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The Orton-Gillingham Approach


which is recommended by all dyslexia associations in the world:


Orgins of Orton-Gillingham Multi-sensory Approach

Samuel Orton was a neurologist who, in the 1920s, discovered that children referred to him because they couldn’t read were not retarded but had normal and even above average IQ. He called the syndrome “word blindness.”
Orton understood that the reading process occurs with the integration of networking between three parts of the brain: the one responsible for kinesthetic-tactile (movement and tactile) in the sensory-motor strip, the visual area in the occipital lobe, and the auditory area in the temporal lobe.

Orton supported the concept of “multi-sensory” teaching, which aims at integrating these three areas into the reading process. For example, having students write in the air or trace oversize letters, while simultaneously saying the names and sounds of the letters.

Anna Gillingham was a psychologist who brought his educational ideas to life by developing a detailed multi-sensory reading program for students. Based on her knowledge of language structure, Gillingham literally wrote the Orton- Gillingham manual which included the systematic and explicit teaching of sounds (phonemes), prefixes, suffixes and roots (morphemes) and common spelling rules.

Entitled Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling and Penmanship, the first Orton-Gillingham manual was published in 1935-36 and is still regularly updated and re-published today.

How it is Delivered (the “How”)

A program which is only focusing on phonics is helpful but not sufficient to teach dyslexic people.
Phonemic awareness is primordial: the discovery that words in spoken language can be broken into small units of sounds called phonemes.

The brain of a dyslexic person requires help in intensively activating each region of the brain involved in the reading process: the way each letter sounds (auditory cortex), looks (visual cortex), and feels (sensory motor cortex). The goal is to store efficiently and systematically this information in memory in order to process it simultaneously and retrieve it with faster processing.

Below is a summary of the detailed description of the Orton Gillingham method, as provided at the Academy’s website.


There are many similarities in dyslexic people, but also individual needs as learners that the teacher will take into consideration. Some other processing problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dysgraphia are often present to the challenge of learning to read.


Reading involves the integration of processing skills relating to how each letter sounds (auditory), looks (visual), and feels (tactile). This program uses all the learning strands: seeing, hearing, feeling (tactile), and awareness of motion (kinesthetic).

Diagnostic and Prescriptive

The teacher continuously stays attentive to the verbal, non-verbal, and written responses of the student in order to better understand the student’s challenges as well as the progress. This information is useful to plan the next lesson. This approach is designed to help resolve the student’s difficulties but also to build upon the student’s progress noted in the previous lesson.

Direct Instruction

Each lesson includes an explanation to the student of what is to be learned, why it is to be learned, and how it is to be learned.

Systematic Phonics

Systematic phonics is used, to stress the “alphabetic principle” as the initial stages of reading development. Words are made up of individual speech sounds. The letters of written words graphically represent those speech sounds.

Applied Linguistics

Formally teaches syllabic, morphemic, syntactic, semantic, and grammatical structures of language and writing. The student constantly practices the integration of reading, spelling, and writing together.

Linguistic Competence

Language patterns that determine word order and sentence structure as well as the meaning of words and phrases are stressed all along, as well as common patterns and literary forms employed by writers.

Systematic and Structured

The information is presented in a step-by-step fashion in order for the student to see the relationship between the material currently being taught and material previously taught.

Sequential, Incremental, and Cumulative

Learners move from the simple, well-learned material to the more complex, only after mastering each step along the way.

Continuous Feedback and Positive Reinforcement

The teacher-student relationship based on constant feedback builds self-confidence in the learner, who succeeds and masters the information.


As the students understand the what, why, and how of the learning process, they gain confidence as they improve their ability to apply new knowledge about the learning process itself.

Emotionally Sound

With mastery of the information, and the application of this information, to daily life comes increased self-confidence and motivation in the students.

The basic purpose of everything that is done in the Orton-Gillingham Approach, from recognizing words to composing a poem, is assisting the student to become a competent reader, writer and independent learner.

Orton-Gillingham Content (the “What”)

Though first and foremost an approach or method for teaching dyslexic students, Anna Gillingham’s reading program also has six content elements which are important for reading success:

Phonological awareness

Difficulty with phonemes is at the heart of dyslexia and so not surprisingly, the teaching of the specific sounds of language and the ability to parse or segment words into their constituent sounds is an integral part of the OG curriculum. Teaching phonological awareness does not have to involve text, just the voice and the ear. The student should be able to distinguish and reproduce the fundamental sounds of the language.

Sound-Symbol Association

Students must learn to associate the sounds with the letters (graphemes) that represent them. This is a two way street, wherein students have to be able to read the letter and make the sound and hear the sound and then draw the letter. Naturally, this skill is then extended into two letter blends, (digraphs) and then longer blends and syllables.

Semantics / Comprehension

To read without comprehending is not to read at all, and so semantics, or the comprehension of the written text, is critical. It is shockingly common for weak readers to slog through text only to arrive at the end and have no idea what they just read.


Instruction must include the teaching of basic syllables and syllable division rules. Types of syllables include closed, vowel-consonant-e, open, consonant-e, r-controlled, and diphthongs.

Syntax / Grammar

How to order words in a sentence is taught explicitly through the study of grammar, sentence structure, and good writing practices.


The study of root words, prefixes and suffixes, with an aim to understand how words can be built up and manipulated to change their meaning.