The Orton-Gillingham Approach to Reading and Spelling

When I developed All About Reading and All About Spelling, I combined the key features of the Orton-Gillingham approach with the latest research and proven spelling rules. But why? What’s so special about Orton-Gillingham?

Owl pointing to the words "The Orton-Gillingham Approach"

What Is Orton-Gillingham?

Orton-Gillingham (OG) is a powerful approach to teaching reading and spelling that uses instruction that is multisensory, sequential, incremental, cumulative, individualized, phonics-based, and explicit. Though often touted primarily as an instructional method for children with dyslexia and other learning challenges, the OG approach helps make reading and spelling easy for all children.

Who Were Orton and Gillingham?

Dr. Samuel T. Orton (1879-1948) was a pioneer in the study and understanding of dyslexia. He studied numerous children with language processing issues and eventually developed teaching principles designed to help these children learn language more effectively. One of Dr. Orton’s students, Anna Gillingham (1878-1963), further developed Orton’s ideas and eventually combined his teaching methods with her own understanding of language structure. The first Orton-Gillingham manual was published in 1935.

Why Does the Orton-Gillingham Approach Work?

The Orton-Gillingham approach helps take the mystery out of reading and spelling by focusing on why words are spelled the way they are. Though the English language contains just 26 letters, these letters combine to create approximately 44 speech sounds, and there are over 250 ways to spell those sounds. But the OG approach translates the spelling of these sounds into phonograms and demystifies reading and spelling by teaching students to apply rules and generalizations that help make what was once difficult much easier! (Click to download our Orton-Gillingham Approach poster!)

7 features of Orton-Gillingham infographic

In a nutshell, Orton-Gillingham works because it …

  • instills confidence;
  • helps children overcome learning disorders;
  • makes it easier for children to learn to read, including children with dyslexia and other learning challenges.

Are you ready to explore all the features that make the Orton-Gillingham approach so effective? Read on!

What Are the Key Features and Benefits of the OG Approach?

  1. Multisensory


    Multisensory instruction is the hallmark of the Orton-Gillingham approach. This technique focuses on the idea that when children learn through three major pathways to the brain—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—they learn more than when they are taught through only one pathway. But the real power comes when you engage the senses of sight, sound, and touch all within the same lesson. So with the OG approach, you don’t have to figure out if your child has a particular learning preference because all three pathways are already built in to every lesson.

  2. Sequential


    When instruction is sequential, lessons are presented in a logical, well-planned sequence. This sequence allows children to make easy connections between what they already know and what they are currently learning–an important step in achieving long-term learning. And that makes learning a rewarding experience for your child.

  3. Incremental


    With incremental instruction, each lesson builds carefully upon the previous lesson. This helps your child move smoothly and naturally from simple concepts to more complex ones, ensuring that there are no gaps in his learning. It’s a lot like climbing a ladder: when lessons are incremental, each rung of the ladder helps your child get closer to the goal of reading and spelling. Even students who have experienced failure with other programs can learn to read and spell with this approach.

  4. Cumulative


    Two of the most important components of cumulative learning are mastery and constant and consistent review of previously taught skills. When instruction is cumulative, students master one concept before moving on to a more advanced concept. Those concepts are further reinforced with review that is integrated into every lesson. The goal of mastery and review is to make sure that the brain permanently stores, manages, and retrieves information for later use; in short, to achieve learning that “sticks.” When a concept is learned and mastered, the goal of long-term learning has been reached.

  5. Individualized


    Because everyone learns differently, the Orton-Gillingham approach is always concerned with the needs of the individual. Anna Gillingham once said, “Go as fast as you can, but as slow as you must.” Curriculum that follows this approach makes it easy for you to teach to your child’s individual strengths while at the same time respecting the child’s pace. Consequently, this approach works for all ages—beginning readers, intermediate students, teens, and adults.

  6. Based on Phonograms

    Based on Phonograms

    The Orton-Gillingham approach simplifies the English language by focusing on why words are spelled the way they are. By teaching the phonograms and the rules and patterns that spell the vast majority of English words, the OG approach takes the guesswork out of reading and spelling. When a student has a working knowledge of the phonograms and their sounds, reading and spelling are much easier. In fact, even children with reading disorders like dyslexia can overcome the language processing issues associated with these disorders.

  7. Explicit


    In an Orton-Gillingham reading or spelling program, students are taught exactly what they need to know in a clear and straightforward manner. Students know what they are learning and why they’re learning it. This direct instructional approach helps children master skills and gain confidence. When instruction is explicit, there is no guessing, no ambiguity, and no confusion.

All About Reading and All About Spelling make it easy to use the Orton-Gillingham approach to teach reading and spelling. Our lightly scripted, open-and-go teacher’s manuals walk you through each step—with no experience, special training, or extra prep time required by you! You will be teaching like an expert from the very first lesson, and your child will receive all the benefits of this effective method.

For more details, be sure to download our free e-book, The Power of the Orton-Gillingham Approach. And let us know in the comments below if you have any questions about teaching reading and spelling. We’re here to help!

The Power of the Orton-Gillingham Approach

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Tia Stevens


This would be wonderful. Do you teach the difference in b & d as well as s & c?



Hi Tia,

Yes, we include strategies for learning the sounds and differentiating between letters, as well as rules that apply (such as when C says /s/ versus when it says /k/, and so on). If you have a child who struggles with reversals, check out this article: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/how-to-solve-b-d-reversal-problems/?utm_source=iContact&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=All%20About%20Reading%20Pre-1&utm_content=Issue+8%3A+B-D+Reversal+Problems

Cindi Davis


I’ve been overwhelmed with the thought of teaching spelling. So many rules and exceptions! This could be an answer to prayer!



Looks interesting – My older kids are natural spellers, but my youngest seems like she will be my challenge in this area.



I love that my son finally enjoys learning to read and spell words. I am curious when you feel it is okay to move from one step or lesson to the next.



I use All About Spelling for my advanced reader. She slows down enough to notice the order and logic of spelling. And we enjoy it. The lessons are just the perfect length of time.



I love this approach. I am using both programs for my 3 homeschooled children and they are flourishing in their reading and spelling.

Stacy M.


So glad I came across your website. I’ve been having trouble getting my son to do his spelling and writing homework. He is on the spectrum and has dyslexia. I’m hoping your site will help me find a way to encourage him and help him with his homework. Thank you!



This looks like a really good spelling program



Would this be considered in line with the common core standards?

Marie Rippel

says: Customer Service

Hi Terri! Our curriculum is independent of the CCSS initiative. We haven’t changed anything about our materials in response to the common core standards, but our materials do coincidentally meet and in many cases exceed standards set forth by CCSS.



Looks like a good approach to spelling.



This sounds like a great program.



This program looks very intriguing! What age can I start it at? I have a 4 1/2 year old that I will be starting her in Kindergarten early this fall.



This is an area where our lttle visual spatial learner is struggling. I still want to invest in All About Spelling for him.

Amanda Depablos


I am very interested in this program. I have an 8 yr old who struggles with spelling, but will remember them if she can move while practicing. She still spells terribly wrong when writing though.



My 5 grader is bored w pulling down the letters. He has a lot of trouble spelling but is not liking this what are some other ways to use the program . I like it but he’s board!



Hi Amber,

Most kids enjoy the tiles, but when one doesn’t, it’s ok to let him choose to write instead. You can use the tiles just for demonstration purposes. Or, if he objects to even seeing the tiles, you can use underlining on paper or on a white board to show him when two or more letters are working together as a phonogram, and demonstrate concepts that way.

Let him write on a white board, paper, black paper with gel pens, or choose another idea from our list of kinesthetic review activities: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/how-to-use-kinesthetic-spelling-activities

If he’s bored because the words are too easy for him at this point, you can fast-track until you get to harder words. This blog post shows how to do that with Level 1, and you can apply the same thought process to another level if you need to: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/using-all-about-spelling-with-older-students/

Just make sure your son understands the concept taught and can teach it back to you before moving on, and that he knows all of the words from that step.

Does this help? Please let me know if you have other questions or concerns. Merry :-)



My 1st grader seems to struggle with spelling/reading in general and we have made tremendous strides using AAR levels 1 & 2. Have wanted to try AAS but am scared to take the leap. Will this program go along with what we are using for phonics (have transitioned over to Beka) or is it best to use AAS with AAR? Thanks for the giveaway and your awesome curriculum. It has been a sanity saver over the past two years!!



Hi Kristen,

Yes, you can use All About Spelling regardless of the reading program you are using. Marie designed the programs to work independently of each other so people could use one or both–whatever meets the needs of your family. The article Should We Start in Level 1 or Level 2? will help you decide the appropriate starting level: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/which-spelling-level-should-we-start-with

Students who struggle with spelling usually need to begin with Level 1. Level 1 teaches very important concepts, such as segmenting, the multiple sounds of the first 32 phonograms (o has 4 sounds, ch has 3, s has 2, etc.), and basic spelling rules. It is important that kids know why words are spelled the way they are. This information applies to more difficult words later in the series.

As an example, we find that many students simply memorize easy words like cat and kid but have no idea why one uses a C and the other uses a K, or that the same rules that apply to these words also apply to higher level words such as concentrate.

Level 2 of AAS focuses on learning the syllable types, when they are used and how they affect spelling. This information is foundational for higher levels of spelling. Three syllable rules are introduced in Level 2, and then more in Level 3 and up. For this reason, we generally don’t recommend starting higher than level 2.

You do have to be willing to adjust the first level or two to his needs because the words are very easy to start, but many students have not learned the concepts behind them, and these are crucial for success throughout the program.

Marie encourages parents and teachers to “fast track” through the beginning levels if the student knows how to spell most of the words but does not understand the underlying basic spelling concepts. Work VERY quickly through lessons where your son knows the words. Pull out several words as examples. Make sure he understands the concept being taught, and then move on.

Bottom line: with older children, work quickly through the areas the child already knows, and slow down in the areas that need extra attention. “Fast track” until your son hits words or concepts he doesn’t already know. Here is an example of how you might do that: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/using-all-about-spelling-with-older-students/.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have additional questions. Merry :-)

Nancy S.


My 10 year old son has dyslexia and this year we started with AAS. Despite several previous spelling programs and years of effort, he was completely stuck. Finally using AAS we are making, albeit slow, progress. We are very thankful :)

Keri A


How is your spelling program different/better than Spell to Write and Read?



Hi Keri,

All About Spelling and Spalding both draw from the same research base: Orton-Gillingham. So there are lots of similarities with phonograms and rules.

One of the biggest differences between our programs and SWR is that we separate the teaching of spelling and reading. Many students learn to read at a faster pace than they learn how to spell and separating these skills helps students progress at the right pace for them in each area. Here’s more information on Why We Teach Reading and Spelling Separately: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/why-we-teach-reading-and-spelling-separately/

You’ll find that the All About Spelling method is very easy to implement. It is designed to enable parents and teachers to teach their children without specialized training. Everything you need is right in front of you. You don’t have to figure out what you need to teach next—it is all planned out for you. Helpful notes are included along the way to maximize your effectiveness as a teacher.

The words in AAS are grouped according to spelling concepts and rules, not word frequency. For example, when the child learns the generalization about when to use K or CK at the end of a word, the spelling list contains words such as “black, clock, duck, ask.” This allows the child to see the patterns in the English language. After the child learns these words, they are mixed in with previously-learned words for mixed practice.

Letter tiles are used to demonstrate the spelling rules. Letter tiles make abstract concepts concrete — children can *see* what is being explained and can test out the rules for themselves.

The lessons also have built in review, and the card system makes it easy to keep track of what needs review and what is mastered.

For other differences, you might like to check out this article in our FAQ file: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/spell-to-write-and-read

I hope this helps! Merry :-)



Spelling is so important! This looks great!

Gennie Shelor


I would love to win this! Both of my children love manipulatives.

Libby Inglett


I would love to win this! I still have 6 children at home, ranging in age from 2yrs to 18yrs. Spelling has always been something my kids have struggled with!



My son is dyslexic. This approach has worked well to give him a foundation.



All About Reading & All ABout Spelling are the only programs that have worked with one of my nephews to help him read.



My 3 year old is reading at almost a 1st grade level but is not yet writing due to fine motor skills. He is still trying to learn how to hold and control a pencil correctly so this seems like the perfect way to practice spelling without having to write letters.

Donna Marsh


This looks like an interesting approach for my youngest child who is not reading yet.



This looks so do-able!



We’ve been using AAS with our middle child for over a year and she loves it! She feels like it is really helping her understand spelling and word structure better than before.



I recently saw a booth for AAS at our homeschool curriculum fair. It looks like a very interesting program!



I have been using the Barton System with my daughter but need to find something a little more cost effective. I am very interested in your program.



I have Vision impaired students as well as totally blind students that I think thisbenefit from t his method. How to I order this program? Thank you.



Hi Constance,

I do think you could make it work. Most spelling programs rely mainly on visual strategies, but AAS teaches 4 main strategies (phonetic, rules-based, visual, and morphemic). So, while you’d still need to adapt some things, you might not have as much to adapt as you would with many programs. Here’s an overview of the strategies that AAS teaches: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/effective-spelling-strategies

If you wanted to use the letter tile concept, you would need to make a set in braille. The letter tiles are used to demonstrate spelling concepts, and kids tend to enjoy them. They also help to reinforce when two or more letters are working together to make just one sound. Without the tiles, you may want to come up with other ways to demonstrate that concept.

The program uses 4 types of cards for a review system, and I think with some modification you could still use the system:

The Phonogram cards are visual–show a phonogram (letter or team of letters that stand for one sound), and the child says a sound. You would need to make up a set in braille, or perhaps when you review the cards, you could set out the appropriate braille tile for the child to identify.

The Sound cards are auditory–you say the sound, your child writes the sound. Your child could use a braille writer, computer, or other tool to write the correct phonogram.

The Key cards have you say part of a rule and your child would say the rest of it–no modification needed.

The Word cards have you say a word for your child to spell. In the program, they use tiles and writing to spell; and in the review section, you could choose to have your child spell orally. Again, you can use the methods that would work best for your students.

The program also uses Word banks to reinforce patterns that are visual in nature. (For example, there’s no rule that says whether to write “sale” or “sail,” so we use word banks to reinforce the vowel-consonant-E patterns). If your child needed more reinforcement on a pattern, you would probably want to make up a braille word bank to provide some reinforcement.

I hope this helps! Have you looked at the online samples? That might also give you some idea of how the lessons are structured and whether it could work for you. Here are samples for Levels 1-7: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/spelling-lesson-samples.

To order, simply go to our home page, or any page that lists the categories in the tan bar on the left hand side. Click on the level you need (such as AAS Level 1), and you will see an overview of that level. Near the bottom of the page, you’ll find the links for ordering the sets and kit. I hope this helps! Please let us know if you have additional questions. Merry :-)

Please let me know if you have additional questions. Merry :-)

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