University of Edinburgh

Teaching Braille to Pupils in Mainstream Classrooms

Presented on Tuesday 13 January 2009

Session 3 Teaching Braille: Practical Issues

What are you aiming for?

  • A fluent reader who enjoys reading braille ...
  • With accuracy and good comprehension
  • To enable access to the curriculum
  • To be able to record and edit work efficiently
  • A life-long skill
  • Ryles (1996) found those who had learnt braille from the beginning had the best employment prospects. (See video)

Why is fluency so important?

  • Children who have lost sight have had previous experience of reading and an expectation of how fluent it should be,
  • Braille has to compete with large print, magnification and/or audio if the pupil is actually going to use it. The pupil has the final say!
  • Braille must be a positive experience from the very beginning, with constant growth - don’t accept a plateau, work through it!
  • If Braille has been a positive experience but is then rejected for another medium, it may be resumed later in life.

When and how often?

  • It really should be every day!
  • Initially perhaps only 10 minutes of reading/tracking.
  • Braille lessons MUST continue after the braille code has been learnt for at least a year or two, until the pupil is a fluent reader.
  • Use of Pupil Support Assistant (PSA) for practice and reinforcement.


  • Extraction from class is unavoidable for child who has experienced sight loss to learn braille - but reading is a vital life-long skill.
  • If child at secondary, the urgent need to access the curriculum may mean greater extraction initially,
  • Think about when to introduce touch typing, it may be more acceptable to some parents and children to start this sooner than braille. Many have coped with learning touch typing alongside braille.
  • Child may need reader and scribe, in the meantime.
  • In our experience Grade 1 braille code has taken 6-8 months and Grade 2 braille code, about 18 months.

What is a good technique?

  • Pupil should be sat at a table at correct height, so forearms are at right angle to upper arms,
  • Hands should be warm,
  • A light touch is essential,
  • The finger pads should be in contact with the braille, not the finger tips - 'flat' fingers,
  • Fingers should be aligned straightly,
  • Ideally all fingers should be used,
  • A smooth left to right tracking movement,
  • Using both hands!

Notes: Chalk on fingers
not actually flat but only so a ruler could fit underneath
Why straight, k cf ch etc
All fingers, some compromise initially but not fingers tucked underneath hands but up in the air, so will get tried and use them
No rubbing, absolutely not rubbing, can pause to give thinking time, or go back to start of word or line but not to rub on an individual braille cell

Using two hands independently

  • Before any letters are introduced, braille instruction should begin with the development of smooth left to right tracking movements and how to find the next line,
  • Independent use of each hand should be taught from the very beginning, and so include tracking exercises in every lesson until the pupil is fluent,
  • Older children really enjoy being timed and beating their own times.

Building discrimination skills

  • Braille in Easy Steps has excellent starter exercises
  • Start with long lines all the same,
  • Long lines and short lines,
  • Thick lines and thin lines,
  • High lines and low lines,
  • Find where the line changes,
  • Lines with spaces.
  • Odd one out, initially very different symbols,
  • Do with PSA and parents under sleep-shades, if possible.

Letter order

Factors to consider:

  • How easy the letters are to discriminate tactually: b, c, l, g, k, m, p, v, and x are usually the most easily recognised, (Troughton 1992)
  • The most difficult are n, t, r, and w.
  • Lots of common words begin with b, s, h, w, f, m, and t.
  • 't' is difficult to discriminate and the most common consonant - when to introduce t?
  • When to introduce vowels, especially i and e?
  • Child's own initials.

Braille Reading Schemes

  • 'Braille in Easy Steps' by Lorimer and 'Braille for Infants' introduce 't' early.
  • 'Kali' books use letter order of 'Braille for Infants' but with a less restricted vocabulary.
  • 'Firsthand' introduces 't' late. It was devised for adults, to introduce Grade 1, with the potential to move on to grade 2. There are no stories so supplementary materials are needed.

Age appropriate material

  • Older pupils need to come to a position where they accept a restricted vocabulary and very simple stories in the initial stages, so discuss it openly,
  • Introduce silly sentences and fun short stories based on made up characters – make up stories together.
  • Use paired reading as soon as possible so that more age appropriate material can be enjoyed.
  • Braille out pupil's own short stories or news (without any restriction to known letters or contractions) so pupil can read it back using memory to help.

An emergent approach

Cay Holbrook spoke of (congenitally) blind children in mainstream primaries, without any additional needs, learning grade 2 braille using class reading materials. This 'emergent' approach means letters and contractions are not taught in a structured order, but when encountered.

She suggested that a child who had experienced sight loss could be taught braille on a 'fast-track' and then re-integrated into class. Braille skills would be reinforced and refined through using class resources.

This would depend on the ability and stage of child when experiencing sight loss and the feasibility of greater extraction from class in initial stages.


  • Not as important as fluency,
  • Rubbing is the main cause of braille errors,
  • Good left to right hand movements minimise rubbing which leads to fewer problems with reversals and therefore greater accuracy.
  • Reversals cause some children more difficulty than others. If a significant problem then over-learning of first symbol can help it feel different to its reversal, when it is introduced.

Introducing new letters and words

  • 'Firsthand' has some good ideas.
    - 'Odd one out' with dissimilar letters
    - 'Odd one out' with more similar letters
    - Short words with lots of repetition
  • Give thinking time as child who can already read needs to learn to process symbols in a new way:
    - Put extra spaces between words
    - Worksheets with tracking lines between each letter have worked very well eg; h ---- e ---- l ---- p ---- help
  • Don't over-rely on flashcards and 'Interlock' tiles as they may encourage rubbing.

Independent use of hands

  • Despite being taught 'splitting' of hands at the beginning, as content increases, it is likely the hands will go back together again,
  • Accept for a while, then allow right hand to only read last word by itself, while left hand finds the next line.
  • Gradually encourage earlier splitting, aiming for halfway along line.
  • If one hand is less sensitive do some 'one hand only' reading using the less sensitive hand.
  • Problems are much greater if the right hand is the least sensitive and there may come a time when you need to accept it. Discuss with the pupil.

Paired Reading

  • It is vital that instruction continues after the braille code has been learnt and paired reading is an ideal basis,
  • Use a book from class reading scheme or novel of child's choice, perhaps one that child is familiar with as had seen the video, eg; 'Matilda' by Roald Dahl,
  • When you read, keep an eye on child's hand movements to ensure they are keeping up: adjust your speed accordingly, but ensure child experiences a fluent reading style.
  • When it is the child's turn to read, give enough prompts to maintain fluency and confidence.
  • Gradually increase opportunity for sustained reading.

  • Need to regularly record reading speed and continue to encourage pupil to aim to read faster,
    discuss openly if speed drops when difficulty increases,
  • Miscue analysis highlights common errors so that follow up work can be targeted as appropriate
    also shows if child has good comprehension as miscues will hopefully be more in context.
  • Record accuracy rates, aiming for 90% plus
  • When child achieves consistently high accuracy give opportunity for silent reading so that sub-vocalisation does not become an ingrained habit that would keep reading speed low.

Extending Skills

  • Show child to get overview of layout of the page using whole hand,
  • Develop quick, skim reading, where child has to read some words, especially titles and sub-titles, but not every word to get idea of general content,
  • Give opportunity to develop scanning skills, eg; to find a specific word - initially one that reoccurs frequently in the text,
  • Lorimer suggests an advanced reader should experiment with own new hand movements.