Friday, December 11th, 2015

Debra Mitchell, Director of Language Fundamentals


Parents are often looking for easy ways to incorporate multisensory techniques when working with their children at home. One of Riverside School’s favorite recommendations is pencil facilitation.


Pencil facilitation dates back to 1937 when Samuel Orton developed and recommended the practice for stutterers. It has since become a kinesthetic strategy to support struggling readers. Left-to-right directionality is an important part of reading. It is necessary to blend sounds and follow written words on a page. Pencil facilitation helps students establish this directionality.


How does pencil facilitation work and why is it a proven strategy to help struggling readers? Pencil facilitation can support student attention. Using the pencil to track reading prevents students from omitting words and lines of print when reading. In addition, it reduces letter reversals, insertions, and transpositions. Fluent reading contributes to overall comprehension, which is the ultimate goal of reading instruction. At Riverside, our Language Fundamentals department uses pencil facilitation to improve oral reading by using it to teach proper pausing with punctuation and grouping words into phrases.


How can parents use this technique at home? There are several stages of pencil facilitation.

  1. Children can begin by tracing the initial letter of each word when reading. This is especially helpful if the child is reading a list of words.
  2. A flick or checkmark under the first letter of each word is the next stage.
  3. As children move into passage reading, running a pencil continuously under the words can also be helpful. It is important to point out that the penciling should keep pace with the reading.
  4. When moving towards phrasing and pausing in oral reading, flicking the pencil upward at punctuation or after phrases could be added.
  5. To use pencil facilitation to decode multi-syllabic words, children should use the pencil to scoop under each syllable.


To encourage the use of pencil facilitation, model using it in front of your child. Take the opportunity to point out the accuracy improvements you hear when your child reads to you when using the strategy. In addition, a variety of gel pens, markers, and highlighters can be fun and motivating for many children. Pencil facilitation is a simple, multisensory activity to introduce at your home that helps students focus and improves their reading accuracy.


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