Work Tasks {Reading & Spelling}

Categories: Language Arts

I love teaching reading. I have a completely non-secret bias for teaching reading over every other subject. Exposing children with autism to academics in a way that is meaningful and beneficial is one of my big passions. Our students have so much freaken potential that is SO often completely untapped. So get into it! Figure out the best way to get your student or child learning. Like I said – there is no preset curriculum or formula. Time for some individualization!

Earlier this summer I had the great privilege of traveling to Amarillo, Texas to present at the Region 16’s Autism Conference. One of my breakout sessions was on reading and I have gotten numerous emails to share the info from that session! So I will try my best to condense a 3 hour talk into reasonable blog post. We will try 🙂


  • Use whatever reading curriculum your school is using
    • enables you to participate in grade level meetings
    • makes inclusion easier
    • gives a basis for comparison

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  • My school using the Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Assessment.
    • The assessment determines reading level and guided reading level letter
    • Conduct assessments on a regular basis and individualize this as needed.


Pre-Reading Skills

  • Spend time mastering the foundational skills of reading. You need to make sure your students have a strong foundation to build on.


  • Teaching letter recognition:
    • take a baseline assessment to determine which letters they know and which they don’t
    • make a set of unmastered flashcards to use for discrete trial training
    • make another set of flashcards for mastered letters to use for fluency
    • fluency station set up (my OBSESSION):

The Autism Helper - Work Tasks


  • Book experiences
    • Get students familiar and comfortable with the format of books.
    • practice turning pages
    • orienting the book to the correct direction
    • Use easy text with repetition or adapted books



  • Adapted Books 
    • I love making adapted books for my pre-readers.
    • Books that have repetition allow students to memorize some of the text and “read” the pages
    • Include movable pieces so the students have something to complete while reading.
    • Check out my pinterest board for loads of adapted book ideas:

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Sight Word Recognition and Fluency Instruction

In the same way letter and letter sound recognition is a necessary foundational skill for reading – so is sight word recognition. Again – take the time building this skill until fluent mastery. This will help enable your students to become strong readers later.

  • I use the Dolch Words lists because I like that they are organized by grade. Many people like the Fry lists.
    • I usually start all students on the pre-primer dolch list. Higher students will move on quickly – but that way I can ensure that they have those words mastered.
    • Once a student has mastered one set – move on to the next level.
    • We work on these sight words in the fluency center.


  • Sight word generalization:
    • Fluency and discrete trial training is not enough.
    • Need these skills to generalize to actual reading.
    • Select some target words from mastered fluency sets.
    • Take data on correct or incorrect reading of the word within reading a book.
    • Look for specific discrimination errors. Maybe the student is failing to discriminate between two similar stimuli (words or letters). An intervention could be to enhance the discriminating features of the two stimuli {within stimulus prompt}.

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Word Attack Skills

  • Phonics versus Whole Language:
    • “The learner is always right.” B.F. Skinner
    •  use whichever approach is most effective for the individual
    • don’t need to subscribe to only one theory
    • pick and choose what parts work for your student
    • give your student the biggest bag of tricks possible
      • Strength of phonics: our students tend to be good rule followers and the structure and predictability can be easier to understand
      • Strength of whole language: focuses on comprehension (which is an area of difficulty for our students) and teaches how to learn from the context


  • Rule governed behavior:
    • One strength of children with autism is their ability to follow rules and follow routines.
    • This can be used to your advantage when teaching children how to read unknown words.
    • Create ‘rules’ for decoding parts of words.
    • Use cues and prompts to remind students to utilize these rules while reading.

For early childhood I love the phonics dance:

The Autism Helper - Work Tasks

I also love Words Their Way to teach spelling and decoding:

The Autism Helper - Work Tasks

  • Words Their Way:
    • I have gotten a bunch of emails about how exactly this is organized.
    • My students are grouped based on their Words Their Way Assessment. This assessment indicates where their spelling and decoding errors are located.
    • My paraprofessional gives a pretest on Monday by giving a random set of 10 words from the word sort. Words are scored correct/incorrect based on the specific spelling error we are working on – not the total correct spelling (ie. if the sort is digraphs – we only score digraphs).
    • The next few days of the week – the paraprofessional works on the word sort with the students. The practice doing the word sorts together. She talks to them about the rule. They practice spelling the words. She does some receptive language work (ie. find “shell” and put it in the baggie). They also play a spelling game usually at some point during the week. Like this one:

The Autism Helper - Work Tasks

    • By Friday, the students have had significant practice on the words in the word sort. The paraprofessional then gives them a post test on a random set of 10 words from the word sort. Again – words are scored correct/incorrect based on the spelling errors.


Oral Reading Fluency

So many language rules and skills are taught indirectly. Our students may not pick up on these implied rules. They might need direct instruction on these skills. Fluent readers use these methods while reading. We want our readers to sound natural and fluid – not robotic. Text read sounds like natural speech with appropriate pauses, intonation, and inflection.

  • Provide direct instruction on these skills.
  • Choose short and easy written texts
    • model correct reading
    • prompt student to mimic your reading
    • provide reinforcement for correct reading and error correction for incorrect reading
  • Use visual cues.
    • Highlight where you should pause – commas, periods, etc.
    • Circle quotes to emphasize the change in intonation.


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  • Modeling and teacher read alouds are also essential fluency tools! You can spend time modeling the correct tone and intonation. There are tons of fun ways to do this – teacher turn, girls and boys, paired reading, etc. This is also great for comprehension because you can use a book at a higher reading level than your students are at.




Comprehension is hands down the most difficult issue when teaching readings. Many of my students struggle significantly with comprehension. Often times the foundation skills are missing:

    • vocabulary knowledge {knowing what words mean}
    • question answering
    • context cues and inferences

The Autism Helper - Work Tasks The Autism Helper - Work Tasks

The Autism Helper - Work Tasks The Autism Helper - Work Tasks

I could write about comprehension strategies for days but I am going to share a NEW VIDEO TUTORIAL. This is my favorite method for working on foundational comprehension skills of answering wh- (who, what, where…) questions. Special thanks to my awesome SLP for playing the student 🙂


I knew I couldn’t keep it short! I told you – I love teaching reading! If you made it to the end – I hope you enjoyed this and found it helpful!


  1. Thank you for this post! I too love teaching reading, but am always looking for new ideas! I’m very intrigued by the Phonics Dance. I teach 6th grade 6:1:1, and my kids love to sing and dance, so I’m thinking this might be perfect for them. Would it be appropriate for students who have almost no letter recognition skills? Additionally, did you ever use it with any non-verbal students? Of course, they wouldn’t verbally be chanting, but I’m wondering if you saw gains in writing/device use? Thanks!!

  2. Do you have any list of books that would help?
    I found just one in the topic at Amazon such a lack of this subject for professionals

  3. Love it!! Thanks for all the great info in this post

  4. Do you have a list of the stimulus sentences you use for the wh- fluency trials?

  5. Yes – it would be great for students with minimal letter recognition skills! This would really help reinforce that! I have not used it with non-verbal students but it could be good for gross motor imitation, following directions, and sequencing!

  6. I can get you one! Give me a few days and I will shot you an email with the ones I use! Thanks for reading 🙂

  7. Would you be able to email them to me too please? Save reinventing the wheel! 🙂 love love love this post!

  8. Thanks for the great information. I was especially interested in the “wh” questions. You gave a great tutorial on how to assess answering fluently, but do you go over how you teach the skill anywhere?
    I would also love the list of stimulus questions!

  9. I would also love your list if you don’t mind sharing to us all 🙂


  11. Sasha, Do you use a reading program for any of your higher students?

  12. Hi Karen – yes after it is mastered within the fluency training we work on generalization of the skill within a natural setting! I will be doing a more indepth post on the fluency intervention with the list of questions after the summer series of posts are over. 🙂

  13. I will be doing an indepth post with stimuli list later this summer! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  14. No – I haven’t found a particular one I like! I use individualized curriculum for my groups!

  15. I would like to share that our county purchased Read Well K-3 for our self-contained classrooms. I love it and the kids love it too. This is my 12th yr and this is my favorite program. And it is aligned to the Common Core.

  16. Thanks for sharing, Becky!

  17. What level reading books do you use in your guided reading lessons?

  18. Depends on their level! I have students ranging from level A – M.

  19. Have you posted your stimuli questions? I can’t find them! Thanks!!!

  20. Yikes! Sorry – still on my ever growing to-do list. I will soon, I promise!

  21. I would also LOVE to get the sentences and questions for the “wh” comprehension task! Have you gotten a chance to post them anywhere yet? Thanks!

  22. I would like to post a question here in this forum and await for interesting responses.. How to make an autistic child read the words in a sentences without reading out the letters for each word? For example, the child will say ‘t’ ‘h’ ‘e’ – the ‘c’ ‘a”t’- cat, so like wise how to make him read just the word and not spell them out every time he reads a sentence?

  23. Hello! I was watching your video tutorial of the Wh- Question Fluency and loved the idea for one of my students. Are the questions you were using from your Wh- Question Mega Pack on TPT?


    Susan Henderson

  24. Our passion lies in realizing our dream of seeing as many kids enjoy unfettered literacy through active phonetics foundation.
    Spelling bee exercise


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