How to help your struggling readers and writers

In the third addition to her Sendco column series, Gemma Corby explores some straightforward ways to help reading and writing, from effective spacing to Mind Mapping

Much of my time as a Sendco is spent supporting young people who struggle with reading and writing. So for my third blog for Tes, I have highlighted a number of things every teacher can do to help those struggling in these two core areas.


Some students will find reading daunting, time-consuming and challenging. These young people may require a reader in examinations, but what can you do to support their learning, while also facilitating their independence?

1. Check the readability of the text

This can be easily achieved using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, which is available through Microsoft Word. Just follow these steps:

  1. Click the “File” tab on the toolbar
  2. Click “Options”
  3. Click “Proofing”
  4. Check the “Check grammar with spelling” box
  5. Check the “Show readability statistics” box
  6. Where it says “Writing style” – ensure the box reads “Grammar and style”
  7. Click “OK”
  8. Click on “Review”, then “Spelling” – once finished, click “OK”

This will then provide you with a handy Flesch reading-ease score, which translates as:


School Level



100.00-90.00 Year 6

10 – 11 years

Very easy to read. Easily understood by an average 11-year-old student.
90.0–80.0 Year 7

11 – 12 years

Easy to read. Conversational English.
80.0–70.0 Year 8

12 – 13 years

Fairly easy to read.
70.0–60.0 Year 9

13 – 14 years

Considered to be plain English.
60.0–50.0 Year 10

14 – 15 years

Fairly challenging to read.
50.0–30.0 Year 11

15 – 16 years

Challenging to read.
30.0–0.0 Sixth-form and beyond

16+ years

Very challenging to read.

2. Simplify the text

When presenting learners with a lot of text, not only should you ensure that it is in a dyslexia-friendly font and that the lines are adequately spaced (1.5 pt), but that it is broken up with supportive images. It may be useful when differentiating that you simplify certain words. Remember to avoid using black ink on white paper.

3. Offer support

It can be a useful exercise to read texts together as a class, asking volunteers if they would like to read sections. Alternatively, in English for example, there may be a pre-recording of the texts. Students may enjoy listening to these while following the text at the same time.

4. Provide adequate time

Many learners with dyslexia or literacy difficulties will experience a delay in their processing speed. When trying to get through the curriculum, it is all too easy to neglect to provide students with adequate time to read and process the text they have been given. Remember to build this additional time into your planning.

5. Avoid putting learners on the spot

Many learners with dyslexia or literacy difficulties live in fear of being picked on to read a random piece of text. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has informed us since our training days that in order for people to learn, they need to feel safe in their environment. Ensure that students are happy to read aloud, perhaps by allowing them to read the text to themselves beforehand.

6. Use of visuals

Supporting statements and keywords with images on PowerPoint presentations is an easy yet effective way of helping dyslexic learners. It only takes a couple of minutes to do a quick Google Image search, yet it can have a powerful impact.

I was speaking with the parent of a dyslexic child, who is also a teacher, and she explained that starting with a film of a text/topic is a useful tool. It helps learners to have images on which to hook ideas and gives them an overall idea of a storyline/particular topic. She commented that we often leave the film until last, as a treat for getting through the novel or whatever we may be studying. However, she suggested that we should flip this idea on its head and start with the film.


All teachers have encountered learners who really struggle to translate their ideas into the written form (whether handwritten or typed). Writing frames that break down the task into more manageable chunks can be useful. In addition, the provision of sentence starters and keywords can also help. I have recently found that mind mapping is an incredibly useful tool for those learners who freeze when faced with an extended writing task.

I must admit, I was a little sceptical when I first encountered Tony Buzan and his Mind Mapping method but having seen what a positive impact it can have on students’ written work, I am all for encouraging its use. It also doubles up as a helpful revision tool as well. Like most tools in education, it is useful to learn the theory and then adapt it for your own use in the classroom. After all, we all have different educational contexts and it is important to do what is right for the learners in your classes.

For example, should you wish a young person to write an extended piece on life in the trenches during the First World War you could help them produce a mind map by following these easy steps:

  1. Ask them to sketch a central image, eg, a soldier in a trench – perhaps include a rat or two.
  2. Get students to draw branches, each in a different colour, radiating out from the central image. Ask them to label these branches using single keywords, eg, “food”, “games”, “duties”, “living conditions”, “health”, etc.
  3. Sticking with the colour coding, ask students to radiate more keywords from each of these central keywords. For example, taking the keyword “food” and continuing in the same colour, your student can then write down associated words, such as “rationing”, “parcels”, “Maconochie’s”, “biscuits”, “illness”. They would then radiate even more keywords from these. They may also start to see connections with other parts of the mind map, such as between food and health.
  4. Once complete, your student can use this map as the basis for the extended piece of writing.

Please remember, when it comes to marking the work of students with literacy difficulties, please do not go overboard on the red pen. Just focus on perhaps three spellings at a time. A page of corrections can be very disheartening for any learner.

The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps by Tony Buzan is published by Thorsons.

Gemma Corby is Sendco at Hobart High School, Norfolk. Her Sendco column for Tes runs every second Tuesday in term-time

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