9 Tips for Teaching Right-Brained Learners to Read
Sarah Major, M.Ed. is passionate about working in harmony with a child's immaculate design to support their learning strengths. As a Title 1 Program Director and Designer, Sarah earned awards for creating her own multisensory educational resources that have now been sold in all 50 states and over 150 countries. By design, Sarah’s materials encourage right-brained learners to see the big picture, fulfilling their need to understand why it matters and applying that knowledge to real life scenarios.
There is a Difference Between Left- and Right-Brained Learning
It is human nature to doubt what we do not personally experience. It is also human nature to accept as correct what we are most familiar with. When confronted with someone who is wired differently from ourselves, it is human nature to urge them to just try harder to think and process the way we do so naturally.
While I understood for most of my life that other people have opinions or preferences that differ from my own, I hadn't deeply grasped the concept that people truly think and process in vastly different ways. I can read and study and research about left-brained processors all I want, but I cannot truly understand that way of thinking because it is not at all how I think.
This Difference Between Right- and Left-Brained Learners is Most Obvious in the Classroom
To put it in simplest of terms, our educational system takes a linear, analytical approach to teaching children. Those children who are linear and analytical by nature, of course, do well within that system, as do other children that have a good support system at home and at school, or who have a whole lot of determination to make it.
There are so many children who struggle to learn to read. Those children experience failure not because they are not capable, but rather because the material is presented in a linear way, an approach that is exactly opposite of how their brains are wired to process information. Curricula that teaches in a traditional way conforms to what is considered the correct way to teach reading, and yet we continue to lose a large percentage of children.
How To Make Learning to Read Easier for the Right-Brained Learner
Key points to remember when teaching the right-brained student.
- They have pattern-seeking brains,
- so they need to see the global view from the beginning,
- and won’t do well if they are fed one detail at a time in a specific order
- by adults who believe they need to be taught every detail, one at a time.
Tips for making reading more right-brain friendly
1. Display all sounds from day one.
What makes the transition from spoken language to written easier for young children is embedding symbols in images and stories that will permanently link sounds to their letters. Alphabet Tales was written to ease this transition. Children love to be read to, and while you enjoy Alphabet Tales together, the stories and their illustrations will do the work of linking letter symbols to letter sounds. The process turns a foreign concept into a kid-friendly one.
In addition, tactile activities are provided for each letter than help send the new concepts into body memory.
2. Fill your walls with words from the first day
Display sight words
One wall can be a traditional word wall with columns of alphabetized sight words. These words can be the ones prescribed by your school district - but you can add more high-frequency words based on how often they appear in books children will read. Check out right-brained SnapWords® for a collection of sight words for Kindergarten and first grade.
Display a broad array of vocabulary words
Another wall can be filled with really big, colorful words that you know are way above their grade level, organized into three groups: NOUNS, VERBS, and ADJECTIVES.
If you are in a classroom with children older than first grade, you can also add categories for ADVERBS, and PREPOSITIONS, and CONJUNCTIONS. Fill that wall with words you introduce, one a day, modeling the use of the word orally as you write short sentences on the whiteboard or chart paper. I prefer chart paper because you can leave one sheet posted for a whole week as you add to it, a word a day.
Once you have introduced the word, modeled its use, used it in sentences, and the children have done so as well (preferably in a little notebook with a date by each entry), move the word to the Big Words Wall. Do this all year and watch what happens to your children’s vocabulary!
3. Don’t limit content
I know firsthand that school districts have lists of words that are to be introduced, one at a time, in a prescribed order. Take this with a grain of salt, please! There is no such thing as a first-grade word! Words are for any age child, and the more words you display, and use, and play games with, the more incredibly your students will advance. I always paid attention to the words kids wanted to use in their conversations with their friends and to the words they used when writing. If we can focus on what interests them they will be engaged in learning!
4. Teach every spelling for each sound at one time
I know it is "normal" to teach first graders vowel/consonant/silent E as a spelling pattern as suited to their level of understanding. However, if you teach that spelling for long A in isolation, your right-brain learners will become confused when you teach another word with a different spelling for long A.
As early as kindergarten, you can display a chart with all the sound spellings for Long A with lists of words that follow each spelling pattern, and they will not only easily grasp the idea that sounds can be spelled different ways, but will also be able to use that information effectively.
Specifically, you can teach in kindergarten that Long A is spelled:
A-E as in cake
AY as in pay
AI as in paid
EIGH as in eight
AIGH as in straight
A as in paper
EA EI as in vein
EY as in they
5. Avoid memorization as a means of learning and remembering
Ok, the list above is a totally left-brained chart that is trying to look a bit right-brained. The reason the chart in Tip 4 is left-brained is because, while it does list the spellings for Long A in a global way, it just imparts the information and waits for the children to memorize it.
There is no possibility for pattern-seeking, and remember, right-brain learners must be able to detect patterns in order to make meaning. So, what is more right-brain friendly is to display each sound spelling at the top of a long strip of paper hanging vertically on the wall, then let the children help you find words that follow that pattern and add them to the paper as they encounter them.
They will learn to group words according to similar spelling patterns.
6. Right-brained children need to use what they have learned
Children can see and hear a detail like, "AI says long A," but they have to be able to do something with that detail in order to learn, remember, and truly use it in real life.
One way to let children use, and thus remember learning about Long A spelled AI, is generate other AI words with the students, letting them write the words on little cards. Then challenge the children to use the words they just wrote on cards in a little story, asking them to illustrate their story. It works to create a word bank on your whiteboard for them to use and see if the words spark an idea for a picture/caption.
If they are truly beginners and need to tell part of the story with pictures, great. Just encourage them to use their AI words as labels on their pictures. You might follow this lesson with one that focuses on AY as a spelling pattern for Long A. The AY spelling pattern appears most often at the end of words, while AI appears inside a word. The students will have fun sorting words into two groups if you supply them with words on cards, half of them with AI and the other half with AY words.
A Great Hands-on Activity
Here is an example of a sentence that utilizes AY words that can spark an idea for drawing a picture to go with it. Drawing and writing in tandem is a wonderful activity that will strengthen left-brained functioning for right-brained learners.
7. Involve the body in movement
Instead of just asking the children to remember that the A comes before the I in that sound spelling, body-spell the sound so that their movements will help them remember the sequence of the letters. Here is AI body-spelled:
What children do with their bodies, they remember.
8. As often as possible, share new material within charts or graphic organizers
Remember, right-brain processors learn quickly because they snap mental pictures of what they are learning. So if you have all the information in a format that they can observe, snap a picture of, and remember, their rate of learning will astound you.
If a right-brained learner doesn’t “learn” the concept the first go-around, please don’t show them the same lesson again. Think about how to organize the information in a way that's compatible with their brains.
9. Teach from whole to part
All of these tips 1-8, are inter-related to a degree. Starting with the whole and then teaching the part is similar to what I said about showing students the global whole before teaching little points.
But really, there are several different applications for this same principle.
Right-brain learners need to see the goal before they can learn the pieces we believe they need to learn first so they can learn the concept. It goes terribly against our grain to start by showing a child a stylized word such as “TOGETHER” or “THROUGH” before we’ve taught them to chant the ABC’s, their basic sounds, short vowel sounds, and how to sound out words with various complex phonics rules.
Right-brained learners do best if they can start with the whole word and then break it apart.
Here is an example of othographic mapping in which we begin with a large word, NEIGHBORHOOD, and then identify in color the three complex phonics rules. Notice we use smaller words that share the sound spellings that appear in the large word. Find right-brained phonics lessons done for you in The Illustrated Book of Sounds & Their Spelling Patterns!
Teach from Whole to Part
Even in a long word, once sound spellings are highlighted, what is left are letter that are easy.
Follow These 9 Tips for Teaching Reading and Enjoy the Outcome!
The truth is that while we are attempting to lead a flaming right-brain processor through all those tedious little learning steps, their brains are getting hijacked by the burning questions, “What is this for?” “What am I going to make out of all these little pieces?” "How am I going to use this!" And they might stare at you blankly at times. Most frequently those blank stares are interpreted by adults as the child’s inability to learn. But really, the blank stares are our signal that the children are unable to process this new information the way we are teaching them.
Find Resources for Right-Brained Learners and Watch Them Soar!
Sounds & Their Spelling Patterns
Sound Spelling Display Cards
Sound Spelling Teaching Cards
Right-Brained Phonics & Spelling Kit
All Child1st resources are designed to use in regular classrooms or at home and ensure that right-brained learners have the chance to learn new material in a way that makes the most sense to their brains. If you have any questions at all, please reach out and someone on our team will be happy to help!