Understanding Geography With Dyslexia: How To Manage?

Last Updated on October 4, 2023 by Editorial Team


Learning disorders are of different types, and dyslexia is one of them. These disorders affect a person’s ability to learn, retain, and use specific skills. This influences the academic performance of students dealing with these issues.

Students with dyslexia often struggle with reading, writing activities, and the use of spelling in different subjects. You may wonder if dyslexia affects a student’s ability to learn and understand geography. Well, yes, it does. Read more below to know how.

But first, let’s try to understand what dyslexia actually is.

Dyslexia: A learning disorder

So, people often misunderstand that dyslexia is a result of poor intelligence or difficulties in vision or hearing. But the fact is that some people develop dyslexia because of differences in certain areas of the brain[1] responsible for understanding and processing a language.

This results in reading difficulties as affected individuals have a tough time decoding letters and words and identifying speech sounds. Some challenges faced by dyslexic students are-

  • Poor reading ability 
  • Difficulty in forming answers or finding the right word to use in a sentence. 
  • Difficulty in remembering and analyzing the sequence of things
  • Difficulty in understanding the similarities and differences between different words and letters
  • Difficulty in spelling out words
  • Trouble pronouncing unfamiliar words

How dyslexia impacts a person’s ability to learn geographical concepts

There are many things you need to do to support your learning in geography. You are required to identify and name locations, locate them on a map, and predict and describe certain topics while giving answers to questions. You also must know how to use symbols, scales, atlases, globes, and maps.

Students with dyslexia may have a hard time doing all these things. They may –

  • Have trouble pulling out information from a pictorial source 
  • Ignore information presented as diagrams or text boxes  
  • Face difficulty in interpreting data presented in a table 
  • Feel lost when asked to read a map and find information 
  • Struggle to understand directions 
  • Get confused with instructions suggesting to look left or right

All these difficulties make learning geography tough for dyslexic pupils. Topics easily understood by their classmates are difficult for them, resulting in lower self-esteem and confidence in these children.

Research findings related to dyslexia and geography

Researchers have conducted some studies to observe if dyslexia hampers a student’s ability to comprehend geographical concepts. 

One study[2] investigated if dyslexic students had lower spatial and geographical thinking abilities when compared to other students. They assessed 25 dyslexic students and 25 non-dyslexic students in this study. 

A major difference between the two groups of students was observed in questions related to mental rotations. The difference was minor in the section on plan views. Non-dyslexic students also performed better in sections related to geographical thinking like describing a location, regions, etc. Overall, results concluded that in most exercises related to geographical and spatial thinking, other students performed better. 

However, interestingly, dyslexic students outweighed the other group in 2D – 3D exercises.

Importance of an educator’s approach toward dyslexic students

The primary requirement to support students with learning difficulties is that the teachers are aware of it and know how to help them. 

A study[3] was conducted to figure out teachers’ knowledge and perceptions of dyslexia. Sixty-one questionnaires were distributed to geography teachers coaching secondary school students. 

The study aimed to collect information pertaining to teachers’ perception of the learning difficulty, strategies they use to help these students, and their willingness to try new approaches to support dyslexic students in their classes.

Surprisingly, most teachers believed that dyslexic students have difficulties only in language arts. Some were also of the opinion that dyslexic students have trouble in orientation and science courses as well.

When asked if the presence of a student with a learning disability like dyslexia affects their teaching approach, more than half of them replied that it does not. This clearly indicates that many teachers do not use appropriate strategies to provide a better learning experience for dyslexic students.

Therefore, it is imperative that teachers are provided with specialized training to identify and help dyslexic students. With the right knowledge of tools and strategies, teachers will be able to support students with learning disabilities and bring positive change to their lives.

Strategies to ease difficulties faced by dyslexic students in learning geography

1. Provide Extra Time 

Extra time allows students with learning disabilities the time to think, understand, and process information at their own pace. Expecting a response quickly from these students is inappropriate as they need time to comprehend things before answering.

2. Use Visual Cues 

Use visual tools like diagrams or pictures to explain a particular concept while using specific subject language to help them understand better.

3. Encourage ICT Use 

By encouraging the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)[4] you can provide a better learning environment for dyslexic students to perform better in reading and writing activities. You can use text-to-speech tools, interactive books, spell checkers, and portable writing aids such as laptops to help your struggling students.

4. Allow Voice Files 

Let the students record their answers as voice files rather than writing them on an answer sheet. This will help you analyze if the student knows a particular answer without dealing with his language-related issues.

5. Teach Specialized Vocabulary 

Take time to teach keywords and specific vocabulary related to a topic. Once the student is aware of the vocabulary, you can go ahead and teach the main content.

6. Use Structured Response Sheet 

Provide structured response sheets to eliminate the need for writing long answers. This will also eliminate unnecessary spelling mistakes which rob the essence of the answer when presented in writing.

7. Allow Open-Ended Projects 

Let students prepare projects in their own chosen way to display their knowledge and understanding of a particular topic.

8. Highlight Specific Texts 

If you want the student to concentrate on a specific piece of text, use arrows or highlighters to mark which section of the book the student must concentrate on. 

9. Use Sections of Map 

Provide students with sections of a map rather than the entire map when doing activities like locating coordinates. Doing so will eliminate their confusion to some extent in figuring out the answer.

10. Work on Instructions 

Break down the instructions into smaller pieces to help the student understand better. You can also repeat the instructions multiple times and ask the student to repeat them so that you know they have understood them.

Summing up

Although we often find that geography is not given as much importance as other subjects such as maths or science, it is an important subject that helps develop spatial skills and geographical thinking. It allows you to understand the world we live in in a better way.

The knowledge of geography is essential in our daily lives too. Therefore, we must ensure that students with learning disabilities like dyslexia are provided with proper intervention in schools to support learning. 

By training teachers to develop a better understanding of dyslexia and giving them the necessary tools, we can create a learning environment to enrich dyslexic students with adequate geographic knowledge matching their grade level.


  1. Richlan, F., Kronbichler, M. and Wimmer, H. (2009), Functional abnormalities in the dyslexic brain: A quantitative meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies. Hum. Brain Mapp., 30: 3299-3308. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.20752
  2. Klonari, A.; Styliani Passadelli, A. (2019). Differences between dyslexic and non-dyslexic students in the performance of spatial and geographical thinking. Review of International Geographical Education Online (RIGEO), 9(2), 284- 303. DOI: 10.33403/rigeo.510360 
  3. Passadelli, A. S., Klonari, A., Michalakis, V. I., & Vaitis, M. (2020). Geography Teachers’ Knowledge of and Perceptions on Dyslexia. Education Sciences, 10(10), 278. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci10100278
  4. Huriyah, S. (2018). Using ICT Programs to Support Students with Dyslexia in Acquiring Literacy. ETERNAL (English Teaching Journal), 9(2). https://doi.org/10.26877/eternal.v9i2.2982

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