start with, but when dealt with in a non-intimidating manner, using various scaffolding techniques then creative writing is a great opportunity to motivate students and make them feel positive about their language learning.
Buzan, T. 2009 The Mindmap book: Unlock your creativity, boost your memory, change your life. BBC Active.
Nijakowaska, J.2010 Dyslexia in the Foreign Language Classroom. Bristol; Multilingual matters.
Reid, G. 2011 Dyslexia: a complete guide for parents and those who help them. Oxford; Wiley-Blackwell.
Schneider,E. & Crombie,M. 2003. Dyslexia and modern Foreign languages. Oxon; David Fulton Publishers.