How to Use OLSN, the Word Learning

Layer of the Magic Ladder

Start by watching this 2 minute video:



Note: the above video shows how the Magic Ladder’s instructional stories use the cues to stretch the reader’s attention into learning how a word’s letters are making the word’s sound. When using OLSN outside the Magic Ladder, the 1st click on a word shows the word fully cued and a 2nd click begins the animated sounding out.


Important Note: Learning PQs is not required to benefit from using OLSN or to learn to read with the Magic Ladder. PQs are an optional aid for learning reading skills while making “reading to learn” less dependent on reading skills. For those who choose to learn PQs, learning occurs by simply using OLSN and noticing how the different ways letters look correspond to the different ways they sound. For an overview of PQs continue on. 

PQs – When OLSN appears it presents the word’s letters in visually distinct ways that act like hints or “cues”.  These pronunciation cues (PQs) help readers recognize which of a letters’ possible sounds it is actually supposed to be making in the word they are trying to read. Thus PQs reduce the confusion involved in sounding out and pronouncing words (the most common bottleneck to progress in reading).



  What are PQs?: Click the speaker button and watch how different the letter “A“, looks and sounds:


Cake   Boat   Dad  Soda   Ball  Said


Did you notice how the letter “A“, looked different when it sounded different? Those different ways the letters looked are “PQs”. PQs are ways of making letters look different so that they can tell readers which of their sounds they are making. PQs are like “phonics clues” and “sound-out hints”. OLSN (the Online Learning Support Net) uses PQs to guide students into getting good at rapidly working out words. There are other kinds of PQs, but learners don’t need to be explicitly taught them.  They will learn all they need to learn about PQs simply by using OLSN to help them read words that don’t pop to mind. (more on this below).


Two Modes of Use: OLSN has two modes of helping students: it can help them recognize words, and it can help them understand words. They get help for recognizing words by touching them (or clicking them). They get help for understanding words by touching them, and then touching the  Word Explore button in the Pop-Up.

Touch for recognizing. For understanding touch.

RECOGNIZING: Clicking through the available levels of support, learners can see the word broken into more readable segments (where applicable), can see and hear the words individual letter sounds, can see and hear the words group-letter sounds, can see and hear an animated sounding out of the entire word, and finally, can have the word read to them.

By forcing learners to step through levels of help before having the word read to them, the system focuses and guides their learning to decode (rather than short-circuiting the process by just reading the word for them). By controlling the process with their clicking, learners choose just the level of help they need to recognize the word. Once they recognize the word, the popup disappears and they continue reading right where they left off.

This ‘live on the edge of learning’ guidance not only helps learners recognize the word they clicked on, it is the most neurologically optimal way to learn to read. Rather than abstractly teaching the relationships between letters and sounds (and hoping it will be later applied in the ‘live’ stream of reading), this approach supports learners while they’re in the ‘live’ stream of reading.

Steps for using OLSN to recognize words:


Step 1:  Whenever students stumble on a word that they don’t immediately recognize, they should click or touch it. Clicking on the word will cause OLSN to pop-up and show the word in a small blue box. If the word has a lot of letters, the word will be broken into smaller and more easily readable parts. To see what I mean, click on the following word: segmented.


Step 2: Once the word appears in the blue box, students should try to read it again. If they can read it, they should click or touch anywhere outside the blue box and it will disappear. If they still don’t recognize the word, they should click it again (click inside the blue box). Each time they click, they should watch and listen carefully to the PQd way the letters look and sound, and then, try to read the word again. Watching and listening to these “PQs”, (changes in how letters look and sound), guide students into learning to get good at figuring out words.


Step 3: If they still don’t recognize the word, they should click it again; watching, listening, and trying again to recognize it.  They should keep clicking the word and trying to read it until they do. Some words only have two clicks of PQs. Some words have four. They should keep clicking and trying until they get the word or run out of PQs. Once they have been given all the PQs for the word, the word will be sounded-out and then, finally, normally spoken for them.

UNDERSTANDING: If learners recognize the word, but don’t understand what it means, clicking the  WordExplore  button in the Pop-Up opens the Reference Panel, which provides definitions, synonyms, roots, and translations for the word.

Steps for using OLSN’s WordExplore button to understand words.

Step 1: Whenever students recognize a word but don’t know what it means, they should click the word to open OLSN (just like they would for a word they don’t recognize).

Step 2: Once OLSN opens with the word in its blue box, they should click on the WordExplore  button to open the Reference Panel. Once the reference panel opens, they should choose the type of reference that will help them: 

Step 3: If English is their primary language, learners can click on the Dictionary  or Synonym  button to see the word’s definitions or synonyms. If English is not their primary language, they can click on the Translator  button to see translations of the word in their language. Note: if the Translator is not set to their language, click on the Translator Menu  button to select it.

Important Note: Learners can click on any word in the dictionary,  synonyms or  roots reference panel (for example “embarrassing” below), and OLSN will help them read (recognize and understand) the word.

Using the above steps, practice with some of the words in the table below. Remember: “click, watch, listen, and try to read again”. Once you know how to use OLSN to help recognize words, click on the WordExplore  button and use the Reference Panel to help understand the meanings of words.



Practice Words




































Together these two modes of support turn every word on every page of a document or website into an instant access help button / portal that provides anything any learner (from any language background, or any level of reading skill) might need to both recognize and understand the word and keep reading. 



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