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Adult and adolescent students who cannot read


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Most of the advice given thus far has been directed at supporting adolescent and adult students with some reading ability. This section focuses on students with very limited reading ability.


The following are both excellent summaries of what should be covered in adult reading instruction:

Curtis, M. E. & Kruidenier, J. R. (2005). A summary of scientifically based research principles: Teaching adults to read. Retrieved March 28, 2022

Moats, L. (n.d.). When older students can’t read. Reading Rockets

Phonological awareness and decoding

Recall that one of the chief defining characteristics of dyslexia is related to difficulty with recognising and manipulating phonemes. This, in turn, leads to difficulty with recognising sound-spelling correspondences: one must be able to break a word down into individual sounds to recognise each sound’s spelling. Research about how to help adults with low literacy are much less common than studies on teaching children; however, evidence strongly suggests that instructional objectives should be very similar. Adults need to learn how to recognise sounds in words and to relate them to letters and word parts (e.g. -tion).

A lack of phonemic awareness often has a knock-on effect throughout one’s lifetime. A person who falls behind at the very early stages of learning to read loses the opportunity to gain more advanced skills such as fluency. Unfortunately, they also lose access to other learning that requires the ability to read.


The SOS – Spelling for Older Students program (Polkinghorne, n.d.) is a classroom program that teaches sounds and their spellings. It is available for free online here

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Supporting Adult and Adolescent Students with Dyslexia

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