Category Archives: Supporting students

Empowering your students: Managing exam stress

By Fiona Deane

athlete pose 2Exams make many of us feel stressed.  For some students, stress helps them to achieve a higher mark.  For others, it turns into “distress” (Stanton, 1983) and  this negative stress on their mind (and body) can have an adverse effect on their exam performance, and equally importantly on their day to day life. Unfortunately, some teachers may not be given much training or guidance on how to support students whose stress has got out of control.

This post will:

1) Explain why your students might be experiencing exam stress

3) Discuss academic theory on the relationship between cognition and affect

3) Offer six different activities to help your students get to grips with their nerves

Young people and stress

In 2009,  the Guardian released alarming statistics from the Prince´s Trust regarding the wellbeing of young people in the UK.  Inargh! this report polled by the charity for its Youth Index Study, it reported that “more than a quarter (27%) said they were always or often down or depressed. Almost half of all those surveyed (47%) said they were regularly stressed.”  This is clearly not only a British phenomenon.  In the context of my sector, teaching English as a foreign language, I have witnessed young people experiencing stress as they grapple with living away from home, with managing their money, with establishing and developing new relationships and, in the context of this post, with preparing for international English exams such as CAE, TOEFL, IELTS or TOIEC.

Why do EFL students suffer from exam stress?

  • Economic reality

inflationWith the backdrop of the recession looming large and the workplace becoming more and more competitive, young people are bent on acquiring as many qualifications as possible.  Having one degree may no longer be enough.  This “qualification inflation” or “academic inflation” puts pressure on non-native English speaking students not only to improve their chosen career qualifications but also to gain a high level qualification in English, such as IELTS 6.5 or above or CAE.

  • Expectations

Students may be coming from a family or culture where there are high expectations of young people.   I have witnessed this in students coming from Asian cultures.  Specifically looking at Korea, Daniel Tudor (2012) says that “Confucianism´s power can be felt in the realm of the national obsession, education.   South Korea is famous of its unhealthy preoccupation with exam results and the pursuit of admission to the best universities.  This is a legacy of Confucianism´s injunction to self-improvement through education…”.  He also adds that “every year there are suicides of third-year high school students at the time of …the university entrance exam”. (For more articles on this, see The Guardian Weekly and BBC articles).

  • Lack of life experience 

Just this week, I carried out tutorials with my CAE preparation group.  A conversation with one of the group, a Swiss 19 year old past and futureyoung woman, has stayed with me.  As we reflected on what she was doing differently that had lead to improved results, she interestingly commented that she felt that she was learning how to deal with stress better.   She openly admitted that her high school exams hadn´t been difficult.  Now, she was required to pass CAE in a short time frame in order to be accepted onto a Primary Teacher Training programme.  This was her first experience of dealing with heightened exam pressure.  At the start of the course, she simply had not had the life skills to know how to deal with this.

  • Unhealthy study-life balance

overwhelmedIf they come from highly competitive societies, our students may have developed unbalanced study-life behavior patterns.  Returning to the example of Korea, Daniel Tudor (2012) suggests that childhood in Korea is sacrificed in order to gain the necessary marks that they need.  “Children enjoy relatively few opportunities to play and socialize with their peers.  According to research undertaken by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, Korean children are among the worst in the world at social interaction  (thirty-fifth out of thirty-six countries surveyed).  In school, children are constantly tested and ranked, rather than taught to work with one another.  After the final bell, most are sent to hakwons (private language schools) …When school vacations come, children are not free to relax but instead spend more time in hakwons.”

Academic theory and stress: The Affective Filter

Affective filterFollowing the ideas of Stephen Krashen (1982), the Affective Filter Hypothesis describes how affective (emotional) factors have an effect on learning a second language (as can be seen in the diagram on the left).  Arnold (2009) tells us that “an affectively positive environment puts the brain in the optimal state for learning:  minimal stress and maximum engagement with the material to be learned.”  Thus, there would seem to be a strong relationship between cognition and “affect”.  Neuro-scientist  Joseph LeDoux (1996) claims that “minds without emotions are not really minds at all”.  Indeed, as NLP guru Anthony Robbins believes “80% of success in life is psychology, 20% is mechanics”.


Activities to help students deal better with their stress

oprah and mick

So what can we as teachers do to help our students with stress?  Here are six activities.   They are activities which focus on students developing their own self-reflection and meta-cognition (see my earlier post about this – Empowering your students:  what makes me an effective learner?)


  • Speaking activity:  Are you a good friend?

adviceAt the beginning of the course, students are asked to discuss what makes a good friend.  In a brainstorm on the board, the teacher elicits “giving good advice” or “being a good listener”.  You then tell students that a friend of theirs is excited but worried about moving to another country to go on a language course .  The class brainstorms what the student might be worried about and come up with solutions and practical suggestions to ensure the student enjoys their language study programme to the max (inspired from the student book of Ready for CAE (2008, Macmillan Exams)  by Roy Norris and Amanda French

This activity covertly encourages your students to make predictions about a stressful experience and to come up with solutions for an unknown other (which may be more comfortable than finding solutions for themselves).  It is a great window for you to see whether they can relate to such stress before and what solutions (or not) they already may have in place for themselves.

  • Self-reflection and prediction:  How do you predict you will perform in the exam?  

This is a more inductive approach carried out just before the mid term mock exam.  Students are asked first of all to reflect on their own experience of exam stress in their own countries.  Here, pressures of their education culture may rise to the surface.  Then they are asked to discuss  whether they think their performance in an upcoming mock exam may be affected by nerves (positively or negatively).  Students share what possible solutions they know of to reduce stress on their mock exam day.   Previous students have come up with ideas such as Steiner exercises, breathing exercises and yoga (I will share more of these ideas in a future post.)   Once the students have taken their exam and have their results, I then ask them to recall this discussion and to see if their predictions were right.  If they were different, they are asked to say why they are different.

  • Understanding the chemistry and biology of stress:  “Amy Cuddy´s power poses” 

I often use TED Talks with my EFL learners to improve their listening skills, to widen their vocabulary and to develop their summary abilities.   So at a significant point in the term, I ask students for homework to watch Amy Cuddy´s talk “Your body language shapes who you are” which explains how stress can manifest itself in the body and how we can reverse the effects of stress.   As part of the homework, the students are asked to take notes, be ready to give a summary of the talk (using some of the vocabulary chunks that Amy uses) and be ready to discuss their views.  This is an excellent presentation, made powerful by the images, scientific fact and the personalized story telling technique so common to many TED talks.  Because the topic is relevant to the speaker herself, it is easy for the students (particularly the girls) to identify with her.  So far, all my students have taken an interest in Amy´s ideas.  We then tried out Amy´s power poses before the next exams.  Each time my students have done this, there have been astoundingly improved results (about 10 – 15% higher marks).

  • Deep listening in one to one tutorials

Giving our students the opportunity to voice how they are feeling is crucial when dealing with stress.  Tutorials can arise spontaneously, when you recognize that a student would benefit from emergency remedial action, or on a systematic basis throughout the course.  Understanding why they may be experiencing stress (which could include some of the reasons given above) is important and this will most probably emerge through “deep listening” (Arnold, 2009); that is, focused listening in a non-judgmental and objective manner.   Being sympathetic to their story will validate their emotions (instead of causing them to hide them through shame).  It is also worth considering whether you feel the student may benefit from your school´s in-house counseling system, should the stress seem to be out of hand.

  • Students share reflections about their stress management to the whole group

In my last round of tutorials, students came up with some really excellent reflections on reasons for their progression, which were related to their own stress management.  I took noteclass discussion of the most useful points and then (with their permission) asked some of the students to share their reflections with the whole group.  For example, one student reported how they chose to walk into school the day of the exam, revising points quietly in their head as they walked (as opposed to coming in on the bus, surrounded by chatter in rush hour).  Another said how they found studying together made them feel less isolated.  This discussion involved very fruitful student collaboration benefitting both the “sharer” and the students who took on their ideas.

  • The last day before the exam: Student created games

20131129_123739It´s always tricky to know what to do the day before an exam.  Exam practice can be inadvisable since low marks can frighten students.  On my previous exam course, students requested that we left the classroom space to be in a more relaxed atmosphere.  We decided to go to a café.  In this group, two Korean students were particularly anxious about the exam the next day.  I took coloured paper to the café and asked the Koreans to teach the other (non-Asian) students to make some origami objects.  All the students became completely enthralled and lost in this activity.  It was a great distraction for both the student “teachers” and for those students learning the art of origami for the first time.


Do write to me and share any experiences and successes you have with stressed students.  The life skill of dealing with stress is such an important one in modern life.  As one of current exam students said to me recently:  “I have learnt so much more than just language on this course”.


References & Recommended Reading

Arnold J Affect in L2 Learning and Teaching (2009) Estudios de Linguistica inglesa aplicada

Arnold J Coaching Skills for Leaders in the Workplace (2009) Howtobooks

Brown B The Power of Vulnerability (2010) TED Talks

Gregoire C American Teens are even more stressed than Adults (2014) The Huffington Post

Chakrabarti R South Korea´s schools: long days, high results (2013) BBC News

Cuddy A Your body language shapes who you are (2012) TED Talks

Harmer J The Practice of English Language Teaching (2001) Pearson Education Ltd

Kim K et al Students´stress in China, Japan and Korea: a transcultural study ( 1997) International Journal of Social Psychiatry

Krashen S Principles & Practice in Second Language Aquisition (1982) University of Southern California

LeDoux J The Emotional Brain (1996) Simon & Schuster

Lightbown P. & Spada N How Languages are learned  (2006) Oxford

Norris R with French A Ready for CAE (2008) Macmillan Exams

O´Hara M Depression amount the young at alarming level says charity (2009) The Guardian

Oxford R Language Learning Strategies: An Update (1994)

Pert C Molecules of Emotion (1997) Simon & Schuster

Petty G Teaching Today A Practical Guide (1998) Nelson Thornes

Scharle A & Szabó A Learner Autonomy, A guide to developing learner responsibility (2000) Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers

Senior R Korean students silenced by exams (2009) The Guardian Weekly

Stanton H E The Stress Factor: A Guide to More Relaxed Living (1983) Optima

Tudor D Korea The Impossible Country (2012) Tuttle Publishing

The Missing Link: how teachers can help dyslexic language students in the classroom, Part 2

Part 2 (linked with previous post, see Part 1): Practical strategies and ideas for teachers and trainers to implement with adult students.

By Jenny Harris


‘’Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. Imagination encircles the world.

Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.’’

–         Albert Einstein.


Dyslexia support: knowing more than just a student’s learning style

Understanding learning styles is important, and the links between the kinaesthetic style of teaching and dyslexia are critical but it seems to be more than just a preference for sensory or visual style learning – dyslexic students have often developed an ability to see and imagine so much more.


thinking outside the box


As teachers, how do we tap into the more visual and sensory part of the brain? How do we make a course book ‘come alive’? Two practical examples:

 Since researching this topic, I’ve started to adapt many of my own teaching methods. After a while it has started to become a more natural and unthinking approach. Two simple examples include:

1. With an interactive white board I’ve started using entire slides with no words –enabling students to create their own interpretation and vocabulary from the images and then I follow up with target lexis. The students sometimes go in far more interesting directions than I had initially anticipated when selecting the images. The onus is on speaking strength to start with, the image then connects with the vocabulary, and in turn the phonics are connected to an image (in much the same way as a primary teacher will use flash cards so the picture and the word are connected in the memory).

2. I’ve also recently started experimenting with phonology teaching among lower level students. I ask them to come and touch the door – ‘door’: we make the long vowel sound and touch the door at the same time. A few lessons later we talked about ‘poor’ and ‘law’ in conversation. I touched the door – remember the sound? – their repetition of the new words was perfect. Not a phonemic symbol in sight. No problems with that challenging ‘law’ spelling and sound mismatch. It felt slightly unorthodox, until I mentioned it to my sister who has been teaching phonics for some time: ‘But that’s how we teach phonology with Jolly Phonics – it’s always best when you relate a real word to a real sound and image’.

 Research into language learning for dyslexics has made me seriously reflect on how and when I use the phonemic chart. I saw one piece of research describe it as 46 extra symbols to learn on top of 26 letters.

I would be really interested to hear of any other examples from teachers.

How to assess dyslexia in language learners

The process of assessing language learners for a learning difficulty should not be taken lightly. If you are interested in testing and assessing I really recommend contacting Ann-Margaret Smith to talk through her comprehensive ‘cognitive assessments for multilingual learners’ (assessment tasks for identifying specific learning differences in learners who do not have English as a first language).

Signposting to specialist resources is, in my view, the main role for the teacher rather than taking on the complex task of assessment themselves.

 What kind of teaching practices make a dyslexic student nervous?

I was surprised to discover that many of my own favoured exam teaching methods included tasks that can make a dyslexic language student panic. Typical tasks include:

  •        Locating information quickly in a dense reading text
  •        Dictation
  •        Extended periods of listening
  •        Speed writing tasks
  •        Time limits on reading and writing tasks

Having taught IELTS, Cambridge, Trinity and Edexcel exams I am struck by how many of these tasks are critical for developing exam skills. So what can we do to help dyslexic students tackle these tasks more confidently? Good teaching practice is one thing, but high quality exam preparation can add an extra dimension.
Are there any good strategies out there that particularly address this exam preparation gap?
I would be really interested to hear of any other examples from teachers – particularly tasks which strengthen exam skills for adult dyslexic learners.

Both the Cambridge suite of exams and IELTS have exam provision for dyslexic students, outlined on their websites. But it is worth noting they need a three month lead in time for exam arrangements. 

What do dyslexic students do to survive and succeed in an ESOL/EFL classroom?

Students look for patterns and structures in a teacher’s approach. Which day do you test? Regular routines allow them to plan ahead. Lesson aims are useful and helpful. Common coping strategies include:

  •  Sitting next to confident students who enjoy answering questions; helps divert the teacher’s eye contact when they are looking for someone to respond to a reading comprehension question.
  • Rely on peers to double-check homework, class instructions etc. (poor short term working memory).
  • Purposefully messy handwriting to hide spelling mistakes.
  • Often strong speakers, with real communicative strength in team or project working.
  • Ask contextualisation questions so they can build up the picture before a reading or writing task.

happy student


What can the teacher do?

Firstly,  focus on what the students can do, not what they can’t. This can be hard for teachers because we are trained to identify areas for improvement but try and avoid thinking in terms of a deficit model. Advice from ‘ELT Notebook: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities, part 2’ reinforces this point:

‘many of the strategies recommended for helping students with learning disabilities are no more than good teaching practice – they just become more necessary in this situation’[1].

Practical tips and advice to improve your teaching for dyslexic (and other) students

Here are a mix of tips and strategies that I found made an immediate difference to my teaching. I’ve amalgamated them together but they come from a range of teacher-focused resources:, ELTnotebook, Hannah Bienge IATEFL Brighton 2011, Gavin Reid, Edinburgh University.

Practical ideas:

  • Dyslexic students like lesson aims at the beginning – they want to know what is coming. Gives a heads up on any tests coming for the week.
  • Colour code and avoid too much use of the underline, italics and bold function where you are highlighting something. No curly fonts.
  • Colour code consistently, for example: blue for noun, red for verb, green for third person singular
  • If you use IWB then have the back screen on a light pastel colour. Find out if pastel paper can be made available for handouts or coloured rulers (black on white paper provides a strong glare and makes it harder to process the letters)
  • Help prepare exam access arrangements well in advance (usually a 3 month notice period is required)
  • Use materials that activate a range of senses: touch, smell etc. Tap into the creative part of a student’s visual brain on your IWBs – use maps, flowcharts, mindmaps, images…..

Grammar, marking and reinforcement 

  • Do not over-emphasise exceptions to every grammar rule you teach. Use ‘’narratives’’ to help poor working memory, ‘q is followed by u’.
  • Verbally explain as you write on the board, explicit step by step instructions, then recap and review regularly: on instructions/homework/grammar points/vocabulary meaning.
  • Marking is a sensitive area – mark for effort and mark for achievement. The advice is not to correct every spelling mistake because it is too disheartening, but point out regular pattern mistakes, don’t use a marking code for these.
  • Be creative with technology (accept emailed homework or recorded speaking tasks which use target vocabulary).
  • Try not to change student order suddenly during a read out loud task (the dyslexic student is already focusing only on their allotted segment and waiting for you to get to them).
  • Pause during the lesson – allow thought process time. Don’t let the IWB slides dominate the pace.
  • Finish lessons with reflection and reinforcement time: ‘what 5 things did you find difficult, what 5 ways can you develop your own learning… (adapted from Gavin Reid’s useful template on this student reflection exercise). Use vocabulary recap as a standard wrap-up.

I hope these ideas help you. They have certainly enabled me to become a better teacher and trainer, not just for those with dyslexia but for everyone else in the group too.

If you have any other suggestions or strategies particularly aimed at enabling adult students with dyslexia to flourish, please do get in touch. We are particularly keen to hear of any IT or integrated technology ideas.

Resources: : also provides very useful classroom materials for adult students. 

Research sources:

ELT Notebook:

Gavin Reid: ‘Metacognition, learning  styles and Dyslexia’, Edinburgh University

Hannah Bienge, Basil Paterson College, Edinburgh ‘Learning a second language when your first is a struggle’, IATEFL 2011




The Missing Link: teaching a second language to a student with dyslexia, Part 1

By Jenny Harris: Dyslexia and ESOL, EFL, ELL (English language learning). Part 1: the theory, the overview, the student perspective: dyslexia and second language learning. Part 2: How teachers can help dyslexic adult students in the classroom…… follow


How do you teach a second language when your student has challenges in their first language?

Over the last few years this is a question I have regularly asked myself. I know that statistically I must have taught a good number of dyslexic language students. Yet I didn’t really know how to tackle it effectively. Teaching in an ESOL or EFL environment you are immersed in skills methodology: reading, writing and phonology processing is core to the job. Any problems a student has with these skills you are likely to notice quickly. But when is a lack of student progress a language problem, and when is it a deeper learning issue?

Current lack of resources

We often lack the specialist resources for learning support that are available in mainstream schools. Even within colleges it hasn’t always been easy: as a College Lecturer I taught three years of ESOL evening classes and the learning support staff had all gone home by then; my students worked during the day. And in private language schools it is very rare to find additional specialist support. For adult community learning, it can often be just one teacher with a rucksack in a community centre! In line with the ethos of this blog, this post is very much based on teachers helping teachers. This post includes a full list of the websites and materials I found and that are quoted here.

Why are English language teachers in a particularly special role?

Because our primary focus is on reading, writing, speaking and listening development. Our marking codes and practices are remarkably similar to the ones used by dyslexic and literacy specialists (MW: missing word, WF: word formation…..), pre-teaching challenging vocabulary or ‘tricky word’ sheets as primary teachers call it. But it all comes back to two fundamental questions:

–         How do we know when it is a language learning problem, and when it is a deeper learning block?

–         More significantly, what should we do about it? (Our students are typically over 16 and may be learning outside their home country).

Questions, questions, questions

The more my staffroom colleagues and I discussed dyslexia in language learners, the more we realised we needed to know more. marking code

 How do we mark written work when we suspect the student has dyslexia?

 Is it ok to mark for effort and spelling separately?    

          Is the student even dyslexic – how would we know?

         When is it lazy spelling or something more?

Should we address it when they are here only for a limited time?

For students over 16, what referral systems are there?

What if dyslexia isn’t sympathetically dealt with in their home country, are we doing them any favours in raising the issue when they return back to an educational establishment which may not be supportive?

This post (part 1) and the accompanying post (part 2) aims to :

  • inform teachers about dyslexia; particularly educators who focus on reading and writing skills or language teaching
  •          signpost to resources
  •          give practical ideas about how to integrate useful strategies within your teaching, training, coaching or facilitation 

What is dyslexia? A broad overview man words head

Dyslexia is not about intelligence or a lack of interest in learning; it’s about neurological sequencing and processing. Dyslexic students use the visual cortex of the brain far more than non-dyslexic students (

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as:

a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence.

This is sometimes not just with language, but also with numbers. The word itself is derived from the German prefix ‘dys’ meaning difficult and the Greek ‘lexis’ meaning speech. The term was first used in the late 19th century.

What is the scale of dyslexia?

The numbers tended to vary in the research I looked at but the most well-researched reckoned a 5-15% occurrence level (ELT well – a fantastic website and one of the best set of resources for ELT/ESOL teachers, states a ‘5-15% occurrence level in a population’).

But assessment and occurrence levels are problematic – if home countries tend not to test for dyslexia, there’s unlikely to be an accurate picture on the true size and nature of the issue. The international cultural nature of recognising dyslexia is probably the subject of a whole other blog post – for now, I only address the practicalities of teaching.

But it is safe to say if you are teaching a class of 20 students, the probability is there will be at least one student in your classroom with a form of dyslexia (whether from mild to severe)*

How can the teacher identify it? 

wordsI think it is really useful to know exactly how dyslexia can manifest itself, because you will see how much it overlaps with typical errors a language teacher is trained to look out for.

‘Bright Solutions for Dyslexia’ website recommends keeping an eye out for:

  • phonological mix-ups: aminal, instead of animal for example
  • spelling phonetically, spelling incorrectly – letters jumbled in their order and their form (no control over lower or upper case for example)
  • difficulty with reading, especially with timed reading
  • short-term working memory (for example remembering instructions, turning to other students to be reminded)
  • letter decoding abilities – legible handwriting

For more on this go to: (


What does second language learning feel like for a dyslexic student?

mountain top view Dyslexic students use the visual cortex of the brain much more. They often process the overall picture, rather than the specifics. (

Hannah Bienge, from Basil Paterson College in Edinburgh describes the experience of taking an ESOL lower level group of students to the post office to practise everyday target language in a real context: ‘’they (students with dyslexia) may notice elements of the experience such as the shape the queue made in the space, the colour of the cashier’s hair and feeling of the metal tray where you put your mail these will all help them remember the process for next time’’.

 Other commentators feel that second language learning can be a positive experience for a dyslexic: when you learn the rules in a new language (for example, the use of articles, word order, modal verbs etc.) it can help make the linkages in your own.

A case study: Peter

What we can learn from primary teaching

A few years ago Fairlight Primary School in Brighton had a new pupil who arrived from Poland in the last couple of weeks of Reception Year (the first year of school in the UK for children aged 4 or 5).

Peter was starting a new life in the UK with his dad. Peter’s dad speaks very little English so the only language at home was Polish. In Year 1 Peter was very unsettled and the school arranged bilingual support, focusing only on improving Peter’s speaking skills so that he could communicate in the classroom and outside school. During Year 2, Peter became increasingly comfortable in class but after each holiday his English language skills slipped back.

What started to become significant was that the bilingual support assistant reported back that Peter’s Polish language skills were not developing either. So once he reached about age 7 the school arranged for Peter to be screened for dyslexia in both Polish and English and he registered as ‘moderate’, the level just under ‘high’ (E is the highest rate for this screening test and in Fairlight’s experience, very rare; Peter came in at a ‘D’).

The Assistant Head, Donna Barbar says: ‘The classrooms are already ”dyslexia friendly”: lots of visuals, tricky word lists, image/word flash cards for vocabulary association, and coloured reading rulers are all standard practice for topic lessons. All the teachers have access to a dyslexia toolkit of resources they can dip into, or make their own and share with each other.”

Peter is now in Year 3. He is much happier. He sees a specialist literacy support teacher once a week and then their advice is implemented by a trained teaching assistant for 30 minutes each day. Donna says: ‘Half an hour a day is just about right for Peter now. He loves learning about the Romans and the Egyptians so I’m very careful to ensure that his literacy is embedded in the topic, rather than over-do the specialist support at this stage’.

Donna reports that the screening tests that Fairlight uses are about £5 or £6 each and the school orders 20 tests a year on a subscription cost of £80, after they have paid the joining fee. Referrals are then made to the local Literacy Support Service in Brighton.

I asked Donna if she had a pupil who was only in her school for a short time but had been screened for dyslexia yet was returning home to a country which didn’t have the same level of support in place, would she still raise the issue with the parents? She reflected and then after a moment she said yes: ‘it’s about giving the choice, isn’t it? After that it is up to the parents’.

She finished on an interesting point: ‘We use the same resources and the same good practice for dyslexia support as we do for our EAL children.’. (English as an Additional Language).

Perhaps that is the challenge that adult ESOL and EFL colleges and schools have yet to grapple with in quite the same way as the embedded practice within primary teaching. Ann Margaret Smith who has created a site which has practical ideas for supporting  adult dyslexic language students, maintains a handwriting database so that writing in a first language can be cross referenced for speed and legibility with example scripts.

How the adult student feels

Liz Ball, a severe dyslexic, and now a teacher herself, writes an insightful account in her article ‘From one teacher to another’. Talking about her own experience at school she says: sad book man “Letters and numbers floated and jumped around on the page in front of my eyes, while other children sat happily at their desks reading and writing and spelling what I assumed were perfect little sentences.  I could see the letters strung together on the page; I knew they spelled words, because I had memorized many of them to deceive my teachers into believing I could actually read.

The truth was, I had no idea how to read. Matters were only made worse by the fact that I had a twin sister who was not dyslexic, who often sat happily by herself reading beautiful little books with colorful pictures and intricate plots. Nothing about language is automatic for dyslexics. We are constantly engaged in the process of pulling apart the linguistic pieces we are presented with in order to make sense of their whole.”  


(Full article is fascinating and can be found here:

Hannah Bienge,  from Basil Paterson College gives particularly good advice: ‘Whenever you are teaching dyslexic students, you need to always be aware that they are putting in twice the amount of effort but working at half the speed. This can be draining and difficult to sustain for them so a level of understanding and compassion must always accompany your teaching.’[1]

Are we prepared enough during teacher training?


In 2010 I completed my Diploma in Teaching for the post-16 age group[2] where a whole unit was dedicated to the issues of learning support for language students. Another unit was dedicated to embedding language learning within a specialist subject (I was tasked with vocabulary support on the principles of displacement water theory in mechanical engineering!). We learned about practical strategies – avoiding white paper with black print, using pastel colours wherever possible, knowing when and how to refer a student for assessment. However, in private language schools this is less likely to be part of the educational culture. The aim of this blog post is to signpost teachers that want to have a better idea of what strategies would help them in their lesson planning and their marking. Part 2 has a list of practical ideas that can be quickly implemented in the



1. A fantastic website that answers questions and provides very useful classroom materials:

2. Bright Solutions for Dyslexia:

3. The Yale Centre for Dyslexia and Creativity:

Research sources:

Ann Margaret Smith:,

Sue Swift (2007), An ELT Notebook: ‘Helping Students with Learning Disabilities: part two’,

Gavin Reid (2007): ‘Motivating Learners in the classroom: Ideas and Strategies’, Paul Chapman Publishing, London

Hannah Bienge (2011), Basil Paterson College, Edinburgh ‘Learning a second language when your first is a struggle’, IATEFL

Liz Ball, From One Teacher to Another, The Yale Centre for Dyslexia and Creativity

Interview with Donna Barbar, 2014, Assistant Head Teacher, Fairlight Primary School, Brighton UK

creative brain

[1] Learning a second language when your first is a struggle, Hannah Bienge, Basil Paterson College, Edinburgh, IATEFL, Brighton 2011
[2] Diploma for Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector: DTLLS with an ESOL specialism