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Navigating the Seas of Education: Lessons from "Fish in a Tree"

Objective: By the end of this ESL lesson, students will be able to understand and explain the various methods that teachers use to support students with dyslexia, using simple language and examples.



  • Meaning: Difficulties or challenges.

  • Example: Despite facing numerous adversities, she never gave up on her dreams.


  • Meaning: To accept or welcome something willingly.

  • Example: She learned to embrace her individuality and appreciate her unique qualities.


  • Meaning: Following traditional practices or norms.

  • Example: The school's teaching methods were very conventional, but they decided to adopt more innovative approaches.


  • Meaning: Being separated or cut off from others.

  • Example: The feeling of isolation made her long for a sense of belonging.


  • Meaning: Sympathetic understanding and concern for others' suffering.

  • Example: His compassion for the homeless led him to volunteer at a local shelter.


  • Meaning: Loss of motivation or enthusiasm.

  • Example: The constant criticism from her teacher resulted in demotivation and decreased interest in the subject.

Growth Mindset:

  • Meaning: The belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort and learning.

  • Example: Students with a growth mindset tend to view challenges as opportunities to learn and improve.


  • Meaning: To provide suitable conditions or adjustments for someone's needs.

  • Example: The school made efforts to accommodate students with disabilities by offering accessible resources.


  • Meaning: Including everyone regardless of differences.

  • Example: The school's inclusive policies ensured that all students felt welcome and valued.


  • Meaning: The ability to bounce back from challenges or setbacks.

  • Example: Her resilience helped her overcome the difficulties she faced during her recovery.


  • Meaning: Understanding and sharing the feelings of others.

  • Example: Showing empathy towards someone who is struggling can make a significant difference in their well-being.


  • Meaning: Distinctiveness or uniqueness.

  • Example: Embracing her individuality allowed her to express herself authentically.


  • Meaning: Providing care and support for growth.

  • Example: The teacher's nurturing approach created a positive learning environment where students thrived.


  • Meaning: To go along with or be together with.

  • Example: She asked her friend to accompany her on the journey to make it more enjoyable.


  • Meaning: To thrive, grow, or develop successfully.

  • Example: With the right conditions, the plant began to flourish and produce vibrant flowers.

Navigating the Seas of Education: Lessons from "Fish in a Tree"

In the heartwarming novel "Fish in a Tree," author Lynda Mullaly Hunt invites readers to step into the shoes of Ally Nickerson, a young girl with dyslexia, as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and triumph over adversities. Through Ally's eyes, the novel delves into relatable struggles faced by students in educational settings, from feeling alone to confronting bullying and battling motivation issues.

A Tale of Dyslexia and Identity: At the core of "Fish in a Tree" is Ally's dyslexia, a condition that complicates her relationship with reading and writing. Hunt skillfully portrays Ally's internal struggle, highlighting the frustration of not fitting into the conventional mold of a "good student." Readers are granted a glimpse into Ally's emotional turmoil as she grapples with feelings of inadequacy and the fear of being labeled as different. This aspect of Ally's journey shines a light on the importance of embracing individuality and recognizing that everyone has their unique strengths.

Relatable School Hardships: Beyond dyslexia, the novel resonates with readers due to its exploration of everyday school struggles that students of all backgrounds can relate to. Ally's encounters with loneliness and isolation are poignant reminders of the importance of fostering a supportive and inclusive environment within educational institutions. The depiction of bullying underlines the need for empathy and compassion, advocating for a kinder and more understanding student community.

Facing Motivational Challenges: Ally's reluctance to engage with her schoolwork due to her dyslexia isn't uncommon among students who struggle academically. Her story invites us to reflect on the factors that contribute to demotivation and disengagement in the classroom. By exploring Ally's transformation from a student who "doesn't want to work" to one who discovers her hidden talents, the novel showcases the significance of nurturing a growth mindset and providing personalized learning approaches.

Lessons for Educators and Society: "Fish in a Tree" serves as a gentle reminder to educators, parents, and society at large about the importance of recognizing and accommodating diverse learning styles. It emphasizes that a one-size-fits-all approach to education might not be suitable for every student, as different individuals have unique ways of grasping and expressing knowledge. The novel encourages educators to seek out innovative teaching methods and to create an inclusive environment that empowers students to overcome challenges.

Here are some simple methods that teachers use to support students with dyslexia:

  1. Special Reading Techniques: Teachers use special ways of teaching reading that make it easier for students with dyslexia to understand words and sentences.

  2. Audio Books: They provide audio versions of books so students can listen and follow along, which can help them understand the story better.

  3. Extra Time: Teachers might give students more time to complete assignments or tests, so they don't feel rushed and can do their best.

  4. Visual Aids: Using pictures, charts, and diagrams can help students with dyslexia understand information more easily.

  5. Breaks: Teachers allow short breaks during lessons to help students stay focused and not get overwhelmed.

  6. Spelling Games: Playing fun spelling games can help students practice words in an enjoyable way.

  7. Chunking Words: Teachers break down longer words into smaller parts, making them easier to read and understand.

  8. Color Coding: Using different colors for different parts of a sentence or text can help students see the structure more clearly.

  9. Assistive Technology: Teachers might use special tools like computers or apps that read text aloud to students.

  10. Encouragement: Positive words of encouragement and recognizing their efforts can boost their confidence and motivation. Lynda Mullaly Hunt's "Fish in a Tree" is not just a tale about dyslexia; it's a narrative that speaks to the universal struggles of students navigating the waters of education. Ally Nickerson's journey from self-doubt to self-discovery resonates with readers of all ages, reminding us of the power of resilience, empathy, and the value of embracing our individual strengths. This book encourages us to recognize that every student is like a unique fish in its own tree, just waiting to find their place to flourish.



1. Question: What is dyslexia?

Answer: Dyslexia is a condition that can make it difficult for people to read and spell words, even though they are trying their best.

2. Question: How can you tell if someone has dyslexia?

Answer: People with dyslexia might find it hard to read smoothly, mix up letters in words, or have trouble spelling words correctly.

3. Question: Can dyslexia be passed from parents to their children?

Answer: Yes, sometimes dyslexia can run in families, which means children might get it from their parents.

4. Question: Why do some people have dyslexia?

Answer: It happens because their brains process information about reading and writing in a different way.

5. Question: Can people with dyslexia still be good at other things?

Answer: Yes, absolutely! People with dyslexia can be really good at many other things, like drawing, solving puzzles, or coming up with creative ideas.

6. Question: How can teachers help students with dyslexia?

Answer: Teachers can use special methods to help them read better and learn in a way that suits them. This makes learning easier for students with dyslexia.

7. Question: Can people with dyslexia get better at reading and writing?

Answer: Yes, with practice and help, people with dyslexia can improve their reading and writing skills.

8. Question: Are there tools that can help people with dyslexia?

Answer: Yes, there are special tools like apps, computer programs, and books with big letters that can make reading and writing easier for them.

9. Question: Is it important to find dyslexia early?

Answer: Yes, it's helpful to find out if someone has dyslexia early so they can get the right kind of help and support.

10. Question: Can you tell if someone has dyslexia just by looking at them?

Answer: No, you can't tell just by looking. Dyslexia is about how the brain works, not how someone looks.

Advanced Discussion Questions:

  1. What is dyslexia and what are its primary characteristics?

  2. What are the common signs and symptoms of dyslexia in children and adults?

  3. How is dyslexia diagnosed, and who is qualified to make the diagnosis?

  4. Can dyslexia be inherited? Are there any genetic factors associated with it?

  5. What is the neurological basis of dyslexia? Are there specific brain differences associated with the condition?

  6. How does dyslexia affect reading, writing, and spelling skills?

  7. Are there different types or subtypes of dyslexia, and if so, how do they differ?

  8. What is the prevalence of dyslexia in the population? Is it more common in certain demographics?

  9. How early can dyslexia be detected, and what are the benefits of early intervention?

  10. What strategies or interventions are effective in helping individuals with dyslexia improve their reading and writing skills?

  11. Are there assistive technologies or tools that can support individuals with dyslexia?

  12. How can educators and parents best support a child with dyslexia in their academic and personal development?

  13. What misconceptions about dyslexia do people commonly have, and what are the facts that dispel these misconceptions?

  14. Can individuals with dyslexia excel in other areas, such as creativity, problem-solving, or spatial reasoning?

  15. How might someone with dyslexia experience challenges in their everyday life beyond academics?

  16. Are there any potential co-occurring conditions or challenges that individuals with dyslexia might face?

  17. What role does self-esteem and psychological well-being play in the lives of individuals with dyslexia?

  18. How might the approach to teaching and supporting individuals with dyslexia differ from that of traditional education methods?

  19. Are there any famous or successful individuals who have openly discussed their experiences with dyslexia?

  20. What ongoing research is being conducted to better understand dyslexia and develop more effective interventions?

Practice Scripts:

Practice Script 1: Understanding Dyslexia

Educator 1: Hello, I wanted to talk to you about dyslexia and its impact on students.

Educator 2: Absolutely, it's an important topic. Dyslexia can present unique challenges in the classroom.

Educator 1: Yes, exactly. Students with dyslexia often face adversities when it comes to reading and writing.

Educator 2: Definitely. It's crucial for us to embrace their individuality and find ways to accommodate their learning needs.

Educator 1: Right, and we should also foster a growth mindset in them, helping them realize that they have strengths beyond their challenges.

Educator 2: That's true. By being inclusive and showing empathy, we can create a supportive environment where they don't feel isolated.

Educator 1: And we must remember that their demotivation can be turned around with proper nurturing and encouragement.

Educator 2: Absolutely. Our goal should be to help these students flourish despite their struggles.

Practice Script 2: Creating an Inclusive Classroom

Educator 1: Hi, I wanted to discuss ways to make our classroom more inclusive for students with dyslexia.

Educator 2: Great, it's important to provide accommodations that can help them succeed.

Educator 1: Indeed. Let's embrace the idea that each student has unique strengths, regardless of any challenges they face.

Educator 2: I agree. It's crucial to accommodate their learning styles and provide resources that suit them.

Educator 1: And we should promote a growth mindset, encouraging them to believe in their abilities and overcome demotivation.

Educator 2: True. Also, let's promote empathy among students, so that bullying and isolation are replaced with understanding.

Educator 1: Absolutely. By nurturing their talents and creating an inclusive environment, we can help them flourish.

Educator 2: That's our goal – to ensure every student can thrive and feel valued in our classroom.

Practice Scripts


Practice Script 1: Addressing Dyslexia Challenges

Educator 1: Hello, I wanted to have a conversation about supporting students with dyslexia in our classrooms.

Educator 2: Absolutely, it's an important aspect of creating an inclusive learning environment.

Educator 1: Indeed. Dyslexia can lead to a range of adversities for students, affecting their confidence and engagement.

Educator 2: You're right. It's crucial for us as educators to embrace their struggles and provide the necessary accommodations.

Educator 1: I think instilling a growth mindset in them can make a significant difference. They need to believe that their challenges don't define them.

Educator 2: Agreed. And we should also address the potential isolation they might feel by fostering a sense of belonging in the classroom.

Educator 1: Exactly. By being compassionate and understanding, we can help them overcome feelings of demotivation.

Educator 2: And let's not forget the importance of nurturing their strengths and passions, which can ultimately help them flourish.

Practice Script 2: Inclusivity in Education

Educator 1: Hi, I wanted to discuss strategies for creating a more inclusive classroom, especially for students with dyslexia.

Educator 2: Absolutely, inclusivity is a core principle of effective education.

Educator 1: It's important to embrace the diversity of learning styles and abilities that students bring to our classrooms.

Educator 2: I agree. Providing accommodations that suit their needs is essential for their academic success.

Educator 1: And we should encourage a growth mindset, helping them recognize that their challenges can be overcome with effort.

Educator 2: Definitely. By promoting empathy among students, we can combat isolation and foster a supportive learning environment.

Educator 1: Yes, and we must remember to nurture their talents, showing them that their dyslexia doesn't define their potential.

Educator 2: Right. Ultimately, our goal is to create an environment where every student can flourish and feel valued.

Here's an outline of the learning techniques used in the novel "Fish in a Tree" by Lynda Mullaly Hunt: Title: Learning Techniques in "Fish in a Tree" by Lynda Mullaly Hunt


  • Brief overview of the novel "Fish in a Tree" and its focus on a girl named Ally with dyslexia.

  • Importance of understanding different learning techniques in the context of the story.

1. Personalized Teaching:

  • Description of Mr. Daniels, the teacher who recognizes Ally's potential and uses personalized teaching methods.

  • Mr. Daniels' use of creativity to make learning engaging for Ally and other students.

  • Example: The "Great Idea" notebook that encourages Ally to share her thoughts without the pressure of spelling.

2. Visual Learning:

  • Ally's preference for visual learning due to her dyslexia.

  • Incorporation of visual aids, diagrams, and illustrations to aid understanding.

  • Example: The tree drawing that symbolizes Ally's unique learning style and growth.

3. Building Confidence:

  • Mr. Daniels' focus on building Ally's confidence through positive reinforcement.

  • Use of encouragement and recognizing small achievements.

  • Example: Mr. Daniels pointing out Ally's artistic talents and boosting her self-esteem.

4. Collaborative Learning:

  • Ally's interaction with her peers, Keisha and Albert.

  • Supportive teamwork that allows Ally to learn from her friends and vice versa.

  • Example: Group projects and discussions that encourage collaborative problem-solving.

5. Growth Mindset:

  • Mr. Daniels' encouragement of a growth mindset – the belief that abilities can be developed through effort.

  • Ally's shift from feeling "dumb" to recognizing her potential for growth.

  • Example: Ally realizing that making mistakes is part of learning and not a sign of failure.

6. Creativity and Critical Thinking:

  • Ally's creative problem-solving and unique perspective.

  • Use of unconventional methods to approach challenges.

  • Example: Ally's inventive way of explaining idioms through drawings.

7. Empathy and Support:

  • Ally's connection with her friends and Mr. Daniels.

  • Importance of understanding and support from others in the learning process.

  • Example: Ally's understanding of her friend Keisha's situation and Mr. Daniels' patience in teaching her.


  • Summarizing the various learning techniques used in "Fish in a Tree."

  • Highlighting the novel's message of embracing individual learning styles and fostering a positive, supportive learning environment.

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