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4 Word Attack Strategies to Use with Older Students

When it comes to our older students with dyslexia, oftentimes, they have gotten into the habit of guessing words based on the first letter. It is so important that we provide them with strategies to effectively attack these words that they don’t automatically recognize.

Here are four skills you can work on with your older students to improve their word attacking:

1. Syllable types and division:

Be systematic with your syllable instruction so you can help students to attack multi-syllabic words. Our students who are older will likely still really struggle with decoding multi-syllabic words and being able to spell them effectively in their writing.

Older students that struggle do really need that added layer of instruction so that we can continue to strengthen, build, and wire their brains to recognize words more quickly.  

Keep in mind, spoken syllable division can differ from written syllable division.

There is a caveat to this, we need to be flexible with syllable division patterns. Not every word needs to be broken into syllables in order for us to help our students decode or encode. 

2. Morphology:

Certain words, when broken into syllables, will actually pull away from their meanings. This can be particularly an issue when working with older students.  This is where strong morphology instruction comes into play.

We’ve got to help older students break words into morphemes. Remember, our language is morphophonemic. We have a sound system within our language but also a meaning system. We have to honor both of those when attacking a word. 

Teach morphology early and explicitly. Be mindful of the role morphology plays in decoding strategies.

When attacking a word, the first thing to ask students is if they see any prefixes or suffixes. Pull those away and then work with your base word.  

Get your student to look for that smallest unit of meaning. This skill is not only going to aid them in decoding and encoding, but also with their vocabulary.

3. Spelling generalizations:

When it comes to spelling, students need to build mastery in a few areas. They have to build mastery in their suffixing rules. That means the doubling rule, the changing rule, and the e-drop rule. Those rules come up so, so often in the English language.  

Teaching spelling generalizations is so critical, starting from very early on. When we teach spelling generalizations, we help our students to see that there is some reliability in our language. Our language is reliable if you understand the system behind it. 

When a word doesn’t follow a spelling generalization, that opens the opportunity to have really thoughtful discussions about the richness of our language.

We see a lot of older students with gaps in their spelling generalizations. This is why it becomes so important to strengthen these skills. Spelling can really build on a child’s natural curiosity.

4. Vocabulary strategies:

Older students also need really strong vocabulary instruction. 

Think about the amount of vocabulary our students come across in content areas. If we can help them pull the root words out, it’s going to help them in Social Studies and Science too, not just in English Language Arts class. 

It’s a great idea for all teachers to front-load their classes with some time spent on Latin roots and Greek forms. This is good teaching for everyone and every subject.

How much more powerful is it to have students pull apart words in a meaningful way instead of just sending a vocabulary list home and having students look up the words meaning?

Thoughtfully build vocabulary lists and plan out your vocabulary instruction.  

This may take whole school discussions and professional development in vocabulary instruction. Better vocabulary instruction is something all students will benefit from in all classes. 

Final Thought…

When you begin to dive deeper into these four areas with your older students, it’s likely you’ll see some glaring gaps in their phonology. Be mindful of this. It is okay to go back and teach or reteach these skills so you can begin to move them forward. 

You can also check out some of our favorite resources to use with older students.

For even more ways to support our dyslexic learners, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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