Core Instruction for Students with Dyslexia

In FCPS, high-quality core instruction is paramount. Students with dyslexia benefit tremendously from having access to both a strong balanced literacy core program as well as structured literacy intervention to address their specific areas of need.


FCPS elementary schools use a balanced literacy approach to instruction within a reading and writing workshop model. This approach uses a gradual release of responsibility, in which teachers first explicitly model and directly teach reading strategies with focus lessons, then support student acquisition of these strategies through structures such as shared and/or guided reading. Finally, teachers provide independent practice in authentic reading with accountability to ensure that students are applying the strategies.

For students with dyslexia, the ideal “balance” struck between phonological instruction and comprehension instruction differs from typically developing readers, and differs from other struggling readers who do not have phonological deficits. Some typically developing readers benefit from a focus on comprehension skills, and may learn to apply phonological skills without the need for direct instruction, through authentic reading and writing tasks. Students with dyslexia will not. To the contrary, frequent exposure to authentic reading and writing tasks without explicit instruction in phonological skills and decoding may promote the use of compensatory strategies that serve to mask the phonological deficits of students with dyslexia.

Simply put, in the primary grades, students with dyslexia need explicit phonological awareness and phonics instruction, taught with more frequency, intensity, and duration than other students. They also need direct practice in reading words that contain the phonics patterns they are studying using decodable text (text with highly regular sound-symbol correspondence). This type of phonics instruction should be provided through core instruction as well as through appropriately chosen interventions, as appropriate. To ensure mastery, teachers monitor their development and application of these word reading skills.

In addition, all students, including students with dyslexia, benefit from instruction that provides opportunities for meaningful engagement and thoughtful, critical conversations about text through participating in a variety of balanced literacy interactive classroom structures. Core instruction should provide students opportunities to apply the skills they have learned to the act of authentic reading in engaging, self-selected books. 

Students with dyslexia may have strong vocabularies and comprehension skills, and these strengths should be further developed with a variety of opportunities for analyzing text in the reading workshop. They benefit from grappling with the meaning in grade level books read to them to further vocabulary development and their comprehension skills.


FCPS secondary schools use a student-centered instructional model that emphasizes active learning and allows for the intentional embedding of literacy practices in order to foster student engagement. Many secondary students with dyslexia still need explicit reading instruction. In addition, they need frequent opportunities to engage with authentic texts to deepen their understanding of the discipline and its specific reading demands.

The following actions should take place so that secondary students with dyslexia continue to progress in the core instructional program:

  1. Integrate frequent use of authentic, content-area texts into class with opportunities for students to apply readings
  2. Model the use of reading/thinking strategies during disciplinary reading, and teach students to use these strategies to construct meaning from text
  3. Build and activate background knowledge and establish a purpose for reading
  4. Foster vocabulary development by promoting multiple exposures to words in a variety of contexts

Tools and Strategies for Core Instruction in Secondary Classrooms

  • Sensory & Graphic Supports
    • Anchor charts
    • Graphic organizers
    • Mentor texts
    • Text features
    • Visuals
    • Word Walls
  • Linguistic Supports
    • Reading ladders
    • Sentence frames
    • Signal words
    • Tier 2 words
    • Text Sets
    • Word parts
  • Reading & Thinking Strategies
    • Determining importance
    • Inferring
    • Making connections
    • Monitoring comprehension
    • Summarizing
    • Text coding
    • Visualizing
  • Engagement & Interactive Supports
    • Academic conversations
    • Active listening
    • Critical & creative thinking strategies
    • Gradual release
    • Shared reading
    • Think aloud
    • Wait time

Schools and families are reminded that students with dyslexia at any point on the continuum greatly benefit from core instruction from general education teachers in addition to intervention targeted to their specific needs.


General education teachers can use classroom assessments to detect difficulties in decoding, fluency and spelling. Identification of the characteristics of dyslexia and appropriate intervention is critical. Students demonstrating difficulties in decoding, fluency, or spelling may benefit from targeted word instruction. In elementary schools, this instruction is often called word study and is focused on teaching students spelling patterns. In secondary schools, this instruction is often called vocabulary instruction and is focused on teaching students the meanings of Latin and Greek root words and affixes. At either level, teachers may need to intensify this instruction to meet the needs of students with dyslexia.

When crafting word instruction for the specific needs of elementary students with dyslexia:

  • Design part-to-whole (phonemes are blended in order to read and spell words) instruction
  • Use multisensory (visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic) instruction.
  • Employ more direct, explicit, and systematic instruction.
  • Continue phonemic awareness instruction (teach students how to blend, segment, and manipulate sounds in spoken words that contain the pattern to be learned.)
  • Provide additional review and practice. This practice should include dictation so students can master spelling patterns and reading decodable text to reinforce these patterns in reading...

Secondary students who are not accurate and fluent in their decoding skills may still need instruction that emphasizes mastery of phonics and advanced word instruction to include the following content:

  • phonological and phonemic awareness (blending, segmenting, and manipulating)
  • sound/symbol associations (making connections between the sounds and the letters)
  • syllables (types and rules for division)
  • morphology (base words, roots, and affixes)
  • syntax (grammar, sentence variation, and mechanics of language)
  • semantics (meaning)


Because dyslexia occurs on a continuum, not all students with dyslexia need special education services, but most students with dyslexia will require explicit instruction in phonological skills through intensified word instruction. Many students may also require intervention in structured literacy programs. Finally, some students may benefit from classroom and testing accommodations such as extra time, audio books, and writing supports that will help them to compensate for their decoding and spelling difficulties.

Many students with dyslexia require intervention programs that are direct, explicit, cumulative, sequential, and multisensory in approach. For students with dyslexia, these programs should supplement rather than replace core literacy instruction. It is the work of the Responsive Instruction team, the 504 plan committee, or the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team to determine the individualized balance of core instruction, structured intervention programming, and accommodations to help each student reach high levels of literacy achievement.

It is important to note that it is never too late to teach an individual with dyslexia using a structured literacy program. Accommodations can be used to help a student access grade-level content, but intervention is required to ensure the development of automatic word recognition and spelling skills. Learn more in the section entitled, “Interventions and Specialized Reading Programs.”

See the section entitled, “Dyslexia Resources” for books and websites that support phonological instruction.

The FCPS online dyslexia handbook provides information and resources to FCPS schools and parents alike to support students with dyslexia.

© 2017 Fairfax County School Board. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced, displayed, modified or distributed without the express prior written permission of the copyright holder. For permission, contact the FCPS Department of Special Services, Office of Special Education Instruction, Willow Oaks Corporate Center, 8270 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive, Fairfax, VA 22031.