Multisensory Monday: TacScreen Review

Hi Everyone,
I know it’s been awhile since I posted for Multisensory Monday– it’s been a busy time at Ladder Learning as we prepare for many new students this summer!


Today I have a video review of the TacScreen, which is a great multisensory tool for travelling Orton-Gillingham tutors or those who just want another option to keep their students engaged (most of our students love some occasional iPad work to break up the lesson.) The TacScreen would be ideal for students with ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, and Autism Spectrum.

I was sent a free copy of TacScreen to evaluate it, although I had previously purchased a few for my tutors in Atlanta to use. I have been personally using the TacScreen for a few weeks now, and I can definitely say I’m going to leave it on my iPad and continue to use it in my tutoring sessions!

If you would like to purchase your own TacScreen cover, you can do so at

Reversing Reversals Series

Good Sensory Learning is a great company that makes workbooks and curriculum for students with dyslexia and other learning challenges. They recently came out with a new set of activities in their Reversing Reversals series. Reversing Reversals is a wonderful series that involves fun exercises and activities for students who need help with b/d, p/q, and other types of reversals of letters, numbers, or words. My students love the different activities where they are racing to beat their time (by circling all the b’s or p’s or q’s in a row) or coloring all the b’s one color and d’s another to make a neat picture. These are easily transportable activities that parents, tutors, or teachers can use with their students to help them improve their attention to detail and reduce those reversals!

Reversing reversals products

CHair kiCK Trick for CH/CK Confusion – Multisensory Monday

Hi everyone! I had a wonderful holiday season and am looking forward to a great 2016!

For the first Multisensory Monday post of this new year, I have a simple trick called the “Chair Kick.” Thanks to Karin Merkle of Rapid City Dyslexia Care for teaching me this great idea, which has worked wonders for one of my online students who has dyslexia.

The “CHair kiCK” trick

This simple trick works great for kids who are confused between the sounds of the digraphs “ch” and “ck” (because they look so similar).

Make a drawing like this one for your student:

CHair kiCK Trick for CH/CK confusion
CHair kiCK Trick for CH/CK confusion

Tell your students that the “ch” digraph is a nice comfy CHair. The round part of the h is the poofy cushion and draw a stick figure sitting down on the /ch/ chair. Then tell your students that if they tried to sit down on the “ck” instead, they would get a kiCK right in the behind. If you’re more talented than I, you could draw the k as a leg that is kicking up.

Then when your student comes across the ch or ck in reading, you ask them if the digraph is the /ch/ chair to sit down on, or the /k/ kick one.

This is also a great one to demonstrate and act out!

For some free, printable worksheets to work on digraph sounds (especially good for older kids), check out

Also check out Sarah Z.’s post today about the Floss Rule AKA FLSZ rule. Sarah will be dedicating the first part of the year to the OG (Phonics First) spelling rules.



Multisensory Monday: the H Brothers

Today’s Multisensory Monday is a strategy idea I have seen used in several different places before, and I saw a great explanation post about it on this blog: so I am posting her video explanation below!

The “H Brothers” is a way to give each digraph it’s own personality, as a mnemonic device. This is a good strategy to use with your students who have a hard time learning their digraph sounds (th, sh, ch, wh, and ph), or it would work great to introduce Kindergarten students to these sounds after they master their basic letter-sounds.

Here is the story, with examples:

Digraphs vs. Blends?

I have seen that some phonics programs do not teach digraphs and blends separately. In Orton-Gillingham programs, we know it is very important to a child’s development of phonemic awareness skills to differentiate between the two (this helps greatly with reading and spelling down the line). Consonant blends are made up of individual sounds, whereas consonant digraphs have only one sound (represented by 2 letters).

I use the Barton Reading and Spelling System, and the digraphs are represented as two letters on one single tile; whereas the blends are each on their own tiles. We “blend” the sounds together to make the blend in the word. When I taught young children reading skills, I noticed that when they are learning to read they will make the mistake of trying to blend their digraph sounds together– so you may hear a young child try to sound out the word “them” as “t-h-e-m.” Teaching the digraph sounds or “H-Brothers” is a very important step after teaching all of the alphabet sounds! Wouldn’t it be great if all of the alphabets in Preschool and Kindergarten classrooms included the “H Brothers” sounds?

Multisensory Monday: Word Ladders

Orton-Gillingham lessons tend to follow very set procedures, and sometimes this can get too repetitive for our students. I like to mix things up with different activities and ideas for doing the same skills, but in a different way (especially when reviewing a concept) so that my students don’t get too bored! One way I like to do this is to occasionally throw in a “word ladder.”

Word Ladders are great puzzles that engage your student’s phonemic awareness, decoding, and encoding skills!

The concept of a Word Ladder is that you start with one word on the bottom and change one letter (or add/delete one) for each rung in the ladder, following the clues, until you get to the top run with a completely new word! If you provide or create controlled word ladders for your students, they will enjoy it as a fun game break and still be reviewing phonics concepts they know. Also, they are a great center or homework activity for students which can be completed independently if they are leveled correctly for your students.

One great source for phonics-controlled word ladders is this book by Scholastic: Daily Word Ladders: 80+ Word Study Activities That Target Key Phonics Skills to Boost Young Learners’ Reading, Writing & Spelling Confidence
It starts off with CVC words, and moves into VCE words and more complex phonics. There are other sets in this series, which are not phonetically-controlled, but may be good for your older/more advanced students.

Or, here are some free downloadable worksheets created by a classroom teacher that follow the same concept (and are phonetically-controlled):

If you want to design your own Word Ladder worksheets, here is a free template,

For a very beginning student, check out these cut-and-paste word ladders (with pictures instead of word clues) from SuperTeacherWorksheets.

Another Word Ladder idea that is more “hands-on” is to use Unifix Phonics Cubes and
with the Unifix word ladder accessories:

CVC words:

Words with consonant Blends & vowel teams:

These are a great choice for center-work for younger children or your more severe dyslexic children, because they do not require any reading of clues as the worksheets do (they simply require logic to move from one rung to the next).

I have used these with several students, and my only complaint is that the Unifix cubes do not always stick together; and their idea of a Vowel Team/blend/digraph is a bit different from my training/program. You could easily make some of these from Legos or other building blocks you have lying around too!

I hope this gives you a fresh idea for practicing phonics/spelling skills with your students!

Also check out Sarah of RLAC’s post today on Rolling with Word Families, a fun dice-game that would be good for students beginning an OG program in tutoring.

Don’t make this mistaking when reading aloud to your children

Educator Pam Barnhill shares in this post on the Ed Snapshots Blog the #1 mistake that parents make when reading aloud to their children.

Everyone knows that we should start reading aloud to babies as soon as possible.

But, once children develop reading skills, parents often feel relieved that they are more independent now and read aloud to them less. Or stop altogether.

However, at this point they really need you to be reading aloud to them more, not less. This is because reading aloud to your children helps them develop language skills beyond decoding the words on the page. It helps with vocabulary, sentence structure, and most of all, comprehension skills. It also helps your children develop higher-level thinking skills.

It exposes your child to a wider background knowledge and words they won’t hear spoken in conversation. It helps them to hear the language spoken out-loud to know the patterns of language. This is especially important for kids with dyslexia, who may not be very strong at decoding, or kids with ADHD who may have trouble focusing on text when reading by themselves.

Other ways to expose your children to this type of language is to have them listen to audio books, or podcasts, or old radio shows. All of these auditory formats will help their brain’s language centers and further develop vocabulary, background knowledge, and comprehension.

When I was in school, I attended a school for kids with dyslexia, and our teachers always spent at least 30 minutes per day reading aloud to us. I credit this as helping me to score in the 99th percentile in verbal abilities on standardized tests. Your child may not get that type of instruction in his or her school, but it is easy to provide it at home.

If you find that when you’re reading aloud to your child they can’t follow an appropriate grade-level story, or they are only focusing on details and don’t get the bigger picture, then your child may have trouble with visualizing what they hear or read. This is a specific deficit in their comprehension skills, and our tutors can help with this type of problem.

Multisensory Monday: See to Spell Sight Words

Hi everyone! This week, I was lucky to have a set of these new “See to Spell Sight Words” cards sent to me to review, so I wanted to show you all how they work.

These will save you and your students a lot of time if you are into illustrating the sight words, and they are aligned with the sight words taught in the Barton Reading and Spelling System.

You can order your own set of See to Spell Sight Word cards from their website.

This week, Sarah Z. at RLAC has a challenge for you– are you up for it? head on over to her blog and check out her Think, Ready, Read MacGyver Challenge!

Multisensory Monday: CH Chain

This is a simple, fun multisensory idea for practicing the “CH” digraph with the /ch/ sound.

Ages K-3rd grade. For a whole-class activity or center.

You will need:

  • Several long strips of paper, in various colors.
  • Markers to write with
  • Glue stick
  • List of “CH” words

Hand out the list of “CH” words to each child and a few markers each, and several strips of paper. Have them copy the “CH” words onto one strip each, then link the strips into a chain and glue them together, like so:


When they get to their last strip of paper, have them link it with the next child’s, and so on, until you have one big paper chain. For extra reading practice, your students can read the words from the “CH” chain.

Here is a list of “CH” words, in order of difficulty:

CVC words with “CH”:

CVC words with “CH” and FLOSS letters/other digraphs:

“CH” words with short vowels and consonant blends:
cinch (soft-c)

“CH” words with vowel-teams and r-controlled vowels:

Multi-syllable “CH” words:

Challenge words:

This week, Sarah at RLAC has another digraph activity. It’s a great idea for drawing key-word pictures to cement those key-words in your student’s minds (and most of my students love to draw!)

Multisensory Monday: Apps for Phonemic Awareness

There are a million app lists out there for dyslexia; this is my own carefully-curated list of apps I have personally used with students to help them improve phonemic awareness skills (in preparation for, or in conjunction with an Orton-Gillingham program).


For younger kids (Pre-K-2nd grade):

  • ABC Magic 6 Sound Beginnings by PreSchool University (Free). This app allows you to work on beginning, middle, ending sounds as well as lower-case letter recognition. Good for younger kids, but the sounds/voices may offend an older child.
  • Montessori Crosswords by L’Escapadou ($2.99). This app lets you work on a bunch of different phonics and spelling skills using a Montessori-style movable alphabet. If you want to use this app to work on phonemic awareness, do the CVC words and have theh student touch the letters to hear the sounds and aid in selecting the correct sounds.
  • Spellyfish Phonics Short-a by Pyxwise software ($2.99). This is an app which is a bit pricey because you have to buy one for each vowel sound; but it has cute animations and introduces children to spelling simple CVC words by dictation with a movable alphabet.

For any age:

  • Hear & Blend the Alphabet by Sound Reasoning Learning Solutions ($0.99). This app is a really unique one that leads the student through hearing sounds and learning to blend sounds together in to words, all guided by a friendly robot!
  • iSpy Montessori by Interactive Labs ($0.99). This is a very simple app which has a voice which says “I Spy something that starts with…” or “ends with…” or “has a… sound in the middle” and the student has to tap the correct picture.
  • FreeFall Spelling by Merge Mobile ($1.99). This app lets you customize spelling lists with sound and pictures for your students to spell. Start with simple CVC words and limited letter choices for a phonemic awareness activity.

Today’s post by Sarah at RLAC features different ideas for how to make the blending drill more lively! Please visit her post here.

Multisensory Monday: Flowers vs Monsters FREE Printable Tutoring Game

Happy Spring everyone!

A few weeks ago, one of my students caught a glimpse of a certain very popular video game on my iPad, and asked if we could play it. Since it is not educational, I had to say no, but I promised her that I would make a version we could play together in tutoring.

This is basically a way to “gamify” your tutoring lesson, and it’s called “Flowers vs. Monsters”! I plan to only bring it out on special occasions, since it does seem to take a lot of time up out of the lesson (but it’s super fun for the students), so if you are using the Barton system, for example, maybe this can be what you do for your end-of-book post-test. This could be used by any type of tutor, really, to review any subject– just come up with quiz questions and assign them point values. Kids with ADHD especially go for anything that makes a lesson competitive and fun!

You will need a color printer, cardstock, and scissors to make the game. You may also want a 6-sided die and some tokens (eg Bingo Chips) to mark damage with.

You can download all the components for free from my TPT site here.

Print out the game board and pieces, and cut the pieces out. Separate the pieces into two piles, Flowers and Monsters. Save the two gravestones to put down on the game board. This is where the Monsters will “spawn” from.
You will need to either assign point values to whatever you are using (for example: reading a word gets you 1 point; reading a phrase gets you 2 points, reading a sentence gets you 3 points). Alternately, each player starts with 10 points and then gets 10 more points when they run down to 0. Points are then spent to buy Flowers or Monsters.

Flowers vs Monsters Game Pic

Game Play:
Let your student choose if they want to be the Flowers or the Monsters. If they want to be Flowers, they will need to sit on the left and plant their flowers on the soil or moat area. If they want to be Monsters, they will need to sit on the right.
Place the two gravestones on the right side of the board, where the Xs are (Monsters will spawn orthogonal to a gravestone).
Flip over 4 Flower cards and 4 Monster cards. These will be the Flowers and Monsters available to “buy” with your points. Flower and Monster cards all have a Cost at the bottom: this is how many points they cost to plant/spawn. If you do not use all of your points up on your turn, the points carry over to the next turn.
Flowers go first. The Flower player may spend as many points as they have to plant one flower. Flowers must be planted on the soil squares and cannot be moved after they are planted. Lillies can be planted only on the Moat squares and cannot be moved after planting. The Petal Bombs are not planted, they are placed on top of a Monster.
After the Flower player has planted their choice, the Monster player has a turn. First, the Monster player spawns a Monster (spending their points) orthogonal to a gravestone. If there are no open spaces next to a gravestone, then no Monsters can be spawned this turn. Then, the Monster player moves all Monsters forward 1 space (Skeleton Runners move 2 spaces, as long as there is a clear path). Monsters may not move between rows.
Monsters that move into a Flower space will try to battle that Flower. The Flower will fight back with its pollen or thorns. All cards have a black Defense Rating and a red Attack Rating, and this is how you determine who survives the battle. For example, if my Skeleton Runner attacks a Purple Flower, then they will both do 1 damage and they both have 1 defense. They will destroy each other and both be removed from the board. But, if my Zombie tries to attack a Rose, it will be destroyed and the Rose will live with 1 damage. Place a marker on the Rose so you remember that it has 1 damage; the next Monster to attack that Rose will only have to do one more damage to destroy it.

Flowers vs Monsters Game Pic2

Special Symbols on Cards:
‡= Skeleton Runners move double
≈=Lillies can only be planted on water
*=Petal Bombs are not planted, they just Bomb a Monster for 3 damage and then disappear

The Monsters win if they manage to get past the Moat. The Monsters then are assumed to take over the House.
The Flowers win when all Monsters have been placed and moved as far as they can go but they do not get past the Moat.

Alternate Rules:
Roll a 6-sided die to see how much the Monsters can move during their movement phase. The number on the die is how many movement points you have to spend. You can assign up to 3 movement points to one Monster. This makes the Monsters move much faster, and less predictable.
Try placing the Gravestones in different spaces on the board for more variety. To make it random, assign the spaces numbers 1-6 and roll a 6-sided die to place them at the beginning of the game.
Give your Monsters alternate powers. Perhaps the Vampires can fly and move more spaces. Maybe Petal Bombs don’t work on certain Monsters.

How this game is used for learning?
To insert some learning in to this game, you can have your student perform a task to earn points. If you have them spell a word, phrase, or sentence, you can even have any mistakes give your side extra points (that is up to you!) You could also have them read a word, phrase, or sentence on their turn to earn points, and spell a word, phrase, or sentence on your turn and subtract the points they earn from 10 to see how many points that gives you. Be creative and have fun!

This game is dedicated to Lilly!

Today’s Multisensory Monday from Sarah at RLAC is equally fun! It’s about increasing reading fluency by reading in funny voices (something most of my students do anyway!) Check out her post here.