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By Diane Wagner, BA, Grad. Dip. Child Study, LD@school LD Expert

Image of a teacher with her students

A strategy is a plan that not only specifies the sequence of needed actions, but also consists of critical guidelines and rules related to making effective decisions during a problem-solving process. Strategy instruction centers on how to use skills optimally to solve problems (Deshler, 1996). Teaching strategies are used by teachers and learning strategies are used by students.

Dr. Donald Deschler and his colleagues at the University of Kansas have been studying strategy instruction for students with LDs for over 20 years. Their work and that of other researchers has pointed to the effectiveness of the strategies approach to teaching students with LDs.

The following teaching, learning and organizational strategies can be used by teachers and by students with LDs.

Teaching Strategies

Teaching strategies are strategies that you can apply in your own teaching practice when working with students (either in the classroom or outside of the class). They should combine instructional methods, learning activities and materials that support student engagement, as well as the unique learning goals and student needs. When using teaching strategies, the following are some types of teaching strategies that may benefit students with LDs

Examples of teaching strategies to assist students with LDs:

  • Repeat instructions/directions (and/or have the class repeat them back)
  • Direct step-by-step instruction
  • Provide a demonstration of the skill/task or an example of the assignment
  • Combine verbal, written, and visual information (e.g. use of videos to support a novel study)
  • Provide flexibility and choice in assessment and evaluation for all students (e.g. students have a choice between writing an essay, doing an oral report or creating a visual representation of a certain topic) – choice helps students become engaged in the task and gives them an opportunity to select choices that highlight their individual strengths
  • Teach manageable chunks of information (chunking) to avoid memory overload
  • Increase participation by allowing plenty of time for the student to respond to questions, or ask a question
  • Provide visual aids, oral instructions, and handouts to students, depending on their learning style
  • Use of mnemonics for memory (e.g. rhymes, catch phrases, songs, acrostics or acronyms like “‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’” or “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” for notes on the musical scale)
  • Give examples of real life applications (e.g. measurements can be learned through baking a cake)
  • Use visualization activities (for visual learners) and manipulatives (for tactile learners) (e.g. use of Scrabble tiles to manipulate the letters in a word may benefit a tactile learner)

Learning Strategies for Students with LDs

Learning strategies should focus on making the students more active learners by teaching them different ways to process and understand information and how to apply that information. Learning strategies should depend on the goal and outcome that the student is trying to achieve (e.g. remembering important dates for a history test) and take into consideration the specific areas of strength and need in their learning profile..

Example of a reading strategy:

SQ3R – this reading comprehension strategy that is helpful for longer passages, textbook reading and can even be used as a study tool. This strategy encourages the student to question what they are reading and to formulate connections. This strategy can advance to additional steps and grow with the student as text material becomes more complex (e.g. SQ5R).

S- Survey – Before you read, skim the text. Look for headings, subheadings, bold words, pictures and charts.

Q – Question – Set the purpose of the reading by developing questions about the material. Ask questions about headings, subheadings, pictures, etc. as you work through them. Create ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ questions about the material.

R – Read – Break material into sections and read in chunks.  Look for answers to your questions.

R – Recite – Check your memory of the material by answering questions in your own words (either out loud or silently).

R – Review – Review the material and check or correct your answers.

Click here to open the PDF of the SQ3R reading comprehension strategy.

Example of a writing strategy:

TOWER – this writing strategy is helpful when students need help with the process of how to start and organize a paper.

T- Think – brainstorm some ideas and determine the focus of the paper.

O – Organize – create an outline, making sure to include all the examples you need to make your point.

W – Write – start to put your words on paper!

E – Edit – review your writing, or have a peer review it, and make corrections.

R – Rewrite – add your changes and create a final draft.

Click here to open the PDF of the TOWER writing strategy.

Organizational Strategies

One of the most pervasive areas of difficulty for many students with LDs is that of organization. This deficit is most apparent when students need to keep track of multiple tasks in each class – add that to their learning difficulties and you can get one frustrated student!  Organization and keeping track is a life skill, and the demand for this skill will only increase as the student gets older.

Examples of organizational strategies:

  • Clearly laid out worksheets
  • Use of mind maps
  • Study sheets and outlines
  • Student self-check lists to keep the student on track
  • Use of graphic organizers, agendas, calendars and even smart phones (for older students)
  • With the student, set a weekly goal with a reminder card the student can carry everywhere
  • Use coloured highlighters and folders to organize material into subjects
  • Use a written or numbered schedule to help the student prepare for the day
  • Highlight any changes to routine in the student's schedule on a card which can be carried from class to class
  • Have separate folders for each subject, or one large zippered binder, divided into subject areas

Adapted, with permission, from materials developed for the Learning Disabilities Workshop on the SNOW website: www.snow.idrc.ocad.ca/


Deshler, D., et al (1996). Teaching Adolescents with Learning Disabilities: Strategies and Methods. Denver, CO: Love.

Resources Available on the LD@school Website

Click here to access the Practice Informed Summary, "Metacognitive Strategies or Thinking About My Thinking”, by Cindy Perras.

Click here to access the Practice Informed Summary, "Graphic Organizers", by Nicole Lauzon.