How to get students excited about learning braille

Post date: 
Thursday, 9 June 2016
Darth Vader

John Chester, VI Learning Coordinator at the King’s Academy in Middlesbrough, is back for part two of our series on braille. This month he shares creative and flexible approaches you can use to teach Unified English Braille (UEB).

It’s no secret that to promote interest in learning, especially something like braille, where possible it pays to make it interesting and even fun. Some braille learning schemes are fantastic for younger, emerging readers but an early years interest level is not always suitable if students start learning braille later.

Making resources fun

Find out what your students are interested in – recently I incorporated Star Wars into my lessons. I looked up character and planet names, and then used this as a spelling exercise. I followed this up by asking my student to write a review of the latest movie. This allowed me to assess her use of contracted braille.

Approaches to teaching don’t always need to be ground breaking, as often the simple things work best.

I worked with a girl who didn’t really engage with braille lessons. She was interested in music so I copied articles, lyrics and reviews from the internet of her favourite artists. You don’t always need a scheme; find resources and then you can put them into braille.

Top teaching tips

  • Time: Students need to access braille regularly to make progress. You may need to prioritise braille over other subjects as braille offers access to other areas of the curriculum.
  • Writing vs. Reading: Learning to write braille is much easier than reading. Allow plenty of time for reading activities.
  • Word cards: When teaching new groups of contractions (e.g. alphabetic word signs), try mixing, sorting and matching word card activities. This can work well as a starter or a way of assessing knowledge.
  • Introduce keywords from core subjects to build up braille vocabulary. Take English for example, choose keywords and introduce these as spelling activities. Alternatively, when a student is using large print or audio, and transitioning to braille, try re-reading exercises or activities from core subjects in the braille lesson.

Introducing new signs

Introduce new signs at a time that is appropriate based on the learner’s progress and understanding. This also includes the rules that govern use of the given signs.
I recommend the following order as a kick-starter:
  • Alphabetic word signs – these tend to be the first set of contractions anyone tackles, as you repeat most of the alphabet again making a word from using a single letter. Starting with ‘b’ meaning ‘but’ and ending with ‘z’ for the word ‘as'; it pays to learn and memorise these in alphabetical order.
  • Don't forget to introduce numbers and punctuation.
  • Strong contractions (e.g. and, for, of, the, with) – use them as words or part of a word (e.g. them, hand, forest, office, withdrawal), anywhere they occur in printed text. These are nice and easy rules.
  • Dot 5 (two cell contractions e.g. day, ever, father, here) – depending on the student, introduce at least some of these early on. 
  • Learning the signs above should give you a strong indication of a student's potential route on the journey. Release the remaining ‘families’ or ‘groups’ of contractions at the appropriate time. These can also be broken down into smaller chunks as they are in the Braille Primer, a comprehensive guide to contracted (Grade 2) braille.
Remember the journey from uncontracted (Grade 1, what could be referred to as longhand) to contracted (Grade 2, advanced braille – shorthand) is a long one and its length varies for each learner.

Between a rock and a hard place

When students are between contracted and uncontracted braille, creating resources can be time consuming. Duxbury Learning Tables are fantastic as they allow you to translate documents, based on approved braille teaching schemes. This means you can include the signs you want and exclude the signs you don’t need. Often this is a best-fit option with regards your students but can save a lot of time.
When using learning tables, you need to consider how you use them. You should avoid using vocabulary that would normally use contractions you haven’t yet introduced to your students. For example, the word "through", which could appear fully uncontracted, with the TH, OU, GH signs or as a dot 5 contraction. Choice of how you release new signs to your learners and what “table” you opt to use needs to be considered. Make a plan and stick to it! Learning tables should reduce the amount of editing you need to do but you may find some tinkering is essential.

Getting creative

Braille reading schemes are great and work well for many students. I started to adapt my approaches when some of the students were not as interested. I tentatively started writing some of my own stories, which incorporated contractions, at the appropriate level of my student(s). This has since developed, over time, to be the start of my own braille reading and writing scheme. My aim is to use character driven mini-stories to spike interest and ultimately push the students onwards. I don’t tell my students I have written the texts and exercises, so they do tell me when it is boring!
With the transition from Standard English Braille (SEB) into UEB upon us, the time is right for new approaches, getting creative and adapting learning to meet the needs of your students.

Part three: Braille for technical materials - understanding the changes


Further information

Photo credit: Stefano Buttafoco /
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