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Orton-Gillingham for Special Education

The Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach is a valuable resource for children with special educational needs and their instructors. Its individualized, structured, and multisensory nature allows educators to provide personalized instruction that addresses the specific learning needs of each student. It provides educators with a customizable plan to teach reading and vocabulary skills, focusing on step-by-step learning and incremental development. 

What Does Orton-Gillingham Look Like in The Special Education Classroom?

Orton-Gillingham is often integrated into the overall literacy instruction in the special education classroom. Teachers align OG principles with the broader curriculum, incorporating strategies and techniques into reading, writing, and language arts activities. This integration ensures students can transfer their learning from explicit OG instruction across subject areas.

Teachers using the OG approach regularly assess and monitor student progress. They use various assessment tools to identify mastery and areas that require further instruction. Continuous assessment helps inform instructional planning, allowing teachers to adjust lessons to meet students’ individual needs.

The OG approach incorporates multi-sensory techniques to engage multiple senses in the learning process. Through seeing, saying, sounding, and writing letters, students i special education can build skills to help decode and encode words. The emphasis on multisensory learning ensures student engagement and optimal learning for students with special educational needs. 

Students receiving special education services will see gains in reading proficiency through a comprehensive 10-18 week curriculum based on Orton-Gillingham. With 30 minutes of instruction per day, three times a week, and 90 minutes of core instruction, their progress will be monitored monthly or bimonthly. This structured literacy approach ensures that special education students make tangible advancements in their reading skills.

OG Activities for the Special Education Classroom

The tailored and systematic approach of the Orton-Gillingham method makes it a valuable resource in the special education classroom, empowering educators to effectively teach literacy skills and empowering students to grasp what they are learning. A wide range of OG activities are available for implementation, providing substantial support to students with special educational needs. Some activities include:

Sound-Blending and Segmenting

Sound blending (putting sounds together) and segmenting (pulling sounds apart) are skills that are necessary for learning to read and spell. In this activity, students practice blending individual sounds together to form words. The teacher may provide phoneme cards or use a multisensory approach by having students tap or move objects as they blend sounds. For example, the teacher might say the sounds /b/ /a/ /t/ and the students blend them together to say the word “bat”. Blending and segmenting activities can help students to develop phonemic awareness, a strong predictor of reading achievement.

Multisensory Letter-Sound Association

Multisensory letter-sound association involves utilizing various senses to reinforce the connection between letters and their corresponding sounds. Through activities like air writing, using letter tiles, magnetic letters, or writing letters in sand, students can explore different letter shapes and sounds. They trace the letters with their fingers while simultaneously vocalizing the associated sounds. This approach enhances the understanding of how letters visually represent specific sound. By engaging multiple senses during these activities, students can strengthen their comprehension and retention of letter-sound relationships. 

Dictation and Spelling Activities

Spelling is crucial for literacy development, and the Orton-Gilingham method offers an effective strategy. In this approach, students listen to a word or sentence, write it down, and break down complex words into syllables or sounds. Students then use multisensory strategies, such as tapping and segmenting sounds, and apply their knowledge of letter-sound relationships. This structured and supportive approach helps students achieve automaticity in spelling, preventing frustration and ensuring they don’t fall behind in their literacy skills. 

Decoding Practice

By providing repeated opportunities for decoding text and incorporating multi-sensory techniques, students develop strong spelling skills through dictation exercises. This approach is comprehensive and effective for all students and especially beneficial for those with learning differences. 

By implementing the Orton-Gillingham approach in the special education classroom, educators can provide targeted and systematic instruction to students with language-based learning differences, helping them develop strong reading, writing, and language skills while building confidence and independence.

Searching for an Orton-Gillingham Approach for Your SpEd Classroom?

Implementing OG in the special education classroom requires specialized training for teachers. The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE) offers comprehensive OG training programs for educators. It equips teachers with the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to implement OG techniques in the special education classroom effectively. By investing in high-quality OG training, teachers can enhance their instructional practices and provide equitable literacy instruction to all their students.

Investing in the right OG training, such as the programs offered by IMSE, empowers teachers to implement this evidence-based approach effectively and significantly impact their student’s academic success. For more information on OG training available to all teachers, check out!


Orton-Gillingham for General Education

In today’s diverse classrooms, educators face the challenge of meeting the needs of students with varying reading abilities. Initially developed for individuals with dyslexia, Orton-Gillingham (OG) has gained recognition as an effective, structured, multi-sensory instructional method for all learners. 

With its structured and systematic approach, OG provides explicit instruction in foundational literacy skills, ensuring all students receive comprehensive and targeted support. The multi-sensory nature of OG engages students’ different learning modalities, promoting better understanding and retention of skills learned. OG’s emphasis on individualized and small-group instruction allows teachers to tailor lessons to meet the specific needs of each student but also fosters a personalized learning environment for the class as a whole. By incorporating OG into the gen ed classroom, educators can effectively address skill gaps, promote inclusivity, and empower all students to achieve literacy success.

What Does OG Look Like in the Gen Ed Classroom?

Orton-Gillingham is a research-based, individualized teaching approach emphasizing explicit, systematic, and cumulative instruction. It targets the foundational skills of reading, writing, and spelling, helping students develop strong literacy foundations. In the general education classroom, OG can be integrated seamlessly within the existing curriculum to support the learning needs of all students.

OG in the gen ed classroom involves creating a structured and supportive learning environment. Teachers trained in OG employ multi-sensory techniques, breaking down language concepts into smaller parts and providing ample practice opportunities. They incorporate visual aids, manipulatives, auditory cues, and kinesthetic activities to engage students’ learning modalities. By doing so, educators can cater to diverse learners, address skill gaps, and foster a positive, inclusive classroom environment.

OG Activities for the Gen Ed Classroom:

  • Sound Blending: Sound blending activities help students develop phonemic awareness, an essential skill for reading and spelling. In this activity, students are given a set of individual phonemes or sounds and are guided to blend them together to form words. For example, the teacher may provide the sounds /b/, /a/, and /t/, and students blend them to create the word “bat.” This activity can be conducted as a whole class or small group exercise, encouraging active participation and reinforcing sound-symbol associations.
  • Word Dictation: Word dictation exercises are effective for building spelling and writing skills. Teachers provide a series of words, read aloud one at a time, and students write them down. This activity promotes the development of sound-symbol correspondence, orthographic knowledge, and enhances students’ spelling accuracy. It can be tailored to different proficiency levels by adjusting the complexity of the words or incorporating specific spelling patterns.
  • Sentence Building: Sentence-building activities support the development of grammar, syntax, and comprehension skills. Teachers provide students with individual words or phrases, and students work collaboratively to construct meaningful sentences. This activity encourages students to apply their knowledge of sentence structure, parts of speech, and vocabulary. It can be extended to include more complex sentence formation, such as compound or complex sentences, to challenge higher-level learners.

Searching for an Orton-Gillingham Approach for Your Gen Ed Classroom?

Implementing OG in the gen ed classroom requires specialized training for teachers. The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE) offers comprehensive OG training programs for educators and equips teachers with the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to implement OG techniques within the gen ed curriculum effectively. By investing in high-quality OG training, teachers can enhance their instructional practices and provide equitable literacy instruction to all their students.

Investing in the right OG training, such as the programs offered by IMSE, empowers gen ed teachers to implement this evidence-based approach effectively and significantly impact their student’s academic success. For more information on OG training available to all teachers, check out!

Prevent Summer Learning Loss with Orton-Gillingham

What Exactly Is Summer Learning Loss?

Summer learning loss has been a topic of discussion for decades and is sometimes referred to as the summer slide or brain drain. It is a concern for educators, researchers, and parents alike. And while everyone agrees that children deserve a break from school during the summer, it doesn’t have to mean a break from learning. 

It is important for students who are learning to read to maintain educational progress during the summer. Although all students may experience some regression, our concern should primarily be focused on those who are at-risk and already face learning struggles.

Why Worry About Summer Learning Loss

Most sources addressing the summer slide indicate that students may encounter a learning loss ranging from one to three months during a single summer.

However, what is more concerning is the cumulative impact of such losses over the elementary school years. In 2020, the American Education Research Journal published a study documenting students from grades 1 through 6 and their learning growth. 

The sample (18 million students from 7,500 school districts) revealed that 52% of these students experienced an average loss of 39% of their total learning gains over the summer months. 

The consequences can be even greater when we consider the accumulative losses over multiple summers. This is a significant contributor to the 9th-grade achievement gap between students from middle to low-income homes, accounting for two-thirds of the disparity.

Those At-Risk of Summer Learning Loss

Summer learning loss commonly affects students with reading difficulties or disabilities and those from income-disadvantaged homes. English language learners are also at-risk, as research suggests they may need more opportunities to practice reading and speaking English outside of school. 

Students falling into any of these at-risk categories are particularly disinclined to engage in independent reading activities during the summer. Students with learning disabilities, in particular, spend ten months grappling with the daily challenges of learning and tasks that leave them defeated and exhausted. 

The summer months provide opportunities to focus on activities that rebuild confidence and highlight their abilities. This population is especially susceptible to summer learning loss. The learning that occurs during the school year requires guided practice, explicit instruction like Orton-Gillingham, and multiple opportunities for the application of learning skills. The student may be put in a position to start all over again if the learning process is interrupted. 

Committing to ongoing assessment can help identify learning regression in students. Researchers have examined student achievement gains from fall to spring and observed that those who make the most progress during the school year are also at the highest risk of losing the most over the summer. By carefully monitoring student progress and identifying those who show significant learning gains during the school year, we can effectively target students vulnerable to summer learning loss.

Using Orton-Gillingham to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

Educators and parents play a crucial role in preventing summer learning loss and ensuring that students continue to make progress in their reading and language skills during the summer break. By incorporating Orton-Gillingham activities into summer learning routines, educators and parents can provide targeted support to students and help them maintain and strengthen their literacy skills.

First and foremost, educators can collaborate with parents to create summer reading plans that incorporate Orton-Gillingham instruction. They can recommend Orton-Gillingham-based reading materials, such as decodable books or texts emphasizing phonetic patterns and word families. Additionally, educators can provide parents with resources and guidelines on implementing Orton-Gillingham activities at home. This may involve sharing lesson plans, activity ideas, and recommended online tools or apps that align with the Orton-Gillingham approach.

Parents can encourage their children to read aloud, emphasizing phonetic patterns, and providing guidance when needed. They can also engage in word-building exercises, such as making word cards or playing word games that reinforce phonemic awareness and decoding skills. By incorporating multi-sensory components, such as using sand or clay for letter formation, parents can enhance the effectiveness of Orton-Gillingham instruction and make learning engaging and enjoyable for their children.

Educators and parents can prevent summer learning loss by incorporating Orton-Gillingham instruction and activities into students’ summer routines. By recommending Orton-Gillingham-based reading materials, providing resources and guidelines, engaging in multi-sensory activities, and exploring other learning options, they can help students maintain and strengthen their reading and language skills during the break. By investing time and effort in Orton-Gillingham instruction, educators and parents can support students in their ongoing literacy development and set them up for success in the coming school year.

Using Poetry, Rhyming, and Music in Orton-Gillingham Instruction

Developing children’s literacy skills, particularly in phonological awareness, can be achieved through poetry, rhyming, and music when learning to read.  “Phonological awareness is the ability to attend to and manipulate units of sound in speech (syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes) independent of meaning” (H. Yopp & R. Yopp, 2009, p. 13).

Why does phonological awareness hold such importance? Extensive research provides overwhelming evidence of its crucial role in fostering word recognition skills and forming the foundation for success in reading and spelling. “Noticing and being able to manipulate the sounds of spoken language—phonological awareness—is highly related to later success in reading and spelling” (H. Yopp & R. Yopp, 2009, p. 15). According to Kilpatrick (2016), “Poor phonological awareness is the most common cause of poor reading” (p. 13).

Using Poetry and Songs in Orton-Gillingham Instruction

For students who are beginning to or still developing independent reading skills, active engagement in listening to and participating in reciting poems and singing songs is beneficial. Recognizing that oral language is the fundamental basis for literacy is important. Literacy, starting with listening and speaking, and “oral language development facilitates print literacy” (Fisher & Frey, 2014, para. 1). Elster (2010) asserts, “Poetry contains highly patterned, predictable language that has the unique potential to promote memorable and pleasurable experiences in preschool, kindergarten, and primary classrooms” (p. 48).

Poems and songs can be used in Orton-Gillingham instruction to target specific phonological awareness skills. A poem featuring alliteration can be utilized while learning how to recognize the initial phoneme (i.e., sound) in a word. Poems or songs that incorporate rhyming words enable students to focus on specific sound patterns and identify rhymes.

Engaging in these types of phonological awareness activities, which draw students’ attention to sounds within words, aids in establishing the foundational knowledge necessary for later mapping letters to sounds in spelling and reading.

Poems and songs can also be integrated with other literacy skills, especially as students begin to interact with printed text. Teachers can use enlarged copies of poems to demonstrate tracking and one-to-one correspondence during Orton-Gillingham-based reading instuction. Students’ understanding of the concept of words, a phonological awareness skill, facilitates the connection between spoken and printed words, illustrating yet another example of the foundational role of phonological awareness in reading.

As students learn about letters, teachers or students can emphasize specific letters or words in the poem (e.g., acknowledge words with ‘t’ when focusing on the letter ‘t’). Echo reading, choral reading, and repeated reading can be employed as both the teacher and students collectively engage in “reading” the poem. Some poems also lend themselves well to vocabulary and comprehension instruction.

Other Ways to Practice Rhyming Using the Orton-Gillingham Approach

Poems and music serve as exceptional methods for honing the phonological awareness skill of rhyming. However, there are additional activities available to foster rhyming proficiency. Listed below are some simple and convenient ways to incorporate rhyming games with students, embracing the principles of the Orton-Gillingham Approach:

Rhyming Song Hunt

Select a familiar tune or melody, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Create new lyrics for the song that focus on specific rhyming patterns or word families. For example, if you’re working on the “-at” word family, you might sing, “Cat, bat, sat, that, where’s the word that rhymes with ‘mat’?” Sing the modified song together, emphasizing the rhyming words and patterns. After singing, encourage your students to identify other words that rhyme with the target word family or pattern. Repeat the activity with different rhyming patterns or word families.

Rhyme Sorting Game

Prepare a deck of word cards with rhyming pairs or word families. For example, you might have cards with words like “cat,” “bat,” “hat,” “sat,” etc. Spread the word cards face down on a table or the floor. Play instrumental music or a simple rhyming song in the background. Encourage your students to pick two cards at a time, flipping them over to reveal the words. If the two words rhyme, the student keeps the pair. If they don’t rhyme, the cards are flipped back over, and the next player takes a turn. Continue playing until all the rhyming pairs have been matched. Discuss the rhyming patterns and word families as you play.

Rhyme Relay Race

Divide the class into two teams. Create a series of rhyming word cards or flashcards and spread them out in a line across the room. Play a rhythmic tune or drumbeat as the background music. When the music starts, the first player from each team races to the word cards, picks up a card, and identifies a word that rhymes with the one on the card. Once a correct rhyme is provided, the player runs back to their team and hands the card to the next player. The game continues until all the word cards have been used. The team that finishes first with the most correct rhymes wins the relay race.

Utilizing Poetry in Orton-Gillingham Instruction

When it comes to students who are already reading independently, poems are great materials for honing reading skills, particularly with regard to prosody, owing to their inherent rhythmic nature. Furthermore, children’s poems are often short, making them ideal candidates for repeated reading exercises. Extensive research demonstrates that guided, repeated reading enhances reading fluency. Incorporating poems or musical lyrics into the learning process when advancing reading skills provides students with a delightful and captivating means of practice.

Poems and music play a pivotal role in fostering an appreciation for prosody, rhythm, and rhyme. They engage students and enhance their oral and written language abilities. Particularly for younger students or those in the early stages of phonological skill development, poems serve as enjoyable resources that can be initially explored orally. Poems continue to serve as exceptional texts as students move into skills related to print awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. By incorporating the multi-sensory techniques of the Orton-Gillingham Approach, poems can provide an enriched and holistic learning experience for students.

Using Orton-Gillingham to Build Vocabulary

Too often than not, students will encounter a word they have never seen before, whether in reading or conversation. Most parents will tell them to look it up in the dictionary. However, when thinking of learning the meaning of words and vocabulary instruction, many consider the rote action of looking the word up in the dictionary. Using the dictionary is a necessary skill that should be taught, but research has told us that dictionary definitions are inaccessible to most students (Scott & Nagy, 1997; Marzano, 200).

For example, “experiencing or showing relief, especially from anxiety or pent-up emotion” is the definition of the word relieved in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. To know what relieved means, the student must have previously learned the definitions of the words: relief, experience, pent-up, especially, emotion, and anxiety. Most of the time, students walk away from this experience feeling anything but! Even if the definition makes sense and these words are known, exposure to word meaning from a one-time dictionary look-up does not equate to long-term memory.

But what can be done to make vocabulary building more effective, less remote, and authentic for students? The following vocabulary-building activities follow the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching multi-sensory strategies to teach students to read while simultaneously igniting a love of reading. 


The Frayer Model: A popular way to learn new vocabulary and concepts where students can define words in their own terms. Split a piece of paper (if the instructor wants the class to play individually) or the board (if the instructor wants everyone to collaborate) into four sections. In the middle of the sections is a word assigned by the teacher. Each section of the chart stands for facts, characteristics, examples, and non-examples. The students list descriptions of the original word to make up definitions that make sense to them. With the instructor’s guidance, this can be a great way to understand new vocabulary. 


Word Learning Strategies: Instruction in morphemes and context clues can deepen one’s knowledge of word meaning and use in talks and texts, in addition to learning how to use a dictionary.

A strategy in which the meanings of words can be determined by examining their meaningful parts (i.e., prefixes, suffixes, roots, etc.) is called morphemic analysis. A morpheme is defined as the smallest possible string of sounds that cannot be reduced any smaller and still has meaning. An example of this is shown in the prefix mis- (meaning: mistaken or wrong), which can change the meaning by being added to a base word. When we add mis- to the word understanding (meaning: comprehension), it results in a word meaning to wrongfully or mistakenly comprehend. This is one example of many that explains how adding word parts together can create new meanings and usages of words. Students can use prefixes, suffixes, and Greek and Latin roots to determine the meaning of a word when reading.

Contextual analysis is a strategy in which a reader uses context and hints that the author gives to help build vocabulary by defining an unknown word. These clues may be the word’s definition, an example or explanation, or a synonym or antonym. The clues can be found somewhere within the paragraph or in the same sentence as the word. Students can be taught to look for these clues to clarify the use and meaning of a word. It is important to know that context matters. The word snake is pretty simplistic, for example. It’s possible to conjure an image of a reptile that slithers through a garden. However, snake can also be used as an adjective (That snake of a fellow stole my favorite cap!) or as a verb (The park’s bench snaked around the perimeter.). A person must take notice of and look for clues as to how the word snake is being used to make sense of what is being written or said.


Snake-Word: A class activity that will get everyone involved. Divide the class into teams, each group sends a representative to the board. Each student chooses a colored marker (or piece of chalk) and assembles themselves in a line from one end of the board to the other. The instructor writes a letter on the board, and the first student in line writes a word beginning with the letter. The next student writes a word beginning with the last letter of the previous word, and so on. 

For example, if you choose the letter T, the words could be:

Taco > octopus > salmon > narrow > water

However, the students should write the words without spaces so that they merge together into a ‘snake’:


The fun is in the time limit. Limit the time each student has to write the next word, depending on the level of the class. If the timer runs out, the student misses their turn. If the student misses three times, they are replaced by another student from their team. 

After their time has passed, if they haven’t written a word, then they miss their turn. If you miss your turn three times, you are replaced by another student from your row/team. The students love it, are engaged, and can learn from each other’s vocabulary. 


Wall Dictionary: It’s time to get crafty. Grab a colorful piece of paper that will serve as the background of your learning activity. Paste 26 pockets on the background, labeling each pocket with a letter of the alphabet. Get the kids involved by having them write the 26 letters on some small pieces of paper. These will be the ‘pieces’ or ‘blocks’ of the activity. The students will put their letters into their pockets as soon as they can. Now that the base of the activity is made, this ‘wall dictionary’ can be used at any time to practice spelling. 

Specifically, divide the class into three or four groups; the instructor will call out words, and the students will listen, dissect, and choose the letters from the pockets to spell the words. 

Several wall dictionaries can be in use at once to keep the game competitive, and the students engaged. Happy learning! 


Word Play: Have some fun! Learning words can be supported by many word games. Here is a list of word games you can play with students.

Word Ladders


Making Words with tiles


Crossword Puzzles


Memory Games

Why do we need to teach vocabulary at all?

According to The National Reading Panel (2000), vocabulary is one of the essential components of reading. Students as early as kindergarten should be taught vocabulary building so that they may master comprehension as they progress into higher grades. If word meaning and usage is unknown, students will have difficulty making sense of the text. 

Learning vocabulary through Orton-Gillingham instruction results in improved written expression and reading comprehension. Vocabulary instruction can occur during all stages of reading a text. Although the above Orton-Gillingham activities are meant to be fun and engaging for students, more importantly, they are purposeful and effective in allowing them to never be at a loss for words.

Note: The use of teacher jargon was avoided, but homonyms, phrasal verbs, idioms, and puns are hiding in plain sight.

Transitioning to the Science of Reading Utilizing the Orton-Gillingham Methodology

The Science of Reading has been a rising hot topic over the years as evidence supporting the effectiveness of reading instruction is becoming clearer. 

Considering that only one-third of American children are able to read proficiently, it’s easy to agree that it is time to come together to make an overarching change in the way reading is taught. The Orton-Gillingham approach does just that; combining the Science of Reading (SoR) with multi-sensory approaches changes the way teachers teach and readers read.

The Science of Reading shows that educators need to secure phonics as the primary approach to reading and, in turn, prepare students to become independent and fluent readers for life.

There is a lot of information and resources available to guide instructional practices based on evidence for teachers looking to transition from a balanced literacy approach. Many teachers are used to the three-cueing system as a teaching approach that drives reading. The three-cueing system is in place for students to access information sources, including visual, structure, and meaning. Students, in this approach, are encouraged to engage in independent reading of high-interest books, make informed guesses at a word, and use context or other knowledge and experience to plug in unfamiliar words. Teachers using the three-cueing system as a primary approach could choose to mix in some phonics instruction when deemed appropriate. However, extensive research within the Science of Reading confirms that adding in some phonics instruction intermittently is not effective. They will not develop the deep knowledge and skills that good readers possess, even if students are exposed to reading and provided with a wealth of opportunities. Multiple references have revealed that poor readers’ strategy mimics the three-cueing system. In addition, many children remain ill-prepared to tackle more advanced concepts in later years with this type of cueing system. Fortunately, the Science of Reading proves that we don’t read differently, and with instruction like Orton-Gillingham, every student gains access to the same skills and knowledge on their journey to becoming a good reader. 

If you are just beginning to dive into the instructional practices that are heavily supported by research or are new to the Science of Reading and Orton-Gillingham, below are just a few areas that you will want to become very familiar with in order to begin teaching most effectively:

Gain insight into the Science of Reading and Orton-Gillingham Instruction

What scientists have confirmed about how children learn to break the code of the English language is explained by a compilation of many years of research. The contributions of experts in the fields of cognitive science, educational psychology, developmental psychology, and neuroscience represent decades of studies demonstrating the essential foundational reading skills that must be mastered by all students to develop effective orthographic mapping and decoding skills. This research has important implications on how students should be taught and how reading skills are developed. The SoR dispels misconceptions about commonly used practices that don’t provide a clear direction and are not supported by evidence. It explains how we learn to read. Struggling to guess and sound out words is not a trait of good readers. They recognize them and typically don’t have any problems. Word reading is fluent and allows them to focus on meaning-comprehension. 

Do the “Math”

Understand the Simple View of Reading

Gough & Tunmer’s (1986) Simple View of Reading demonstrates comprehension as the product of two basic components-

Word Recognition (Decoding) x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension

Assessing reading weaknesses and understanding the formula will help educators provide appropriate instruction. The Simple View formula indicates that strong comprehension can only occur if both language comprehension skills and decoding are strong. Word recognition is best taught wherein students develop knowledge and skills about how the alphabet works to become expert decoders, known as a phonics-based approach. At each grade level, we must ensure that students have higher-order thinking skills and sufficient content knowledge to understand what they read. Orton-Gillingham reading instruction must allow students to apply knowledge of the subject and synthesize the information to establish solid comprehension in order to prepare them to become strong decoders.

Learn the Alphabetic Principle

A highly effective reading teacher must develop a solid understanding of the Alphabetic Principle. This is the systematic relationship between letters (graphemes) and the sounds that make them up (phonemes). Good readers recognize patterns in words because they know that each sound is represented by one or more letters and that words are made up of sounds. This ability to identify patterns allows students to differentiate between words that look similar like imported, impaired, and imparted or bet, bend, and bent. This skill is unattainable through the use of cues like a search for context, access to illustrations, or guessing. 

Understand Orthographic Mapping

A major discovery in reading research in past years, children learning letter-sound relationships has given us a solid understanding of how words are stored in our memory. “Orthographic mapping” is the mental process that is activated to engage in effortless, instant word retrieval. Dr. David Kilpatrick reminds us that “Efficient orthographic mapping will only occur if the student has adequate skill in phonemic awareness and analysis” (Essentials, p.100). Teaching the brain to recognize patterns is a top priority of Orton-Gillingham instruction. The use of linguistic vocabulary (compound word, digraph, closed syllable, blend, syllable) and identifying the substructures (syllable types, spelling rules, patterns) within words is powered by impactful Orton-Gillingham instruction. Students will be able to decode new words with this application of knowledge and skills. “Orthographic lexicon” is the bank of these words that can be instantly retrieved and read effortlessly. 

Embrace Orton-Gillingham Instruction

Boring, rote, or mundane are some of the words used to describe phonics instruction. Teachers who have been professionally trained in Orton-Gillingham will likely be under different assumptions. Why? The answer is simple. When students are taught through a systematic, explicit, multisensory approach, they use word recognition and build confidence by quickly mastering skills. Activation of these skills paves the way for the student to gain a deeper comprehension of text, fluent reading to occur, and ignites excitation in the brain. Skilled teachers will embed practice through repetition and review cycles designed to enhance orthographic mapping skills. Teachers can familiarize themselves with Ehri’s Phases of Sight Word Development and the levels of phonological awareness development to establish a developmentally appropriate reading program. Opportunities to engage in word study, nonsense word reading, word structure analysis, and phoneme awareness activities will promote mapping. In addition, the selection of appropriate reading materials (controlled and decodable text) will provide opportunities for the student to apply decoding strategies to mastery and gain confidence. 

Build Fluency with Orton-Gillingham Instruction

Students can focus on generating meaning from other aspects of text when they are able to recognize words automatically and accurately. This requires multiple opportunities and repeated exposure to recognize irregular words, apply learned decoding strategies, and activate orthographic mapping skills.  

Shifting gears from one instructional approach to another can be challenging. There is an undisputed importance of the value of contextual cues in assisting students to generate meaning from text. We continue to promote the student’s attention to the meaning (semantics) and construction (syntax) of the text to enhance comprehension and imagery. When used to supplement the phonetic process (rather than replace it), these cues are perfectly appropriate. But what happens when the fourth-grade student is no longer provided with visual cues and the pictures are gone? Thankfully, an inherent goal of teaching is to promote the success of every student by igniting a student’s love for learning. Good teachers are constantly searching for effective teaching practices and building their knowledge upon the research that supports learning. Teachers will be able to shift the instructional focus to evidence-based practices, which will build a foundation that will empower students and ultimately allow them to read at more advanced levels by embracing the Simple View of Reading. 

“Reading failure can be prevented in all but a small percentage of children,” says Louisa Moats. In recent years, scientists have made great strides in preventing and correcting reading problems as well as understanding how students learn to read. These findings provide information that will foster reading development in those who encounter problems with reading as well as good readers. Having access to this information warrants an interdisciplinary call to action, wherein policymakers, teachers, and parents begin to collectively embrace the Science of Reading to bring about better outcomes for the future of student performance and reading instruction. The Science of Reading and Orton-Gillingham method empowers teachers with resources, instructional strategies, and the knowledge of the Science of Reading to feel confident in delivering evidence-based reading practices to all students. 

The Orton-Gillingham Guide to Reading Assessments

Educators have the ability to improve student learning through reading assessments.

Teachers can better inform their decisions about the content students are learning and the goals of that instruction by administering a variety of reading assessments.

Answering critical questions like, “are my students learning?” is fundamental in helping teachers to determine what to teach and how to teach it. 

Thoughtful reading assessment allows teachers to focus on matching instruction and content to goals and maximize their time. Both the teacher and the students benefit when an assessment is directly aligned with instruction. 

Reading assessments can serve a myriad of purposes and come in many different forms. They may be formal or informal and are multi-faceted. They help us to analyze the learner’s quantitative and qualitative performance as it represents both process (how the student learns best) and product (what the student has learned).

It is essential for teachers to establish the start line, the finish, and plan for frequent “checkpoints” along the way as they lead their students on the marathon of learning. Teachers will want to prepare a compilation of assessments that provide direct answers to their questions about student learning and drive important decisions about their instructional approach. 

The Orton-Gillingham method points to various types of assessments that teachers will want to consider during planning.

Diagnostic Assessment

The diagnostic assessment is administered as a pre-test or at the beginning of a unit or lesson. This form of assessment allows the educator to answer the question “How much does this student already know about this (subject area, topic, content)?” and gauges the student’s pre-knowledge. A diagnostic assessment provides information about the student’s areas of weakness and strengths to the educator.

Results can guide the teacher’s development of lesson planning, learning objectives, and identification of concepts that are in need of review. The teacher will be able to see how much knowledge the student has gained during the instructional period when followed by a post-test. The comparison of pre and post-test results can, when shared with students, serve as a critical tool to build their self-esteem through the efficacy and support of instructional methods. 

Formative Assessment

Formative assessments are given during the learning process and provide actionable, real-time feedback to teachers, serving many purposes. The word formative, from the Latin word “formare,” means to shape or form.

This reading assessment indicates how the teacher is teaching and how the students are learning. The formative assessment, easy and quick to implement, yields powerful information to drive instruction. From the results of this assessment, the instruction is formed or shaped to fit the student’s needs. The teacher can engage in continuous adjustments to instruction in order to match the student needs through formative assessments conducted daily or weekly. 

The formative assessment can be considered a frequent “check-up” that is necessary to ensure individualized instruction. The results can help to place students into groupings and directly guide the teacher to make critical decisions about differentiation to enhance learning. A variety of important questions are answered by formative assessments:

  • What did my students take away from this lesson?
  • Am I effectively reaching my students with my teaching strategies?
  • Which errors are common and which are individual?
  • Did I reach my target teaching goals?
  • What is my next step with instruction?

Interim Assessment

The interim reading assessment analyzes the overall performance of a population (grade, school, District) or larger group. This assessment allows for teachers and administrators to track student progress and is administered at specific times of the year. Interim checks can help to guide decisions regarding the overall effectiveness of methods, general accountability, and instructional content. 

Summative Assessment

The summative reading assessment is administered at the end of a specified instructional period. It answers the question “How effective was instruction?” Educators can see how much content was retained by the students through the results of this assessment. It also supports administrators and teachers to review content to inform decisions going forward and reflect on instructional practices in the past.

Teaching to the “sweet spot”

The zone of proximal development (ZPD) is an assessment that helps us outline the skills that may be too difficult for the student to master on his own, but have great potential for mastery with modeling and guidance from a knowledgeable instructor.

Often referred to as the “sweet spot” of learning, the ZPD plays a key role in targeting the ZPD for students. Instruction is at risk for being below the ZPD or above the ZPD if assessment is left out. Assessments allow teachers to isolate the skills that need support while planning meaningful instruction for all learners when in combination with clear target skills and learning outcomes. The mastery of skills in the ZPD, by way of assessment, includes:

  • Ask a student to answer the question “How do you know?” In spelling dictation, this gives the student an opportunity to use concept knowledge to explain the spelling rule, pattern, or position that is applied in a word. 
  • Modeling “how to” provides the student with opportunities to spell a similar word or apply similar rules or strategies to spelling.
  • Putting students in small groups or a pair and share and having them discuss a new concept, review a rules notebook, or discuss multiple spellings before initiating practice.
  • Using visual aids to help students conceptualize a concept, such as hand gestures for morpheme identification, rules posters, or mnemonics.
  • Asking students to use prior knowledge to better understand more complex concepts.
  • Walking students through the self-editing process to activate strategies to check for accuracy and understanding. 

Reading assessments provide data that is all too often easy to get caught up in. However, teachers still need to recognize the value of implementing varied and frequent assessments. These tools can tell us a great deal about the trajectory of learning for each student throughout their academic journey

Some instruction is cyclical and will resurface topics such as writing mechanics, parts of speech, and grammar usage from one year to the next. Administering an assessment can determine if students are retaining content that has been revisited over time. Other knowledge stacks, such as building blocks, allow learners to link new knowledge to existing information in ways that complement their learning style.

It should be noted that educators must make sure that their reading assessments are administered for other reasons rather than emphasizing outcomes. The benefits of assessment are clear and above all else, can measure the effectiveness of learning strategies, providing vital information about the student’s instructional needs, responsiveness to teaching, and future learning potential.

Orton-Gillingham Activities for Young Students

What Is a Structured Phonics Program?

Confidence, fluency, and good comprehension along with the ability to decode words accurately and automatically are indications of a successful reader. A successful reading program consists of systematic, explicit phonics strategy instruction. Helping beginning readers understand how letters are linked to sounds (phonemes) to form letter-sound correspondences and spelling patterns as well as helping them learn how to apply this knowledge in their reading and writing is a sure sign of a successful reading program.

Building the foundation for effective reading starts with learning an effective phonics strategy.

Important contributors, such as segmenting words and learning letters, help children learn to read words during kindergarten and first grade. The concept of “phonemic awareness” is included in good, structured phonics strategies, helping children to recognize the words that are made up of a series of sounds.

Phonemic awareness and surrounding knowledge sets the stage for learning sound/spelling patterns of the language, followed by how they combine to make words. Students need to learn letters and combinations of letters that represent the 44 different sounds of the English Language in written words in order to become skilled, fluent readers. Phonics strategies teach letter-order constraints, patterns, the spelling “rules”, and conventions to promote effective decoding.


Why Is Phonics Important?

The benefits of phonics strategy instruction for students in kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read are demonstrated in the findings of meta-analyses. Children who systematically are better able to decode and spell and exhibit improvement in their ability to comprehend text have been taught phonics skills.

The most effective instruction that has the most far-reaching impact has implemented a systematic, explicit approach to phonics programs. Skills enable the child to apply linguistic knowledge to analyze and identify nearly every word that he encounters as they build over time. According to Sally Shaywitz (Overcoming Dyslexia), “No other method of teaching can make this claim”. 

Of course, the sole component of a comprehensive reading program is not just systematic phonics instruction. Teachers will want to integrate this necessary component with instruction in  vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and phonological and phonemic awareness to address all essential areas of reading.

What Students Gain From Phonics

By learning phonics strategies, children learn the alphabetic principle- the understanding that letter patterns and letters represent the 44 sounds in English. Children learn that there are predictable relationships between sounds and letters through explicit instruction. 

Students can increase their ability to recognize novel words containing these known patterns and are better prepared to recognize irregular words and add them to their sight word memory as they learn an increasing number of spelling-sound patterns. 

Ineffective word identification processes cause a lot of problems in comprehension. Children are considered well-equipped for reading and spelling when they learn to recognize a word’s phonology (how to pronounce it), its orthography (how to spell it), and its morphology (what roots and affixes make up the word). 

A strong grasp of orthographic mapping becomes solidified when a focus on phonics strategies is clear in kindergarten and first grade. Orthographic mapping is defined as a mental process used to store words and remember them. It is not an activity, teaching technique, or skill you can do with students but rather a process that is enabled when phonics skills and phonemic awareness are taught, according to David Kilpatrick

Three overlapping skills, identified by Kilpatrick, must be in place to enable orthographic mapping, including:

  • Highly skilled phonological and phonemic awareness,
  • Automatic grapheme-phoneme correspondence knowledge, and
  • Apply decoding strategies to accurately and automatically read unfamiliar words.


What Children Need To Master Phonics

More emphasis on spelling

Teaching students to spell words before or while they are reading them makes learning phonics strategy more effective. It is important to give students plenty of opportunities to activate encoding skills (move from speech to print) and decoding skills (move from print to speech). 

Louisa Moats has noted that children may be better served with a stronger focus on spelling, that traditional phonics instruction that moves from letter to sound instead of sound to letter to ensure instructors aren’t “teaching the code backward”. Her thinking emphasizes speech as the foundation of reading and that articulating sounds brings about speech memory, which then invokes the student’s previous knowledge about the alphabetic code.

A child can access a word’s meaning first through encoding practices, (which activates speech and comprehension), pronounce the word, and then apply the process to segment the sounds and analyze articulation. After spelling the word, the student then practices fluency and reads what is written.

Incorporating encoding practice as a component of phonics instruction empowers the student to  integrate reading and writing skills and build words using the 44 graphemes. With a buildable strategy and solid foundation, the student has the ability to sound out and spell thousands of words- even those more difficult like bombastic. 

Application of knowledge and skill

Providing a child with frequent opportunities to apply what they have learned to the reading of words, sentences, passages, and stories through decodable text is a necessary part of learning to read. Decodable text includes a high percentage of words with letter-sound correspondences or spelling patterns that make independent reading possible for the beginning reader through familiarity.

Exposure to the letter-sound or phonetic patterns are provided through these texts that have been taught and allow for phonetically controlled reading and improved confidence. In turn, children are afforded opportunities to build their skill for reading and ultimately, their confidence. 

Non-word reading

To determine whether the child is decoding effectively and fluently by attending to all features of a word, teachers can use nonsense words during assessment. Sight memory and context clues can often serve as a crutch for poor readers who have weak decoding skills to understand the text. It’s important that frequent opportunities for practice with pseudoword decoding will promote the application of skills and knowledge, especially given that non-word reading fluency is predictive of reading performance. 

Following assessment, it’s important for teachers to provide structured, differentiated phonics instruction to children to ensure learning, and shortly after, mastery of encoding and decoding skills, while promoting skill application through incorporating extension activities. These types of activities are important in effective instruction because not only do they teach, they also promote enthusiasm and joy, able to elevate the child’s desire to read and create a culture of literacy learning in the classroom. 


Phonics Activity Ideas with Orton-Gillingham

I Spy Sounds

Show students a letter and say, “I spy with my little eye something that begins with /t/.” Students begin to identify various items with the beginning sound by taking turns guessing what the item is. This is continued with other sounds.

Vowel Sorting

The teacher begins by reviewing all known sounds on the vowel valley chart. Then have students choose a word from a box. The student reads the word and then sorts the vowel sound by placing it on the Vowel Valley chart.

Rule Breakers

Write various ‘nonsense’ words intermeshed with real words on the board and have students take turns identifying which nonwords are “breaking the rules” and explain exactly what is wrong. Examples of words to identify:

Kash shreege steack brik spleadge troed

Playn qick jaz saime dich juge

Syllable Sort 

Display each known syllable type, label them, and put them on a chart (open, closed, Magic -e, vowel team). Students then choose a syllable card from a deck, identify the syllable type, and write it on the chart. Continue until all cards have been played.

Syllable Construction

Identify known syllables and provide students with them. Have them build as many words as possible by adding two ending syllables to them (+ped, +ding). For an additional challenge, have them identify the first syllable as a short or long vowel sound in an effort to sort the words. Examples of syllables include:

gli tap sli slip stri

bid ri rip hop ho

Chaining Games

Have students use letters (tiles, magnets, blocks, cards) to create words and then manipulate one sound each time to form a new word. Example:  map > tap > top > pop > pod > sod > sad

Option: Teacher can dictate: “Spell map. Now change the /m/ to /t/. What is the new word?”


Create a hopscotch grid on the ground with chalk and place sounds in each square (vowels, consonants, digraphs, etc). Students will hop on the grid and recite the labeled sounds from the square.


Create a BINGO card grid and place syllables, sounds, or morphemes in the grid spaces. The teacher will dictate a concept and if the students have it on their board, they will cover the concepts with a token until someone has BINGO.

Stretch It

Provide the student with a blending board where three sounds are located. Have the student practice continuous blending, and represent the process, by running his finger across the sounds to provide a fluid movement. In order to promote connected phonation, have students select continuant sounds. After some success, the student will then have the ability to transfer the skill to syllables with stop consonants. This activity is helpful for students who isolate sounds well but struggle to achieve blending fluency. 

Who Lives Here?

Make paper or cardboard houses. Have students take turns reading provided words and sorting them into the correctly labeled house. Teaching word phonograms or families can help enhance blending fluency. Reducing memory load and promoting the child’s ability to store sight words in memory enhances repetitive practice with units of orthography (-oll, -ick, -ast, etc.).

Mirror, Mirror

Have students use a mirror while instructors lead the dictation of various sounds. This allows the student to practice articulating the phonemes while observing tongue placement and what the throat feels like while doing so. This activity helps the child eliminate the ‘schwa’ from their sound pronunciation, prevents confusion for consonant pairs like /b/-/p/, /v/-/f/, and /j/-chj/, establishing speech for spelling.

See, Circle, Read

Provide students with list of words or a variety of word strips. Students will break down the words with a see, circle, read strategy. When the student is learning to decode with affixes, this activity is helpful for identifying those prefixes and suffixes. After students circle the parts, be sure to have them read all words for fluency, and weave questions to assess knowledge (“What is the suffix in repacking?”).

Break It Down, Build It Up

Knowledge of the extensive application and practice and sound-symbol associations contribute to overall fluency in word recognition, allowing the child to read more accurately and efficiently. Be sure to make learning fun and engaging-competence builds confidence. Children are more likely to read when they have the tools necessary to read. It is our responsibility as teachers to guide the skill, opportunity, and knowledge to make reading possible for all.

Decoding Dyslexia: The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind