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Top Tips for Engaging Primary SEN Pupils with Literacy

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Teaching children with diverse backgrounds, different learning styles, and varying ability levels is no easy feat. And this includes being an SEN Teacher, whether you choose to specialize or not. Many children with dyslexia, autism, ADHD, and broad-spectrum learning difficulties will attend mainstream classes for some or all of their school careers. 

Despite being a crucial step towards inclusion, understandably teachers may find this rather daunting. So, what can you do to ensure that SEN children are able to learn effectively without negatively impacting the rest of the class? You will find that it is very much a balancing act, with widely varying levels of support. Some children may have an EHC grant, which will give them access to a specially trained teacher, however in most instances, with the help of your SENCO, you will find yourself needing to become an expert.

Teaching literacy can be especially difficult, with the neural, auditory, articulatory, visual, and motor skills of SEN children being rigorously pushed. It is widely acknowledged that early demoralization in the classroom can have a lifelong and detrimental impact on pupils, so the pressure is real. SEN children must be given a fair challenge and chance to learn and enjoy literacy.

To engage your SEN students with early reading and writing, here are some tips; best of all, their classmates will also benefit.

Handwriting Tools

Especially useful for dyspraxic children who may find it difficult to engage the complex motor and cognitive skills required to write by hand; a range of tools are available to facilitate the task.

Pencil grips

These make learning to write much easier on a child's muscles. In addition, sensory grips with soft bristles can enhance concentration by providing some stimulation.

Writing slopes

The Wedge Jotter Board is just the job. Its ergonomic design and built-in flip-out legs provide an excellent writing slope, enabling children to work and write at an ideal angle. When used in the angled position, the Dry-Erase Whiteboards are ergonomically comfortable and are suitable for children suffering from conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. 

SEN pupils at a Gloucestershire primary school using small, angled, dry erase boards to practise their writing in primary classroom in Gloucestershire..
SEN pupils using Wedge Jotter to practise their writing.

In children (and adults) with dyslexia and dyspraxia writing slopes make it easier to write at an optimum angle. Wedge Jotter's slope is set at an angle (15° landscape / 10° portrait).  When diagnosing handwriting problems, Therapists will look at a child's positioning.  If a child slouches, their shoulder and arm positions will be affected, which in turn affects their handwriting. Positioning is easier to establish with an angled board. 

Cursive writing aids

Items such as grooved wooden blocks and tracing paper can help children practice the movements required for joined-up letters, helping to create the muscle memory needed for future writing tasks.


If you have any children in your class with ADHD, you have probably realized that they lose track of time easily, and struggle to stay on task. Timers are a great resource to help children manage time effectively, so they make better progress.

It is a good idea to purchase timers that are engaging, such as light-up (visually appealing and easy to interpret) or liquid timers (easy on the senses), as children will be more likely to pay attention to them.

Sitting Supports

Many SEN children struggle to sit comfortably, and most of the time, they would prefer to be doing something else. Fortunately, there is a selection of resources available to aid children's posture and help them feel more relaxed when they write at a desk.

Seat wedges

Firm tilted cushions that will help to reduce strain on joints and ligaments and encourage active sitting. In doing so, the child will concentrate more on their work, and less on how they are positioned.

Foot balancers

Constantly asking children to sit still can be infuriating and distracting. Allowing children to discreetly move a balancer beneath their feet, their fidgeting will not distract the class, whilst providing relief to the fidgeting child.

Visual Discrimination Aids

By stabilizing visual attention and improving eye control, visual discrimination aids can help children with dyslexia understand the shapes of letters.

Coloured overlays

Some dyslexics may experience visual disturbances caused by certain colours (deep yellow or blue), such as text glaring, or doubled letters. These symptoms can make it difficult for children to distinguish between letters, as well as cause headaches and discourage them from even trying to read. A coloured overlay can be placed over any book or worksheet, helping the child read more comfortably.

Visual tracking windows

Usually, the same size and shape as a ruler, a visual tracking window has a thin gap through the middle, intended to be layered over text. With this method, children can concentrate on a single line or word at a time, and not be confused by the number of words on a page.

Creating Quiet Spaces

A quiet corner where SEN children can read independently may help them when overwhelmed. A pop-up tent with a beanbag, soft lighting, and a selection of books can be just what some children need to re-focus. The entire class can benefit from some quiet time to read too. You just need to ensure that all class members adhere to the one-at-a-time rule, so that all pupils know that when the tent is occupied, that child needs space. 

A National Literacy Trust study reveals that children who can read, write, and communicate well are more likely to succeed at school and lead successful, happy, and healthy lives. We hope that you have found the above tips to engage your SEN pupils in their literacy journey helpful.


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