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Balancing Dyslexic Equations

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I have a dyslexic student (several, actually). One’s pretty bad, though. Although she has some pretty good coping skills to compensate, balancing chemical equations, where numbers and letters are supposed to be mixed up is really, really hard. So, I took the writing part out:


Some common ions on 3×5″ index cards cut in half.

Let’s make calcium carbonate. Normally, my students look up calcium on the periodic table and figure out its charge (Ca2+), and find carbonate on the ion list (CO32-). For my dyslexic student, she has to find the cards:


Calcium and carbonate, the charges are in the upper-right corners.

Next, check the charges and make sure they balance each other out in the compounds (or use multiple ions to get to neutral charge):


These charges are equal. Fold over the corners so the numbers don’t show.

Calcium nitrate (Ca2+ and NO31-) need a little more work.20140313-144311.jpg

Do similar things to make whole equations. For example, calcium carbonate breaks down into calcium oxide and carbon dioxide (note: carbon dioxide gets its own card; it’s not ionic):


This equation is balanced as-is. Colored Post-Its are a good visual for distinguishing operations vs. chemicals.

How about aluminum plus copper(II) chloride producing copper and aluminum chloride?


Small yellow numbers needed to balance charges in ionic compounds. But the overall equation isn’t balanced…


Ahhhhh… that’s better.


  • Far harder for students to mix up letters and numbers (at least, until they try to copy them down on their own paper).
  • Harder for kids to mess with the subscripts in polyatomic ions.
  • Really nice with practicing single and double replacements.
  • Easy to remind kids that when making ionic compounds, they can only use small yellow numbers, and when balancing whole equations, they can only use large green numbers.
  • Manipulatives get more kids (dyslexic or not) involved.


  • There’s a lot of cards and bits of colored paper operators to mix up and lose.
  • Takes up a lot of table-space.

So far, it’s actually working pretty well. I’ve even had a kid take a test using this method. Maybe I should patent it…


One response »

  1. Pingback: [Premium] Teaching Chemistry to Students with Dyslexia | Dyslexia | Dyslexic Advantage

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