Big Picture Thinking and the Dyslexic Student (Part 2)

The Alphabetic Principle

This brings us to the concept of The Alphabetic Principle and in a moment you’ll see why this links in so well with everything we’ve been talking about so far.

The Alphabetic Principle represents ‘the big picture of reading’ for the dyslexic learners amongst us.

So what is this Alphabetic Principle exactly?

The alphabetic principle combines alphabet knowledge with the overarching concept that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of the spoken language and that these letters / sounds make up our words.

  • There are 26 letters in the alphabet and these letters can be used in a lot of different combinations to make different words.
  • There is a predictable relationship between letters and sounds and the more we read the more we will notice these repeated patterns. The repeated patterns can make the same sound, however, sometimes they can make more than one sound.
  • Each letter in the alphabet has a letter name and its own letter sound.
  • Letters can be combined to make blended sounds or new sounds.
  • In some words, some letters are silent.

  • Each word needs a vowel sound.

Understanding how to read, is about learning that words are made up of many different letter patterns. We can reuse letter patterns because they are often repeated and predictable and for those looking for the process or formula this is it!

It’s understanding that the letters follow a set of rules that lets us know what sound the letter or letter combinations will make. (Being able to remember these rules is often where dyslexic learners experience the most difficulty).  The Reading Switch is able to offer a solution to help bridge this learning gap. 

Imagine how difficult learning to read would be for your child if their understanding of the Alphabetic Principle was incomplete or perhaps had been missed along the way.

For the dyslexic learner, this concept needs to be specifically taught. It needs to be spoken about more than once. It needs to be repeated regularly until it is understood and becomes part of their reading knowledge or as I like to say, part of their internal framework for reading.

When I first spoke about the Alphabetic Principle with my children, I was surprised that they didn’t understand how reading worked. How did they get to year 3 and year 5 without this knowledge you may ask – quite easily really, it had already been covered in earlier grades by different teachers and it was just assumed they knew!

This is what I did to help my children understand this very important concept.

I explained the Alphabetic Principle to my children in story form. I began with the Alphabet being a special system of letters and that all the words in the English language are made up of these 26 letters.

And it flowed on from there – me explaining in a way that they understood. Them getting curious and asking questions and the story began to evolve…

They already had an understanding of the letters in the alphabet – they just lacked the bigger picture of the role the letters played, how words were formed and how to know when to use what letters.

Dyslexic learners are quite literal and often lack the rules of letters and sounds – they write and spell exactly as they hear a word with a fair bit of guessing In between. I guess you could say the internal structure for reading is often lacking.

I used pen and paper to write the letters, illustrate the story with very simple drawings and also writing letters, letter combinations and words. I was able to show them how we use the letters to make the words. How we can change  letters to make different words. How we can add letters or take letters away to make new words.

The purpose of explaining the Alphabetic Principle to my children was to help them form the structure in their mind that would help them make sense of the smaller components of reading. It gave them a place to connect what they were learning and link it with their previous knowledge of the alphabet.


The Reading Switch is a Dual Code Reading Program for Children with Dyslexia and Other Reading Related Difficulties. 

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About Author

Brylee Langley

Founder of The Reading Switch,
Mum of Two Dyslexic Children, Lived Experience,
Parenting Dyslexic Thinkers

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