Literacy Instruction in Braille

Author: Elmwood Visual Resource Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand

...Braille: Deciphering the Code...
Every character in the braille code is based on an arrangement of one to six raised dots. Each dot has a numbered position in the braille cell. These characters make up the letters of the alphabet, punctuation marks, numbers, and everything else you can do in print. 







The letter "A" is written with only 1 dot.

1-dot Braille




The letter "D" has dots 1, 4, and 5.

Braille 3 Dot




The letter "Y" has dots 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Braille 5 -Dot




A "Period" is written with dots 2, 5, and 6. (Do you see how it is the same shape as the letter "D," only lower down in the cell?)

Period Dot



When all six dots are used, the character is called a "full cell"

 Braille Full Cell




The picture below shows you how the dots are arranged in the braille cell for each letter of the alphabet. See if you can find the letters in your name and tell the dot numbers for each one. 










Braille does not have a separate alphabet of capital letters as there is in print. Capital letters are indicated by placing a dot 6 in front of the letter to be capitalized. Two capital signs mean the whole word is capitalized. 






 Braille Numbers

Braille numbers are made using the first ten letters of the alphabet, "a" through "j", and a special number sign, dots 3, 4, 5, and 6. 

Braille Contractions








 Expanding the Code

Now that you understand how dots are arranged in the braille cell to make the letters of the alphabet and numbers, you're ready to learn more about the code. Braille uses special characters called contractions to make words shorter. We use contractions like "don't" as a short way of writing two words, such as "do" and "not." In braille there are many additional contractions, 189 in all! Using these contractions saves space, which is very important because braille books are much larger and longer than print books. 

Braille Contractions








In addition to contractions, the braille code includes short-form words which are abbreviated spellings of common longer words. For example, "tomorrow" is spelled "tm", "friend" is spelled "fr", and "little" is spelled "ll" in braille.

You might think that because short-form words are so easy to spell that children who write braille get a break on their spelling tests. Actually, braille readers also learn regular spelling for typing on a computer. Let's see what kind of difference contractions make in braille. Look at the same phrase, you like him, in uncontracted braille (sometimes called "grade 1 braille") and contracted braille (sometimes called "grade 2 braille"). What do you notice about the length of the two phrases?

Uncontracted Braille








The braille code used for writing regular text in books, magazines, school reports, and letters is known as "literary braille." There are other codes, though, that let people who are blind write just about anything, from math problems to music notes to computer notation! One More Comment About Braille People sometimes ask if it would be easier to use raised print alphabet letters, rather than dots. When you read about Louis Braille, you'll learn that raised print letters were tried in the early 1800s before he invented braille. However, these letters were very difficult to read by touch, and writing them was even more of a problem.

If you ever see an experienced reader's fingers gliding across a page of braille at 100-200 words per minute, you will appreciate the genius of the simple six-dot system. Braille can be read and written with ease by both children and adults. It is truly an invention that is here to stay. 

1. Happy Birthday, Louis!
Have a celebration in honour of the inventor of braille on January 4. Decorate cookies, cupcakes, or a cake with braille letters made of M&Ms, gum drops, red-hots, chocolate chips, or other candy. Decorate with a braille banner or posters, and balloons arranged to form braille letters. And, of course, play braille games!

2. Follow the Trail of Braille
Write a simple message in braille, and cut between the words. Mount each word on a sheet of collared paper and post them randomly throughout the room, or around the school (e.g., above the water fountain, on the office door, etc.). The first student to figure out the message wins. You can do one each week, gradually increasing the complexity and length of the message.

3. Play Braille-O Lotto
Duplicate a lotto sheet containing 5 rows of 5 squares for each student. Players print the letters of the alphabet in random order in the empty squares. Round pieces of cereal can be used for markers (or other game pieces can be used). The game can be played with varying levels of difficulty: 

The teacher writes a braille letter on the chalkboard. Children consult the braille alphabet key, and place a marker on the correct print letter on their lotto page. First child to have five in a row (down, across, or diagonally) calls, "Braille-O" and becomes the next game leader to write braille letters on the board. The teacher calls out the dot numbers that constitute a braille letter. Children scan the braille alphabet key, identify the letter, and place a marker on their corresponding print letter. Play continues until a winner calls, "Braille-O."

4. Poster Contest
Conduct a classroom—or school wide—poster contest with the theme of braille and what it means to those who use it. Award prizes for the most creative poster in each designated age group. Display posters on bulletin boards around the school. 5. "I Spy" Contest Contestants can be individuals, teams, or classrooms. The object is to find as many uses of braille in the community as possible. For younger children, the contest can begin on Monday and end on Friday; for older students, the contest can run for a month. Students receive an "I Spy Braille" scorecard with entry spaces for date, where the braille was found and what it communicated (e.g., elevator floors, ATMs at specific banks, soft drink cup lids, etc.), and a space for an adult signature. Points can be earned for the greatest number of places braille was found, as well as for unique entries.

  • For variety, play Braille Bingo. Students print numbers in random order: 1-15 under the B, 16-30 under I, 31-45 under N, 46-60 under G, and 61-75 under O. The caller writes a braille number on the board (don't forget the number sign!) and players locate the corresponding print number.
  • B-1. Base literacy instruction as often as possible in experiences. Also, use concrete objects as often as possible (McGregor & Farrenkopf, 2002).
  • B-2. Pair real objects with representational forms (pictures, miniatures),” then “pair real objects with symbolic forms (print, Braille)” (McGregor & Farrenkopf, 2002, p. 2).
  • B-3. To teach the alphabet, a multi-sensory approach should be utilized. Use real things to demonstrate initial sounds (ADE, 1996). Some examples of multi-sensory activities are as follows:
  •  Write letters in shaving cream with fingers and say the sound (Montgomery, 2005) - Write letters in trays of pudding or finger paint. The colors of the tray and pudding or paint should highly contrast (Cooper, 2000). For more ideas see Dr. Holly Cooper’s website (Cooper, 2001). Make raised indentions of letters by writing letters with crayon on paper that is placed over a screen, trace the raised indention with finger and say the sound of the letter (Montgomery, 2005)
  • B-4. Make lines with a marker or felt-tip pen if the student has difficulty tracking and/or keeping his/her place in the text (ADE, 1996; BCC, 1993), or use an index card (Montgomery, 2005). Use “a typoscope or template” (ADE, 1996, p. 13) over a page of text in order to find and follow the next line of text (ADE, 1996; BCC, 1993). If preparing an original typoscope, consider the student’s individual needs when it comes to glare and contrast (BCC, 1993).
  • B-6. If the student needs to hold the page very close to see the text, permit them (ADE, 1996). A reading stand may be helpful to the student (BCC, 1993).
  • B-7. Choose a font with easily recognizable characters, either standard Roman or sans serif fonts. A good choice is the sans serif style, Arial.
  • B-8. When producing print, choose highly contrasting colors for print and background. Also, use “bold, well-spaced letters,” since “they are often easier to see” (ADE, 1996, p. 14). The American Printing House for the Blind provides more detailed guidelines for large print; refer to (Kitchel, 2004). APHont TM a research-based and developed font for people with vision impairments, is also described on the website and can be downloaded for free provided it will be used by or for students with vision impairments at (Kitchel, 2004; APH, “APHont TM Order Form”, 2004). The bold type font is difficult to read because it looks smeared and makes details difficult for some to see. More information can be obtained by referring to the article “How to make print more readable for people with visual limitations at
  • B-9. McGregor and Farrenkopf suggest making concept books and storybooks for students with VI. They provide a materials list and a detailed procedure for making these kinds of books at with and/or for students with VI (2002).
  • B-10. Consider shortening reading assignments, since students with low vision use more energy than sighted students when reading (ADE, 1996).
  • B-11. Some devices for students with low vision that can help improve literacy skills include: handheld magnifiers, stand magnifers, telemicroscopes, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) (Pennsylvania College of Optometry, 1997). Letter recognition activities and examination of story illustrations can be conducted using these various media (BCC, 1993).



  • Teaching Mathematics
  • Teaching Nemeth Code
  • Checklist to Determine If a Graphic Should Be Brailled
  • Checklist for Making Decisions about A Tactile Graphic
  • Basic Principles for Preparing Tactile Graphics
  • Report on Braille Adaptations of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills
  • Guidelines for Braille Test Adaptations Texas Assessement of Academic Skills
  • Susan Osterhaus' Math Packet

Downloadable .pdf


Teacher’s Manual for Adapting Science Experiments for Blind and Visually Impaired Students

Authors: Matthew Dion, Karen Hoffman, Amy Matter

Downloadable .pdf


  • Introduction
  • Teaching the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • How Blind and Visually Impaired Students Learn
  • Basic Teaching Guidelines
  • General Guidelines for Making Adaptations
  • Principles of Adaptation
  • Adaptations for Visually Impaired Students
  • Adaptations for Blind Students
  • RNIB Questions
  • Laboratory Adaptations
  • Safety Concerns
  • Skill Modification
  • Basic Tool Modification
  • Advanced Tool Modification
  • New Device
  • Specific Experiments
  • Pendulums
  • Evolution of Gases
  • Distillation of Salt Water
  • Conductivity of Acids
  • Conversion of Energy
  • Wave Generation
  • Resource List


Teaching Art

Promoting Active Participation

  • Keep in mind organization skills and high contrast colors (discussed in previous sections) when developing art activities for students both with low vision and blindness. When developing activities, go beyond coloring or drawing. 
  • Dr Holly Cooper recommends choosing materials that emphasize texture and dimension or teach concepts and skills through art (Cooper, 2002), for example shapes (Cooper, 2001). Themes, for example seasons, can be used to develop concepts, such as colors, shapes, and objects associated with that season (Cooper, 2002). 
  • For more detailed tips on choosing art activities see "Art: A Great Tool for Teaching Students with Vision Impairment  For more ideas refer to “Art and learning activities for visually impaired students and their friends”.  Another site, called "Art Beyond Sight: Collaborative Art Education for the Blind,'” at provides information about art and culture in an accessible format online.  
  • When students with low vision are cutting or coloring, “outline the images with a large black marker to make the edges easier to see” (BCC, 1993, p. 193). This will also help any students with fine motor difficulties.

Art Ideas for Blind Children 

  • Using the edges from form-feed braille paper, use brass paper joiners (the kind you can swivel around like when you made pinwheels) to put through the sprocket holes to join the strips into shapes (I used this in high school geometry to create parallelograms, triangles, etc.).  
  • Use crinkle-ribbon to curl twists for hair on something. Braid ribbon.  
  • Hanging mobiles with 3-D cardboard geometric shapes 
  • Paper or fabric cutouts (inverses of each other made by cutting two pieces at the same time to get a front and back) glued along the edges and stuffed with tissue paper, wood shavings, sawdust (for scent), potpourri or fiber filling. 
  • Kite structures made with paper and straws 
  • Make paper beads by rolling gift wrap, foil paper, colored paper into cylinders, balls, etc. Cut paper into triangles and roll to get beads with thin ends and thick middles. 
  • Use a cardboard tube, Pringles chip tube, oatmeal cylinder to make a Native American rainmaker.
  • Push nails into the cylinder randomly (they should be too short to go through the other side). 
  • Put dried peas, beans, shells, pebbles, M&Ms or similar objects into the tube--to fill only 1/8 or 1/4 of the tube. 
  • Seal off the ends of the tube. Decorate the outside with fabric and dangling tassels. 
  • As the tube is turned over, it sounds like rain (especially with small objects). 
  • Make pillars, table legs, etc., for a stage play using the corrugated board used for bulletin boards. Use the same material to texturize other items. 
  • Skills/Concepts: art, geometry, physics, recycling, history, drama, and math
  • bare copper wire twisted into spirals with long-noosed pliers to make jewelry, to frame around a picture, to be an integral part of a picture (e.g., as hair). Make earrings. 
  • use the aluminum foil sheets from the raised line kit (or from a hobby shop or wholesale hardware store or a foil pie tin's bottom) and a wooden dowel rod rounded or pointed at one end and cut on a diagonal at the other to emboss shapes in reverse in order to get bas relief on the shiny side. If you can get copper sheets, it is even prettier. 
  • aluminum foil sheets/pie-tins with patterns of holes punched through (a cardboard cutout or cookie cutter can help guide the student around the edges to make an outline or silhouette of the shape). A carpet needle or large nail might be used to make the holes (put wads of newspaper under the work). The holes are textured for a completely blind student and a light can be shown through it for a sighted student. Joining several pieces of the metal sheets together can make a candle holder that lets light through without too much wind (Colonial American history) 
  • Combine skills from 2 and 3. 
  • use a stiff, thin cardboard (shirt board or gift box) and draw two lines intersecting at right angles to make a large "L" or corner. This can be made as Elmer's glue lines allowed to dry. Using a braille ruler and a carpet needle, punch evenly spaced holes 1/4 inch apart along both lines--the same number of holes along each line (say 12 holes). Thread the needle with colored yarn. Starting from the back side (with the glue), pull the thread through the farthest hole (hole 12) on one line (A) and into the hole (hole 1) closest to the right-angle on the other line (B). From the back, go into hole 2 on line B and draw the string through and into hole 11 on line A, etc. When done, do the reverse order (hole 12 on line B into hole 1 of line A) with a different colored/textured string/yarn. The result is a pretty curve. 
  • Skills/Concepts: mathematical relationships (1-to-1 correspondence), pattern analysis, fractal geometry, physics (support bridges use cables similarly). 
  • same idea but with a circle or oval with evenly spaced holes (number them, if possible from 0 to ___). I did this one and just photocopied the shapes with the marks where the holes would go. The students thread through hole one to hole 5, to hole 10, etc., skipping by 5. This was taped to the back of the cardboard. When the students are done, gently tear away the paper from the cardboard or cover the back with felt. It makes for a great frame for pictures, 3-D art glued in the center, or just as art by itself. The students can experiment with getting a larger or smaller blank opening by skipping more or fewer holes (skipping by 3 produces a larger blank center than skipping by 7). As I recall, however, there has to be an odd number of holes along the rim of the circle (I think), and younger children get confused once they reach a hole that already has thread in it.
  • For an older child to do this independently, s/he can use a needlepoint ring, which (I think) has holes in the rim already. Once completed, it can be a free hanging "sun-catcher". Older children can imbed brass nails or hat pins into soft wood, cork sheets or Styrofoam blocks (cover with black felt for a dramatic effect) and wrap the string around the nails (student can independently use a large gear such as a bicycle gear with lots of teeth as the template and place the pins into the notches). Skills/Concepts: pattern analysis, pre-multiplication (skipping by 5 once gets to hole 5, twice, to hole 10, three times to hole 15, etc.). 
  • fabric wreaths: use a straw wreath (craft shop). Use old pieces of fabric (LOTS) cut into 2 inch squares with pinking shears (there are electric shears available or a fabric shop might be able to do them in bulk if you plead well enough). Using a pencil with the lead broken, a slightly sharpened dowel rod, or a Phillips screwdriver, place the tool in the center of the square of fabric and push it into the straw wreath. Continue over the front surface of the wreath. Different colors/textures can be focused in one area, or different sized squares of fabric can be used to create different effects (e.g., to indicate the "top"). Finish off with 2 small eyelet screws pushed into the back and use picture-frame wire for hanging. 
  • different color/textures of fabric to make a collage. An animal shape made of small pieces of overlapping fabric can be glued to a poster board to make a collage. 
  • Yarn, soaked in glue, wrapped around a balloon, when dry, the balloon is popped to leave a lace structure. (This can be frustrating for a child to keep the string from slipping around. 
  • cheesecloth or similar cloth soaked in starch and draped over jars, dowel rods, cardboard boxes. When dry, they retain the shape. These make great Halloween ghosts, just glue on Googly eyes or macaroni or buttons.
  • Remember lanyard braided into key/whistle chains? 
  • braid hair, rope, dough
  • beads on hair, string necklaces, hanging planters 
  • beads woven into fabric 
  • potholder weaving (it's still going strong at craft shops) 
  • leather strips braided into belts (there are leather belt kits available at stores that sell stuff for the Boy Scouts).
  • If you can get the domino sugar tablets (not the cubes, but the ones actually shaped like dominoes), Elmer's glue (if you want to keep it) or frosting can be used to glue them together to make pillars (putting a ruler lintel across them), pyramid arches, and curved arches (lightly sandpaper into blunt-edged wedges to get the curves).
  • This can be used to teach the physics of architecture--why was it necessary for early structures using the pillar and lintel to have so many pillars? (The lintels can't support too much weight and structures couldn't be too tall--you would need too many pillars inside the building that there would be no room for people). 
  • What advantage would an angle arch have in holding up a wall and roof? (Allows more light and air to get into a building). 
  • What advantages did the Romans and the Byzantines get from arches? (Could support more weight, needed fewer pillars, more light and air, structures could be taller). 
  • What advantage does a flying buttress arch have? (Like the Notre Dame Cathedral, the interior is free of pillars, so there is more room for people). 
  • Skills/Concepts: physics needed in architecture, pre-graphing for geometry, community awareness [Where is there a building with an arch? (e.g., church, government buildings, bridges). Where in the room is there lintel? (doorway).], planning ahead. 
  • To go along with the above, put waxpaper or saran wrap inside a bowl. Periodically cover with a thick sugar coating (or tempered chocolate) and allow to dry. When thick enough, remove the dome to make a Rotunda (which is an arch swiveled 180 degrees that leaves a chocolate trail). 
  • Skills/Concepts: 3-D geometry (non-Euclidean), etc. 
  • gingerbread house (can be made with graham crackers instead) 
  • pasta art using uncooked pasta: string them, weave them, glue them together. Pasta (macaroni, elbows, etc.) come in different colors now, or can be painted (add scents to the paints for another sensory stimulus).
  • make a candle holder with blocks of wood of various heights, thicknesses. Use a handle-held drill to get holes deep enough to hold candles. Blocks can be glued together into a small centerpiece or dowel rods can be inserted into holes to spread them out. Don't have the dough for this? Get a log or thick branch. Plane the bottom to make it flat and drill a series of holes along the top. Spray paint or glue glitter, beads, macaroni. 
  • use wood shavings from a plane to make "hair". 
  • Affix objects (nails, coins, rope, yarn, buttons, bottle caps, pop can pull tabs, etc.) to the surface of wood.
  • Use Ivory or scented soap bars and a plastic knife/nail/sharpened dowel to scrape, dig, and carve 3-D shapes, make textures by cross hatching, random small pokes, etc.
  • Use the shavings to scent the inside of a fabric animal shape or to glue onto a picture for added texture. 
  1. Check out craft shops, Girl Scout and Boy Scout books, art shows, craft shows, art books, etc. for more ideas. Make a reindeer out of clothespins or a dog bone biscuit. Wreaths made of hangers and tissue paper (or clear plastic bags). Hollowed out eggs for a head with pipe-cleaners for arms and legs. 
  2. Gather pieces from toy games (Mr. Potato Head, Lego blocks, checkers, car wheels, etc.), visit a hardware store (get a jar of washers, Hmm, that cabinet handle could be a nose or train, gears for wheels), go to garage sales (plastic fabric pieces, imitation leather, small objects d'art), baker's/restaurant supply store, wedding/party favor store (neat dried flowers, candy molds, objects used to make favors, Googley eyes, etc.) for ideas and supplies. Teacher stores also have a lot of materials. Look at the stuff with your hands and sniff it. Ideas just come a poppin'!

Physical Education

Physical Education, Recreation and Games for Students with Vision Impairment

Physical Education and Sport Classes - Some Considerations:

  •  Even when the vision impaired student cannot participate fully, there is a social advantage in knowing about rules, equipment, terminology and team spirit of the popular team sports.
  • Always give clear directions when describing an activity eg. the bat is on the floor to your right.
  • Be aware that many vision impaired children have difficulties on bright sunny days. It may take some time for their vision to adjust when travelling between bright and dim environments.
  •  Don’t stand with a light source or window behind you when addressing the student.
  •  Read aloud when you are writing on the board and spell new words.
  •  Ask the vision impaired student to hand out materials and equipment. This will give her an opportunity to see who is in the class.
  •  Because the vision impaired student cannot see your smile of encouragement, be sure to offer verbal encouragement when she does well.
  •  Ensure that the student is well oriented to the area in which she is expected to move.
  •  Secure the student’s attention by using a whistle and or calling her name.
  •  Choose balls and other equipment that have good contrast for the student with low vision.
  • A ball with a bell will assist participation for blind students.
  • If the layout of the playground, oval or gymnasium is altered, point out these changes to your vision impaired student.
  • Your vision impaired student may know the school environment very well but on excursions she may be less confident in her mobility skills and may need assistance from classmates or an adult.
  • Include the vision impaired student in all class experiences - displays, jokes, visitors etc.
  • Swap ‘buddies’ if the situation is unpleasant for either student - they might become good friends another time.
  • Don’t avoid ‘blind’ and ‘seeing’ words - blind people do ‘watch’ TV and go to ‘see’ a friend.
  • If you are concerned about a blind or vision impaired student participating in a game, think carefully through the issues and the skills required. Often there is a simple solution which will allow inclusion. Utilise the following approach to problem-solving. 

Activity Concerns and Possible Solutions:

  • Baseball/ soccer: The activity uses large, open space and the playing object can escape. Decrease the playing area by using predictable boundaries. Use auditory devices on bases, beep balls and spotters.
  • Relays: There is an uneven number of vision impaired students and the activity requires that evenly matched teams compete Blindfold an equal number of sighted students who have volunteered to play blindfolded OR determine evenly matched teams yourself as opposed to student captains selecting teams.
  • Some eye conditions can be aggravated by strenuous physical activity and contact sports. Teachers should check with parents and the Visiting Teacher for specific information.
  • Running Tether - shoe laces make great tethers when running. Flat shoe laces tied in a loop so that there is just enough room for the guide and runner’s hand. This provides control to the guide and makes arm-swing timing much easier. There is also less risk of injury to both the guide and runner when using a short tether
  • Events utilizing a target - use an auditory signal behind or under the target such as a radio, hand clapping, a bell with a string.
  • To delineate the playing area - use brightly coloured mats or tape.
  •  PMP and Other Skill-Based Activities - use contrasting surfaces and equipment eg contrasting mat under a balance beam.
  • Catching activities - use a bean bag instead of a ball OR bounce pass instead of tossing the ball.
  • Virginia Reel and Chase/Catch Games - where partners separate and locate each other again, use an auditory signal such as a clap or whistle to assist location.
  • Throwing Events - a block of wood held in the ground with tent pegs acts as a good toe board. The rest of the students in the class will also find this useful.
  • The activity area has limited boundaries - use carpet or rubber runners as markers.
  • Volleyball and other activities utilizing a net - decrease the playing area AND/OR modify the body position from upright and running to a safe position such as a crawl, walk or crab walk AND/OR require players to play in pairs.
  • Field Hockey and Soccer where one player is required to protect the goal - reduce the area of the goal AND/OR use a larger, softer ball AND/OR divide the goal area between two goalies.
  • Trampolining - mark the centre of the trampoline with a bell attached to a small piece of thread.
  • Correction Swimming Goggles - take the goggles and prescription to your local optometrist who will be able to supply correction swimming goggles.
  • use a buddy systems, peer tutoring, and teacher aides to assist in learning and participating in movement patterns, motor skills and sports activities;
  • Can the student be better prepared for the activity? eg practice performing the skill prior to its introduction to the class.
  • Tunnel Ball 2 or 3 teams - human version. On the whistle the leader crawls through legs of team members. As a player ‘disappears’ down the tunnel the next player starts to go through the tunnel.
  • Human Chain. Same as above only students twist in and out of team members as they move down the line.