"Reading is complex. It requires our brains to connect letters to sounds, put those sounds in the right order, and pull the words together into sentences and paragraphs we can read and comprehend.
"People with dyslexia have trouble matching the letters they see on the page with the sounds those letters and combinations of letters make. And when they have trouble with that step, all the other steps are harder."
— Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity

Dyslexia is the most common learning disorder in the U.S. It affects 9–17 percent of the population and represents roughly 80 percent of students identified with a specific learning disability. People with dyslexia often have normal or above-normal intelligence and may exhibit strong creativity or reasoning ability, but differences in their brains make reading much harder for them. 

Understanding Dyslexia

Like reading itself, the nature of dyslexia is highly complex. It is a multi-faceted syndrome whose symptoms likely originate from many diverse causes. While science has identified several factors thought to contribute to dyslexia, the root causes of these differences are still unknown. In addition, it is unclear which factors cause reading difficulty, which may simply occur at the same time, and which may be a byproduct of impaired reading. Current evidence does, however, support findings that dyslexia is (a) genetic in origin, (b) hereditary by nature, and (c) an impairment of the brain’s reading network—the areas used for reading and the connections among them.


Dyslexia affects the functioning of the brain's reading network. This network comprises a set of specialized areas and the connections among them that enable the brain to store, process, and transmit information central to the act of reading:

  • analysis of visual inputs of written language
  • sounds of individual letters and groups of letters
  • pronunciations of words and syllables
  • spellings of words and common spelling patterns
  • meanings of words and word parts
  • conceptual and content knowledge of grammar and syntax


The brain differences for learners with dyslexia make learning to read and write more difficult. Specifically, these differences may affect the ease with which individuals:

  • notice, identify, and manipulate the sounds of spoken language (phonemic awareness)
  • learn to map those language sounds onto individual letters and groups of letters (grapheme-phoneme correspondence)
  • read unknown words (decoding) or known words (word recognition)
  • spell words (encoding)
  • organize spoken and written language (syntax and semantics)

The added challenges that individuals with dyslexia face when applying the above skills have practical impacts on their learning. Learners with dyslexia typically:

  • require more explicit instruction, more modeling and practice, and greater feedback and support to master phonemic awareness and basic phonics
  • exhibit slower overall reading speed with less accuracy, making comprehension more difficult
  • have difficulty with spelling and written expression

Due to its complex nature, dyslexia affects individuals differently, and the severity of symptoms varies along a continuum from mild to severe. Longitudinal studies show that dyslexia is a lifelong condition; it is not something a person outgrows. However, with early and appropriate intervention, it is possible to prevent dyslexia from ever being a factor in a reader’s life.

Keys to Overcoming Dyslexia

The keys to helping dyslexic readers overcome this learning disability are early detection and then appropriate intervention with a research-based, structured reading program. Early intervention gives the best results. According to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, author of Overcoming Dyslexia, brain scans of kindergartners and first graders who have received a year’s worth of reading intervention begin to resemble brain scans of students without reading problems.

In his review of studies of highly successful reading programs, Dr. David Kilpatrick (2015) identifies three key elements of successful reading interventions:

  1. Eliminating the phonological awareness deficits and teaching phonemic awareness to the advanced level
  2. Teaching and reinforcing phonics skills and phonic decoding
  3. Providing opportunities for reading connected text (i.e., authentic reading)

— Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties, p. 304 (emphasis added)

Read Naturally offers several supplemental programs that can be used to achieve these identified outcomes. The following table summarizes which Read Naturally programs provide instruction in each area.

Read Naturally Program Phonemic Awareness Phonics and Decoding Fluency (Reading Connected Text)
Funēmics Program Focus    
Signs for Sounds Additional Support Program Focus  
Read Naturally GATE+ Additional Support Program Focus Program Focus
Read Naturally Live
Read Naturally Encore
  Program Focus
(Phonics Series)
Program Focus
Word Warm-ups Live
Word Warm-ups (print version)
Additional Support Program Focus Additional Support
One Minute Reader
(Web app | Books with audio)
    Program Focus

For more information:

Using Read Naturally Programs as Interventions for Dyslexia

Read Naturally interventions can be easily incorporated into both school and home settings and have helped countless students with dyslexia become competent readers. 


Phonemic awareness is the understanding that spoken language words can be broken into individual phonemes—the smallest unit of spoken language. Learners with dyslexia will likely need supplemental and sustained instruction in this area. The following Read Naturally programs build phonemic awareness:


Funēmics is an exclusively sound-based phonemic awareness program offering developmentally appropriate instruction for young learners and easy alignment to core programs for use as an intervention for at-risk readers. The program comprehensively teaches all six types of phonemic awareness (isolation, blending, segmentation, addition, deletion, and manipulation) to small groups of pre-readers or struggling readers without reference to print. ​
pointer Learn more about Funēmics
pointer Funēmics scope and sequence

Read Naturally GATE+

Using large flipcharts and student workbooks, Read Naturally GATE+ is intended for small-group or individual instruction. The primary focus of GATE+ is phonics and fluency, but every lesson in the GATE+ program includes explicit phonemic awareness instruction. Students focus on target sounds and practice segmenting and blending words with that sound with teacher support.
pointer Learn more about Read Naturally GATE+
pointer Scope and sequence of skills/featured sounds by lesson


Phonics in Read Naturally programs is provided using explicit, systematic instruction. In addition to explicit lessons and word reading practice, most programs provide nonfiction stories with multiple decodable words using the featured sounds to reinforce grapheme-phoneme correspondence. The following Read Naturally programs develop phonics and decoding:

Read Naturally Live and Encore

Both the web-based Read Naturally Live program and its print/audio CD equivalent, Read Naturally Encore, include a Phonics series designed to teach and reinforce phonics skills. To build phonics skills, each level in the Phonics series provides:

  • an explicit phonics lesson with every nonfiction passage
  • word lists for practice with the featured phonics sound(s), including many words within word families
  • stories that use many decodable words, providing practice with multiple exposures to words with the featured patterns

pointer Learn more about Read Naturally Live
pointerLearn more about Read Naturally Encore
pointerRead Naturally Live/Encore phonics elements by level

Word Warm-ups

The Word Warm-ups phonics program specifically targets the development of proficient decoding through supplemental phonics lessons—emphasizing accuracy and building automaticity. This reading program features systematic phonics instruction that teaches a student to decode and encode one-, two-, and multi-syllable words easily. Audio-supported lessons for teaching phonics allow for individualization and enable students to work independently.
pointer Learn more about Word Warm-ups (print version with audio CDs)
pointer Word Warm-ups phonics elements by level
pointer Learn more about Word Warm-ups Live (a component of web-based Read Live)
pointer Word Warm-ups Live phonics elements

Read Naturally GATE+

The GATE+ program provides explicit, systematic phonics instruction for individuals or small groups. Using the program, a teacher models each lesson on a large flipchart before students work in individual student booklets. Story questions review the featured sounds, and students spell words with the featured pattern.
pointer Learn more about Read Naturally GATE+
pointer Scope and sequence of skills/featured sounds by lesson

Signs for Sounds

The Signs for Sounds program provides explicit, systematic phonics instruction through spelling. Lessons build phoneme awareness and phonics skills as students segment the sounds in a word and then associate each sound (phoneme) with the letter or letters (grapheme(s)) that represent each sound. Signs for Sounds also teaches students a strategy for learning to spell irregular high-frequency words, thereby building the knowledge required for orthographic mapping.
pointerLearn more about Signs for Sounds
pointer Featured spelling patterns and phonics skills by level


Poor fluency is a self-perpetuating problem. Striving readers read so few words during their instructional and independent reading time that the gap between the number of words they read compared to their peers continually widens. These readers need targeted and intensive instruction in order to achieve fluency. 

Data has shown that the three intervention strategies in the Read Naturally Strategy—teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring—improve fluency, comprehension, and reading achievement. The Read Naturally Strategy programs all provide opportunities to read high-interest material at an appropriate level of difficulty, if placed correctly. Program features incorporate modeling (reading along with the teacher or with an audio recording), repetition (practicing until able to read with accuracy at a goal rate), and progress monitoring (by charting results).

How the Read Naturally Strategy Supports Students with Dyslexia

The Read Naturally Strategy combines three research-proven intervention strategies to create an effective tool for improving the reading proficiency of dyslexic learners and other struggling readers. Several Read Naturally intervention programs are based on the powerful Read Naturally Strategy:

Teacher modeling, repeated reading, progress monitoringTeacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring form the basis of the Read Naturally Strategy:


In Read Naturally Strategy programs, the student reads along while listening to a teacher or audio recording read the key words, vocabulary words, and story text—accurately and with proper expression and phrasing.

Teacher modeling helps a student with dyslexia:

  • Learn the correct pronunciation of new words and proper expression and phrasing. (A learner typically reads along with the audio of a story three times.)
  • Activate prior knowledge in the student's oral vocabulary. (Learners with dyslexia often have very well-developed listening vocabularies and background knowledge. Activating this knowledge allows readers to access this information.)
  • Experience multimodal exposure to both pronunciation and visual word forms. (Learners follow the text as they read along with the teacher or audio.)


In Read Naturally Strategy programs, a student reads the story or word list multiple times to master difficult words, increase accuracy, improve expression, build fluency, and understand the story.

Repeated reading helps a student with dyslexia:

  • Encounter key words and vocabulary words multiple times as they are repeated within a story or word list and across the stories and word lists within a level. (Learners map them into their mental dictionaries (lexicons) and master them as sight words.)
  • Independently practice reading each story or word list three to 10 times until able to read with accuracy and reach a goal rate.
  • Become a fluent reader by mastering difficult words, increasing accuracy, and improving expression—which increases comprehension and builds confidence.


In Read Naturally Strategy programs, reports and graphs track a student's performance on each story or word list.

Progress monitoring helps a student with dyslexia:

  • Recognize his/her improvement on a single story or word list by visually comparing the cold-timing score (before teacher modeling and repeated practice) to the hot-timing score (after the all of the steps have been completed).
  • Visually monitor his/her improvement over multiple stories or word lists on the fluency, comprehension, and word list graphs.
  • Become more motivated to continue working toward proficiency.

Dyslexia Resources

Research Basis for Read Naturally Intervention Programs


Dyslexia and Read Naturally [white paper]. (2020). Read Naturally, Inc.

Emanuel, Gabrielle, and Mayra Linares. (2016, November 28–December 10). "Unlocking Dyslexia" (five-part series), National Public Radio.

Gorman, Christine. (2003, July 28). "The New Science of Dyslexia,” Time.

Hall, Susan, and Louisa Moats. (2002). Parenting a Struggling Reader, Harmony Books, New York.

Hall, Susan, and Louisa Moats. (1999). Straight Talk About Reading, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Hasbrouck, J. (2020). Conquering dyslexia: A guide to early detection and prevention for teachers and families. Benchmark Education.

IDA Board of Directors. Definition of dyslexia. International Dyslexia Association. (2002, November). Retrieved from https://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/

Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties. Wiley and Sons.

Mather, Nancy, and Barbara J. Wendling. (2012). Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ.

Read Naturally Encore II Teacher’s Manual. Read Naturally, Inc. (2019).  Retrieved from https://www.readnaturally.com/knowledgebase/documents-and-resources/25/254

Shaywitz, S., & Shaywitz, J. (2020). Overcoming dyslexia: Second edition, completely revised and updated. Knopf.

Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. (2017). What is dyslexia? https://dyslexia.yale.edu/dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/

White Paper: Dyslexia and Read Naturally

Part I: What is dyslexia?
What dyslexia is and is not, common characteristics

Part II: How do proficient readers read words?
Typical brain development, how proficient readers learn to decode words and develop word recognition

Part III: How does dyslexia affect typical reading?
How dyslexia may impact the acquisition of proficient reading, the unique needs of dyslexic readers

Part IV: Dyslexia and Read Naturally Programs
How Read Naturally programs utilize evidence-based practices to support learners with dyslexia

View the White Paper


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