Orton-Gillingham Activities for Young Students

A successful Orton-Gillingham reading program consists of systematic, explicit phonics strategy instruction.

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.