Definition of dyslexia?

For the development of the GATE system, the GATE partners agreed to use the working definition of dyslexia developed by the Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland and the Cross Party Group on Dyslexia in the Scottish Parliament.

They state:

“Dyslexia can be described as a continuum of difficulties in learning to read, write and/or spell, which persist despite the provision of appropriate learning opportunities.

These difficulties often do not reflect an individual's cognitive abilities and may not be typical of performance in other areas.

The impact of dyslexia as a barrier to learning varies in degree according to the learning and teaching environment, as there are often associated difficulties such as:

Motor skills and co-ordination may also be affected.

Dyslexia exists in all cultures and across the range of abilities and socio-economic backgrounds. It is a hereditary, life-long, neurodevelopmental condition. Unidentified, dyslexia is likely to result in low self esteem, high stress, atypical behaviour, and low achievement.

Learners with dyslexia will benefit from early identification, appropriate intervention and targeted effective teaching, enabling them to become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.”

Have a look for other definitions of dyslexia used in your own country. You could try to write your own once you become familiar with the GATE approach!

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a different way of processing information.

As an educator, you will come across children and young people with dyslexia in every class. Fortunately, we can now recognise dyslexia early enough – and can prevent the child from experiencing failure.

This different way of processing allows children to be creative, imaginative, artistic and musical. However, it also means that children are likely to have difficulties learning to read and write. Experiencing failure may lead to lower self esteem and sometimes, to behavioural problems. The life of a child can become very difficult if teachers and parents don’t have an understanding of dyslexia. Therefore, as an educator, you need to be able to identify the early indicators of dyslexia.

There are early signs , which help us to identify children with dyslexia from birth. For example, we know that if a parent has dyslexia there is around 50% chance that his/her child may also have dyslexia

The earlier we understand, the better we can support.

The day-to-day classroom teacher may be the first to recognise a child that is learning differently.

Famous people with dyslexia

How might I recognize dyslexia in pre primary and early primary children?

Dyslexia indicators

It is important that teachers are aware of indicators of dyslexia at the pre-primary stage. At this stage we do not need to have a formal identification of dyslexia. Rather we are looking for indicators so that we may address issues before formal literacy skills are taught. The object here is to be proactive rather than wait for the child to fail to acquire literacy skills.

The indicators which follow give you an idea of the types of strengths and difficulties demonstrated by young children. This is not a checklist. We need to understand that each child with dyslexia will have different abilities and difficulties. It is important that teachers build up a profile of the children and adapt learning and teaching approaches to support them in their learning. Clearly, not all children will demonstrate all indicators listed. Also, there is no magic number of ticks before dyslexia can be confidently identified!

These indicators have been drawn up by the GATE project team and represent widely accepted views of indicatiors from the dyslexia literature.

A. Possible indicators at pre primary school age

Possible strengths

Possible language difficulties

Possible auditory difficulties

Other early indicators

B. Possible indicators at primary school age (non literacy)

Possible strengths

Possible memory difficulties

Possible auditory difficulties

Possible visual difficulties

Other difficulties

How do I recognise dyslexia?strengths

  • creative
  • artistic
  • imaginative
  • intuitive
  • quick thinker
  • good mental maths
  • attention to detail


difficulty with:
  • auditory discrimination
  • clapping a rhythm
  • detecting rhyming words


difficulty with:
  • convergence
  • binocular instability
  • light sensitivity
  • left -right orientation


difficulty with:
  • short term memory
  • working memory
  • sequential memory


  • hard to stay on task
  • easily distracted
  • rarely completes work


difficulty with:
  • gross motor control
  • fine motor control
  • poor handwriting
  • poor coordination


difficulty with:
  • multisyllabic words
  • sequencing speech
  • word retrieval

Who do I work with to support my young learners who may be dyslexic?

Collaborative approaches

It is important that our approaches should support children in an inclusive manner, ensuring they always feel part of the class. Children with dyslexia process information in a different way. Processing information can take them longer than their non dyslexic peers. Teachers should allow time for processing and not make children feel they are always last to work out the answer.

Once you have identified some indicators you should adopt some appropriate approaches to learning. Your particular set of actions will differ according to the legislation in your country and your school policy as well as according to your opportunities to collaborate with parents, colleagues and specialist teachers.

Here we have identified the key stakeholders you may approach when you notice any indicators of dyslexia. It is up to you to develop your action plan; here we have suggested only a number of possible actions.

Supporting academic progress of children who may be dyslexic

Children’s academic progress is usually a focus of teachers’ and parents’ efforts. To assure quality academic support, however, you have to complete a number of steps:

  • identifying the child’s particular strengths and difficulties (through working in collaboration with parents, specialists, and support teachers)
  • assuring the child’s emotional comfort at school and while studying or playing
  • developing a personalized learning plan with activities appropriate for the child
  • keeping a record of the child’s progress to assure continuity between school levels (see Learning Passport)

Offering emotional support

Failing in some activities may result in the child developing low self-esteem, anxiety and refusing to work. Teachers, parents and any specialists involved should approach the child with understanding, patience and encouragement to raise their self-confidence and belief in their strengths.

Assuring child’s social inclusion through approaching other children at the class

Sometimes children may bully children who are not good at reading, writing, and sports. This can result in the child’s social exclusion and increase negative pressure and emotions within the group of children. Make sure to stress everybody’s strengths and talents and show that everybody is valued for their abilities and skills. Then try to involve the child or a group of children in supporting the child with dyslexic difficulties. Encourage them to work in pairs, to do homework together, etc. It will help friendships and mutual support between peers and will empower all children involved. Support will be reciprocal. The child with dyslexia has many strengths and will be able to support the peer group in turn.

Approaching the child’s parents

When approaching the parents of the child you have to bear in mind several key things. First of all, parents may refuse to accept that their child has difficulties. It is important to be patient and to give them time to realize the fact. It is also essential to make sure to communicate the child’s talents as well.

According to your country’s legislation and school policy, before contacting parents you may have to refer to speech therapists or psychologists to undertake an assessment of the child’s strengths and difficulties. Then, you can assist parents with applying for additional support (from support teachers or therapists).

Cooperation with specialists

There is no one test which confirms dyslexia. Rather, assessment is a process that begins with the class teacher and will usually later involve a specialist teacher and/or educational psychologist, depending on the policy of each country.

Sharing experience with peer teachers

Probably there are many teachers in your school who teach children with learning difficulties. Apart from sharing experience of good activities and sources of information, you will find mutual understanding and encouragement.

Approaching teachers from lower or upper school levels

It is essential to assure continuity in supporting children with dyslexic difficulties between school levels. The GATE system offers you the GATE Learning Passport which gives details on child’s strengths, difficulties and learning progress. It is a good tool for communication. Nevertheless, we strongly advise you to initiate meetings with teachers from the previous or next level so as to gain/passon as much information and recommendations as possible. The GATE project aims to assure continuity between pre-primary and primary education.

Raising awareness of other parents and community members

Sometimes it happens that parents of other children are negative to children with learning difficulties. They may feel that your attention will be only for children with dyslexia and other difficulties and not for their children. GATE activities are good for child development not only of children with dyslexia, but for the whole group. It is helpful if all parents have an understanding of dyslexia so that appreciate the strengths and abilities as well as the difficulties children with dyslexia may experience.

How do I support my learners who may be dyslexic?

Learning and Teaching Approaches

The GATE system consists of a methodology developed to identify and support children with dyslexic difficulties at early school age. The GATE system supports teachers by offering information on certain approaches, descriptions of activities, training, mentoring opportunities as well as tools to keep a record of students’ performance and progress so as to assure continuity between school levels.

Here we present the GATE methodology, detailed information on GATE approaches with examples of activities and instructions on what to pay attention to so as to identify and support children with dyslexic difficulties.

A. Movement Programmes

What are Movement programs?

Children learn with their bodies before they learn with their minds. Brain and body learn to work together through physical experience. Movement is the primary medium through which this process takes place.

Movement is a child’s first language. Children express themselves through a combination of movement, gesture and alteration of posture long before they learn to speak. Everyone knows that children spontaneously jump for joy, crouch back in fear or stretch forward in expectancy. These simple gestures, which become more eloquent with time and practice, form the basis of non-verbal communication, which is estimated to contribute up to 90% of effective communication later on. They also help to train the pathways involved in control of the visual system (for reading), eye-hand coordination (writing) and postural control needed for sitting still and maintaining attention. This physical A,B,C – Attention, Balance and Coordination – is but the beginning of physical readiness for formal education.


For further information you may like to look up references on the following topics:

  • Primitive reflexes: involuntary muscle-specific responses to certain stimuli. If not inhibited properly, they can become a major cause of learning problems.
  • Brian Gym: which helps connect the two hemispheres of the brain to enhance the skills necessary for literacy. It may also help to balance children emotionally, physically and mentally. Rhythmic movements involved in Brian Gym may help to stimulate the formation of neural networks and help integrate primitive reflexes, resulting in a general maturing process. Activation of the processes of attention and concentration, greater self-control that results in a lower impulsivity and hyperactivity can follow.
  • Psychomotor learning is the relationship between cognitive functions and physical movement. Psychomotor learning is demonstrated by physical skills such as movement, coordination, manipulation, dexterity, grace, strength, speed; actions which demonstrate the fine motor skills such as use of precision instruments or tools, or actions which evidence gross motor skills such as the use of the body in dance, musical or athletic performance (Wikipedia)
  • Laterality distributes the functions of the two hemispheres and defines dominance in right or left-handedness.

General Recommendations for activities

We understand that classroom organization is complex and introduction of these activities is an extra effort by the teacher because, in some cases, space is limited. We have greatly simplified the activities to facilitate their implementation. The completion of the exercises, preferably, should be daily.

The estimated time is approx. 10 minutes per session and we must take into account that time will be needed to relax at the end of each session. If possible, undertake these three times a week.

Drinking water (hydration is necessary for the occurrence of neural connections of the electrical type and gives energy to all organs). limbic and cerebral cortex), connections are created in both hemispheres and the lateral work.

How do we deliver them?

Materials needed:

Materials are really few. If undertaken in regular classrooms, it helps that the provision of tables and chairs are in a "U", leaving a central space to do the exercises.

If there are no mattresses, activities can be undertaken directly on the ground. It is best that the children wear comfortable clothing and trousers.

Movement Programmes: Pre-primary/Primary activities

Activity 1: Animals

Description of the activity:

We have called this activity Animals, because we can introduce it as a story in which all children are going to imagine they are different animals.

First of all the children should imagine they are a fish and lie face down with arms at their side and move only the hip mimicking the tail of a fish with a smooth feeling. They are swaying in the sea and they can decide where they move and feel safe.

After leaving the water to land and becoming an amphibian and starting to observe what is around, children can lift their heads slightly and move to the side staring at what they see.

Then they become a reptile, and if they can, crawl around the room, imitating the motion of a crocodile

In this exercise children should feel able to react properly because they are able to defend themselves and flee from danger.

When they become mammals, children crawl on all fours. In this exercise they are asked to imitate a cat, lion etc.

After the mammals come primates or monkeys. Children should stand on a chair to jump spreading their legs and arms in a jump imitating the sound of monkeys opening their mouth and tapping their chest.

If done in a gym, children can to climb on wall bars.

When we pass all these stages we become human - first a primitive man emitting guttural sounds.

Then they are present day people who recognize themselves in the mirror, look at their hands, open, close them, stretch their fingers and make a noise with them (clapping).

Activity 2: Cross movements (three dimensional)

Description of the activity

This movement is done with one hand touching the opposite knee alternately. Repeat up to 20 times perhaps to a drum beat. Repeat the movement by lifting the foot behind and trying to catch with the opposite hand.

In the next exercise, stand with feet crossed, arms are raised and lowered, the trunk with his head hanging, relaxed posture so that we sway from right to left like a pendulum. This is repeated with the opposite foot, 3 times each.

Activity 3: Eye movements

Description of the activity

Children have to follow an object moving their eyes only. The teacher moves the object in a circle in front of the children. First circling one way and then the other. It is important to perform this exercise without moving the head.

Activity 4: Three dimensions

Description of the activity

On paper or on the board the children draw the infinity sign: "?" This is a calming exercise that can be done at the end of the lesson. The eight starts always from the center and moves upward first of all.

B. Multisensory Approaches to Learning

What do we mean by ‘multisensory approaches’?

Children learn by taking in information through their senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch). The more senses we encourage children to use when learning, the more chance they have of remembering.

Multisensory teaching uses the visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile channels to enhance memory and learning. As an example, when learning new words, children are taught to link the sounds of letters with the written symbol and also with how it feels to form the letters. As children learn a new letter or pattern they trace, copy, and write the letters while saying the sound. Using these channels compensates for whatever channel is weak in each learner. This means that a child with a poor auditory memory is helped by using the visual, kinesthetic and /or tactile approaches. This approach can be extended beyond learning new words to all learning.  

Why are multisensory approaches essential for learners with dyslexia?

Benefits for children with cognitive difficulties:

  • Using multiple pathways to learn helps children with dyslexia. It is a motivating, stimulating way of learning.
  • Children with dyslexia often have difficulty with either auditory or visual processing. They may have poor phonemic awareness. This means they are unaware of the sounds in words. They have difficulty with rhyming words, blending sounds together to make words, or breaking words down into sounds. Some children with dyslexia may also have difficulty building a sight vocabulary. When taught through a multisensory approach, children have the advantage of learning using multisensory pathways.

Benefits for all children:

  • This method of learning is also excellent for all children as it is an interesting and fun approach which reinforces learning.

References for further reading:

Scientific journal articles:


Generals Materials for multisensory learning:

  • coloured pencils
  • felt tip pens
  • plastic letters
  • sand tray for kinesthetic / tactile learning
  • sandpaper letters / felt for kinesthetic / tactile learning
  • plasticine / pipe cleaners /wiki stix / cooked spaghetti
  • finger paints / putty / dough / rope etc for kinesthetic / tactile learning

Multisensory Approaches to Learning: Pre-primary activities

Activity 1: Visual Discrimination


The purpose of this activity is to encourage the children to become aware of their learning environment and be able to discriminate and identify a specific picture or word.


  • Each day, the teacher places a few pictures (could be a favourite cartoon character such as Mickey Mouse) in a different place around the room.
  • When the children arrive in the morning they are asked to locate each picture.
  • At the end of the day the teacher shows the children a picture (or word) that they have to find the next day when they arrive back at school.

Activity 2: Visual Memory


The purpose of this activity is to support the development of the visual memory

Description of activity

  • Teacher places 6 objects on a table
  • Teacher discusses each object with the children to ensure they know what each object is and its name.
  • Children look away and teacher removes an object.
  • Children look back and have to identify which object is missing.

Teaching point

Encourage the children to ‘visualise’ where the objects are on the table.

If the activity is too difficult, reduce the amount of objects and/or place the objects in a line with a coloured counter above each and encourage the children to associate each object with the coloured counter.

This activity can be developed to using key words instead of objects.

Multisensory Approaches to Learning: Pre-primary/Primary activities

Activity 3: Listening discrimination: 'Simon says'


The purpose of this activity is to develop listening skills


  • The children stand with a space around them.
  • The teacher says ‘Simon says do this’ ... the adult performs an action such as touching head, standing on one leg, bending knees
  • The children copy the teacher

Each time the teacher say ‘Simon says’ the children must copy the action. If the teacher performs an action without saying ‘Simon says’ first, the children should not copy. Any child who does copy is out.

The children who have listened very carefully stay in the game. The game continues with the adult trying to catch the children out and make them copy a movement without saying ‘Simon Says’.

Activity 4: Listening discrimination: Musical bumps


The purpose of this activity is to develop listening skills


  • Pictures or words
  • Coloured shapes for the children to stand/sit on


  • The children stand with a space around them.
  • The teacher explains the task and puts a picture or word on a coloured shape around the room.
  • When the music stops the teacher shouts a word or picture
  • The chil