Tips for Promoting Braille Literacy Skills

Encouraging correct hand movements and tactual efficiency right from the beginning will support the acquisition of braille literacy. The ideas, tips and checklists below are designed to assist you to work successfully with your beginning braille reader.

It is important to give children early tactual experiences with books, objects, symbols or braille cells which represent elements of the story.

And when you are reading to your blind child or teaching the skills of braille reading, remember to make it FUN – just as you would for a print-reader!

Hand Movements

English braille is always read from left to right. This technique should be established as early as possible.

Braille depends on movement to be perceived – a stationery finger cannot read braille. The most efficient braille readers tend to use two hands and many fingers. Often, the fingers of the right hand are the “reading fingers” while the fingers of the left hand are “checking fingers”. This technique ensures that fingers do not go backwards over the braille to re-read a word or phrase. Encourage beginning braille readers to use both hands, use many fingers and to always travel in a left-to-right direction.

It is also important for the reader to be in a comfortable position in relation to the braille – arms and hands in a relaxed position with the reader directly facing the lines of braille. Braille which is off-centre in relation to the reader may be perceived incorrectly.

Fun with Books – Early Book Experiences

  • Encourage story-reading at home. Reading to children promotes language skills such as vocabulary development and familarises children with the patterns and rhythms of language. Have a collection of books with braille and/or tactual pictures in them for children to take home for story time.
  • Make books about what’s happening in classroom or the student’s interests e.g. “At the beach” with a few key words which encourage the student to make up a story. Get the student to share the story with others e.g. parents, Visiting Teacher, grandparents etc.
  • Book bags containing real objects can also be used to create interest in a story.
  • Create books using real objects e.g. pieces of bark, leaves and feathers can be used for a story about a rainforest

Fun with Braille – Early Tactile/Braille Experiences

  • Play a matching game with various squares of differently textured fabrics.
  • Encourage tactual exploration e.g. fill a large bowl with uncooked rice and a few hidden items to find.
  • Make a ritual of each braille lesson by preparing the hands for braille. Have the student clean their hands using handiwipes or similar.
  • Sprinkle talcum powder on the page to encourage a soft touch.
  • Which is different: braille a line of braille cells with one that’s different and ask child to point to the one that’s different.
  • (if culturally appropriate) Easter eggs e.g. ask the student to find the eggs on the pages of the book. Use a line of braille cells to represent grass and eggs. Another version of this is to ask the child to find the rabbit in the grass.
  • Other similar ideas include: where’s Mum and have the “m” in the braille, use student’s name or first letter their name
  • Leap frog (pretend your fingers are a frog, leap frog over the gaps, land on the next braille cell).
  • Ask the child to pretend they are a computer and make a noise when they find a different braille symbol.
  • Make a braille a wave using dots 3,2,1,4,5,6 and repeat or dots 6,5,4,3,2,1 and repeat.
  • Story map: make up a story to go with a braille picture or pattern (e.g. chicken going to the hen house). The student’s fingers follow the chicken represented by braille cells to the hen house and makes up a story as they go.
  • After an excursion or special event at home, kinder or school, record the child’s retelling and create a tactually illustrated poster or story to go with it.
  • Fiddle cards e.g. “Twinkle twinkle little star” – stick a star and braille the word “star” on a card for the child to hold with when rhyme is being read. Make fiddle cards for other popular children’s stories such as the “Three little pigs” etc.
  • Tactile snap games e.g. find two of a kind (shape or braille cell).
  • Adapt or invent other games – use tactile dice, non-slip mats, trays and other containing devices so that the game pieces stay where they are placed.
  • Create braille stickers using braille label for rewards or fun.

Introducing Braille

When first introducing braille to a student you may like to consider the following ideas:

  • introduce words or letters starting with the first letter of the student’s name
  • letters most easily recognised tactually e.g. b c l g k p and x
  • letters most easily written in braille e.g. a b c l g p
  • high frequency words – the “Golden Words” or “One Hundred Most Common Words”
  • keep a checklist of known braille and give plenty of opportunity to use these
  • create a personal dictionary so the student can record and find words when needed
  • use texts with lots of repetition, rhythm, rhyme and humour e.g. Ozzie Dots
  • stick braille labels around the room e.g. braille label student’s name on table
  • display the braille alphabet with print equivalents for visitors to the room
  • stick braille letters or words under table or other interesting places where the student might find them

Linking Braille with Other Classroom Activities

  • Link tactual input with auditory games or activities e.g. braille labels for story CDs.
  • Build up a collection of games which can be played tactually e.g. bingo or “beetle” using braille numbers/words/letters.
  • Encourage class mates to learn the braille alphabet and have a spare Perkins Brailler in the room – perhaps everyone can write braille notes to each other.
  • Have plenty of braille books with tactual illustrations ready to go as required.
  • Overwrite braille books so everyone can read them.

Tactual Efficiency

Gathering data is an essential first step to determining whether or not a student has a preference for a tactual learning style. The following is a summary of some of the characteristics exhibited by a tactual learner.

The student:

  • shows a preference for using his/her tactual sense to explore the environment
  • demonstrates tactual searching ability by locating objects tactually and using tactual sense to identify objects. Some students may use residual vision to locate objects initially and then explore the objects tactually. It is important to note how effective the student’s strategies are for locating and identifying objects.
  • tactually identifies common objects of different sizes in the environment e.g. chair, table, toys
  • responds positively to tasks or teaching situations involving fine motor skills e.g. cutting, tracing, picking up small objects
  • tactually identifies differences or similarities in geometric shapes
  • tracks along a variety of lines, locating beginning and end points e.g. spur wheel lines, sterocopied lines, lines made up of braille cells
  • tactually explores, without necessarily reading: own name, braille labels around classroom and home, braille numbers
  • produces own “scribble” using the brailler, lines of braille cells, patterns using braille cells
  • enjoys drawing with the brailler
  • shows interest in braille in books when being read to by carer or teacher

Checklist for Book Skills

The student:

  • understands the importance of clean, dry and warm hands for reading braille or at least some of these!
  • uses light touch, even flow of left to right movement across the page
  • uses hand/s for testing predictions and movement between lines
  • orientates self to the book
  • can find the front of the book (put something tactual on the front cover)
  • scans the whole page for quick initial feedback
  • turns pages using top right corner of the page
  • can find the top left corner of the page (spine side of the book)
  • can find the braille on the page

Checklist for Beginning Braille Skills

The student:

  • tracks smoothly across 5-8 lines of double spaced braille
  • locates braille symbol that is different in a line of braille cells
  • locates braille symbol that is the same in line of braille cells
  • discriminates two braille cells to determine if they are different or the same
  • matches and sorts braille symbols e.g. letters, numbers, own name
  • can reproduce a braille cell on the brailler
  • attempts to “read” or follow braille lines when being read a story

Other Fun Things to Do

  • Learn braille yourself!
  • Have a spare brailler in the class and encourage class members to learn the braille alphabet so they can write notes to each other.
  • Have a braille awareness week at the school.
  • Play braille decoding games – use jokes or riddles.
  • Play feely games in the class – have a collection of interesting items that students can identify just by touch.
  • Learn about Louis Braille and the development of the braille code.
  • Use the internet to find interesting information about braille designed for kids e.g. Braille Bug
  • Ask an experienced braille reader to the pre-school or school to demonstrate and talk about braille.

For more information see The Tactual Learner.