Tips to support your child learning to read with dyslexia

This post is Part Three in the Reading with Dyslexia series where I focus on SYLLABLE DIVISION.

You can catch up if you missed Part One and Part Two.






Syllable division is when we break long words down into small sections so we can read them. For example, when reading ‘caterpillar’ we would break it down like this: cat – er – pill – ar.

It’s vital we help our children master a syllable division technique as this will enable them to read long words and sentences.




When it came to reading, my children would get too lengthy words and guess them.  Most often, they would look at the first letter and sometimes the last and guess the middle - generally, their guesses were wrong.  This, unfortunately, became a habit that was very difficult to break.  This was when I realised we needed a strategy, so they didn’t panic every time a word included six or more letters. 

I discovered Toe by Toe by Keda and Harry Cowling.  Toe by Toe has a beneficial and straightforward syllable division strategy to help children, dyslexic or not, decode long words.  This method works for all ages. I only found it when my son was 10. It made such a difference to his reading!

To help children and parents understand the method clearly, I’ve developed resources, using the Toe by Toe framework. You’ll find my starter guide below. However, if you’d like the full guide (to divide more complex patterns and words) email me to receive my downloadable “How to Read Big Words Guide.”



1. Learn the vowels

Sit down with your child and teach them vowels a, e, i, o and u. Make sure your child can recognise all vowels before you move on.  Make the learning fun by using colourful, tactile letters or asking them to spot vowels hidden amongst other letters. 


2. Highlight the vowels

Type up a long string of letters - vowel then a consonant and a vowel etc. (see example below). Ask your child to highlight the vowels in the letter sequence using a highlighter pen.

3.Divide the letter sequence into syllables (syllable division)

Ask your child to point to the letter that sits to the right of the highlighted vowel. Then, get your child to draw a line after that letter. Continue doing this until the end of the line (see example below).

4. Sound out the syllables

Next, write down or type up five made-up words (e.g. logintop, axitripin, posiponfer, rutofintim, budaslilom).  Get your child to practise the above process - highlight the vowels first and then draw a line after the first consonant following the vowel.  Once all of the letter sequences have been divided up ask your child to read each syllable and blend them to form a word. Your child should hopefully be able to read long words with more ease. 

This can be made into a fun game naming a robot by cutting up the syllables and placing them next to the picture (see below).


5. Here’s a recap:


6. Practise with real words

Once the process has been learnt with nonsense words, practise with actual words e.g. bett/er, wat/er/mel/on, cat/er/pill/ar.  When reading a book, allow your child to use a pencil and divide each word, they are unable to read.  Help them blend the syllables.  Soon the process will become automatic.




If you can be creative when it comes to learning, children with dyslexia will not only have more fun, but the information is more likely to enter their long-term memory too.


Here are some games you can play with your child to help with syllable division when it comes to reading long words.

1. Make silly words with fun letters

Using a mix of letters and vowels (their many companies selling beautiful letters such as Coachhouseworks) ask your child to make up a silly word with a letter, vowel, letter, vowel and letter. You can read the word together.


2. Cut words up

Grab some paper, lots of colourful pens, and a pair of scissors. Ask your child to make up new words and write them down (the more colourful, the better). Once you have plenty of nonsense words in front of you, ask your child to cut up the words into syllables, using the process described above. It’s a great game to help your child get to grips with the process.


3. Roll A Word dice game

It’s challenging to find games you can buy that follow the Toe by Toe syllable division rules. However, this Roll A Word dice game is one that adheres to the process. It’s easy to understand the concept. You take it in turns to roll the dice and make words using the letters in front of you. The best part is you can take the dice anywhere. Perfect for long-distance trips!


4. Silly creatures

Remember the game where you draw a head, fold the paper, pass it to next person, draw a body, fold the paper, and keep going until you reach the feet? Well, Silly Creatures is the same concept, but you introduce words too. Start by drawing ahead on the left side of your landscape paper. Next to the head, write a three-letter word, vertically. Fold your paper to hide the head and word, and pass it to the person next to you. Next, draw a body and write another three-letter word, vertically next to it. Fold and pass on. Finally, draw the tail, write a word, fold, and pass on. Then unfold all drawings to reveal your Silly Creatures and their silly creature names. See if your child can read the names using the syllable division process mentioned above (see example below).


This is the first step to learning syllable division. If you want further help, send me an email, and I’ll share my full How To Read Big Words Guide.

Keep in touch for the final post in my Reading with Dyslexia series. It’s all about COMPREHENSION.

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