top of page

What is Orton-Gillingham? What Does an OG Lesson Look Like?

What is Orton-Gillingham?

Orton–Gillingham is a teaching approach that was designed to help struggling readers, and research shows that it is by far the most effective way to teach reading, especially for students who have dyslexia or struggle with sounding out words. (Orton Gillingham: What It Is | Understood )

Orton–Gillingham is a structured literacy approach, and there are many reading programs based on Orton-Gillingham such as Wilson, Take Flight, and The Logic of English, or that include Orton-Gillingham ideas. The Orton Gillingham Method explicitly teaches the connections between letters and sounds, and the spelling and pronunciation rules that govern our language. It also introduced the idea of breaking reading and spelling down into smaller skills involving letters and sounds, and then building on these skills over time.

Here are some of the Tenets of Orton Gillingham Instruction.

Some other important tenets of Orton-Gillingham are:

  • Systematic Phonics: Students learn the predictable patterns that govern 86% of english words.

  • Diagnostic and Prescriptive: The instructor takes notes about which concepts students have mastered and which need more review at each lesson, and carefully designs the next lessons based on that information. This is one aspect where the importance of a highly trained teacher comes in.

  • Continuous Feedback and Positive Reinforcement: The student gains confidence by receiving both corrective and positive feedback, and having their successes celebrated. Students develop a close, supportive relationship with their teacher.

Multisensory: Orton Gillingham pioneered the multisensory approach to teaching reading, which is a common part of effective literacy programs. This means that instructors use sight, hearing, touch, and movement to help students connect language with letters and words.

This is important….Orton-Gillingham is a method of instruction. It is not a packaged program that can be delivered out of a box using a step-by step manual. The method takes extensive training and expertise.

OG instructors know the intricacies of the English language. They know how to teach students to learn to read in an explicit, systematic method. They know how to teach students to break the code and see the predicable patterns in words.

Systematic Phonics: Wait, predictable patterns? Yes! There is a misconception that English words don’t follow patterns. Almost 86% of words commonly read in books are decodable. That means, if you understand the sound patterns that alphabet letters represent, you can decode (sound out) most words. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Louisa Moats, author of the book Speech to Print found 50% of the words in our language have consistent patterns. (For example, flag. The word has 4 sounds. Each sound is represented by one letter.)

She found 36% of the words in our language have predictable and frequent patterns. (For example, the soft c and g. The sound changes if the vowel that follows it is a e, i or y.)

10% of English so-called “irregular” words are explained during Orton-Gillingham instruction. These morphologically complex words include compound words, (example: caretaker), affix-root structure words (example: refilled), Latin/Greek derivation and other foreign language spelling patterns (example: buffet).

Believe it or not, only 4% of words in our language are truly odd or unpredictable. Some say they are left over from English Anglo/Saxon heritage (examples: of, does, aunt.)

Now that we understand the English language is actually predictable, we can teach the skills and rules needed to break the code.

That being said, this post will dive into some basics of OG. The information does NOT replace training. Extensive and long-term training is needed to deliver quality OG instruction. The following is a brief overview of some common OG practices.

The Orton-Gillingham approach starts with individual sounds, and then uses the taught sounds to blend words. This word building method links visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities. In other words, it links what a student sees, hears and feels.

The Gillingham Manual calls this technique the “language triangle.” It’s commonly known as the multisensory approach.

Here are 3 simplistic examples of the Orton-Gillingham method.

Remember….all 3 senses are used.

Teaching the letter t.

  • Show the letter card for t. (visual)

  • Show the picture card top. Say the keyword “top”(visual and auditory)

  • Say the sound for t= /t/ (auditory)

  • Link the symbol and the way the letter feels in the mouth. Then the student says the name of the letter, the sound of the letter, and feels the motion of their muscles as the letter is traced or written. (kinesthetic)

Using taught letters to read the word “mad”.

  • Present the taught letter cards m-a-d. Student produces the letter sound for each letter card. (visual)

  • Letter sound cards are placed in succession on the table or ledge.

  • Student touches each card and gives the sounds of letters in order. The student repeats the sounds with increasing speed in order to read the word. If needed, the student is encouraged to hold the first 2 sounds, m-a and toss on the final sound. With practice, the student will begin to blend smoothly and automatically. (visual, auditory, kinesthetic)

Using taught letters to spell the word “mad”. (Display all taught letter cards on the table.)

  • Teacher says the word “mad”. (auditory)

  • Teacher segments the word mad. (auditory)

  • Teacher asks students to isolate and find the first sound, middle, sound and last sound from the letter cards on the table. (visual, auditory, kinesthetic)

  • Students takes the letter cards in order from the table to build the word “mad” (kinesthetic)

  • Students looks at the word, repeats the word and writes the word. (visual, auditory, kinesthetic)

The method of using taught sounds to read and spell is called orthographic mapping. It is a key component of OG.

OG instruction requires students to learn the letter combinations that create sounds. They learn the rules that apply to spelling, and that the number of letters does not always correspond to the number of sounds.

That’s one reason spelling and reading can feel complex. For example, the word thick has 3 sounds, but is spelled with 5 letters. The OG method make this hard work easier.

The number of sounds (phonemes) heard in each word may be different from the number of letters used to represent the sounds. By mapping sounds to print, students acquire a metacognitive approach to decoding, spelling, and reading skills. (Phonics and Spelling Through Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping , by Katheryn E. S. Grace)

Why is the Orton-Gillingham method an ideal way to teach students with dyslexia? Orton Gillingham philosophy puts great emphasis on multisensory, individual student lessons and daily lessons. Lessons are based upon the set of skills the student has mastered. A trained instructor will build upon these skills. Each lesson is individualized and based upon skill acquisition.

What does an OG lesson look like?

There are 4 essential parts of an OG lesson.

1. Drills, Review & Explicit Instruction

This section of lesson contains letter sound drills, blending practice and if applicable the teaching of a new skill or concept.

2. Reading Words

This part of the lesson practices the target skill or concept. Students read lists of words and/or sentences to practice the taught skills.

3. Writing

During this portion of the lesson, students encode (spell) to cement their learning. Students write letter sound combinations, words, and if appropriate sentences that reinforce the taught skills.

4. Text Reading

Here students put it all together. They use taught skills to decode authentic text. This is when you see the magic happen. Students use what they know to “break the code”.

Additional resources:

This link provides a plethora of information for those that want to learn more. What Does OG Look Like?

Orton-Gillingham is a method known to teach dyslexic students to read. Anna Gillingham was known to say, “Teach the concepts as fast as you can, but as slow as you must.”

This is why a highly skilled instructor is vital. A skilled practitioner will know how to pace and sequence lessons based upon student performance. OG is a wonderful method to use with dyslexic students.

“It always seems impossible until it is done.”

– Nelson Mandela


Does Your Child Need Support with

Reading, Writing, Or Math?

The Joy of Learning provides engaging, evidence based instruction in reading, writing, and math, for students with diverse learning styles, taught by highly qualified learning specialists.

We offer 1-1, small group, and summer camp programs in the Boulder, CO area. We also have in person teachers in the East SF Bay area, and virtual options for 1-1 and small groups.

Interested to Learn More? Book a Free Consultation Here, or visit our homepage. You can also sign up for our mailing list to receive valuable tips about supporting your unique learner.

3,014 views0 comments


bottom of page