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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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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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Laura

says:

This is very informative! How would you recommend adapting your program for a 1st grade age child who is working on correcting crossed eyes and has trouble with double vision or vision flipping?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Laura,
I saw that you emailed a question to us and that Merry was able to help you with a lot of detail. Let us know if you have additional questions.

Rachel Heselschwerdt

says:

OG has been a very successful way of learning for my daughter. She enjoys the games and there is enough variety to hold her interest. Definitely worth purchasing!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Rachel! It’s wonderful to hear that it is working so well for your daughter.

KaTee

says:

I wish every teacher was required to be trained in Orto -Gillingham. It is empowering for the teacher and the student!

Clerissa Kritzinger

says:

My Boys both have Dyslexia and trying to teach them to read has been challenging to say the least but , the games and poster I find here has made learning so much more enjoyable for Mom and kids. And the hands on approach is help them to remember better.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Clerissa,
I’m so pleased to hear that the games and hands-on approach have helped your boys! Wonderful!

Letetia Nelson Baldwin

says:

I am wondering about training for Marie’s Methods.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Letetia,
Are you asking about training for using All About Reading and All About Spelling? If so, no. These programs are explicit and tell students exactly what they need to know to read or spell. We don’t make them guess.

The lessons are laid out in an orderly form for the teacher too so that each day you can simply open and go. The programs are Easy to Teach without special training or previous experience. We also have an extensive blog with hundreds of articles, including free downloads, reinforcement activities, many teaching topics, and videos.

There are organizations that provide training in the Orton-Gillingham approach, but we do not.

Jayde

says:

Really super awesome. Haven’t heard about it before, cannot wait to start implementing this at home and with the kids I work with. Super!!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Jayde!

Jayde

says:

I was unaware of this learning approach. A really interesting read and Im eager to learn more and implement it with my own kids and the learners I work with. Really great. Thanks!

Nancy Martin

says:

An easy-to-use resource for meeting children’s learning needs when tutoring!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Nancy!

Jess

says:

This approach has been wonderful for my kiddos

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Jess!

Beverly

says:

I’m excited to try this for my struggling speller! I’ve had it suggested by multiple friends!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Let me know if you have questions about placement or anything else, Beverly. I’m happy to help!

Cherie

says:

All About Reading and Spelling are excellent !! I recommend them all the time.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for recommending All About Reading and All About Spelling, Cherie!

Anna

says:

This approach has been great for my family!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Anna! Thank you for sharing.

Cris Perdue

says:

Looking forward to trying this with my struggling speller

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sounds great, Cris! Let me know if you need help with placement or have any questions. I’m happy to help!

Holly

says:

We use this for both of our children it’s a game changer!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Holly! Thank you.

Tracy Rice

says:

It’s been a TREMENDOUS help to my 11 year old daughter!!!! She enjoys it and asks to read MORE of the books! Those are words I never thought I’d hear!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so excited to hear that your daughter is asking to read more! I love that she is motivated to be reading! Thank you for sharing, Tracy.

Lynell Kuhn

says:

Love this!

Frosta karnes

says:

So many great ways they learn through this program so excited to see my kids progress.

Melissa

says:

I am really excited to try the AAR program with my 7 year old. The website and customer service dept. were very helpful and provided information I needed to help with my curriculum decision.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s wonderful to hear that we were able to provide you with good customer service, Melissa! Thank you for letting us know.

Heidi Dierks

says:

We LOVE AAR & can’t wait to use the new level!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Heidi!

Ashley

says:

I have a daughter with dyslexia, and this approach has been a game changer for us!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear that this approach has been so helpful for you and your daughter, Ashley!

Jessica

says:

All about reading had been a game changer for my child with dyslexia. She has grown leaps and bounds since we started the program. We are so happy we found it!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so excited to hear that All About Reading has been helpful for your child’s progress in reading, Jessica! Keep up the amazing work!

Stephanie

says:

All About Reading is amazing! I recommend it to all my homeschooling families I work with.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for recommending All About Reading, Stephanie!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for the book recommendation, Moureen.

Jody Ruff

says:

I use this curriculum with my Special Education Students

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful, Jody!

Shannon

says:

I plan to purchase my AAR program materials in the next day or two, but wanted to know approximately how long each lesson takes. Maybe a better question would be…how much time do you suggest spending on each lesson (complete or not) per day? My daughter is 7 (1st grade) and was just identified as having dyslexia and dysgraphia. She goes to school during the day and does get services based on her IEP, but is not progressing and still reads at a beginning Kindergarten level. I want to work with her a few nights per week, 1 day on the weekend, and daily during summer break, but was curious what that would look like on a school night. I don’t want to exhaust her after she works hard in school everyday. Thank you so much for any recommendations or insight you might provide!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Shannon.

We recommend working in All About Reading for 20 minutes a day, approximately five days a week. Most children will need two to three 20-minute sessions to complete a lesson, but those that struggle may need a week or more, and that is fine. Our How Much Time Should You Spend On Reading? blog post has more information on this.

You may find our A Typical Day with All About Reading blog post helpful as well. In it, a mom discusses how she spreads a lesson out over a week.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you have additional questions or need more help. We’re here to help as much as you need!

Josphat Gogani

says:

I need more content an information on Orton-Gillingham approach to reading. I am a special needs teacher and would love to understand more about the approach , and apply it to support my students with dyslexia.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Josphat,
Here is another source for more information about the Orton-Gillingham approach:
What Research Supports Orton–Gillingham? from Understood.org

Pamela Murphy

says:

Need help with my 1st grader

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling, Pamela. Do you have any specific concerns or questions I can help you with? You may find our 10 Tips for Reaching Your Struggling Learner blog post helpful.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Said,
Do you have any specific questions I can help with? I’m happy to help. Just ask.

Diana Durbin-Koehler

says:

Hi there! I think your spelling program could improve with cumulative review. I’d love more review words and review dictated sentences. Other than that I think you do a great job on the other components as listed on your poster.

Merry

says: Customer Service

Thanks for your comment, Diana! Actually, the review system with the cards is designed to do just that. There are “mastered reviews” scheduled periodically, but the whole reason behind the card system is so that you can customize the review to your child’s needs. Some students don’t need a lot of review to be successful–while others may need quite a lot. The cards work perfectly for any type of need.

For my own kids, I reviewed all phonogram, sound, and key cards monthly–we did a few each day and just rotated through them.

We reviewed all word cards additional times. First, I waited until a Monday before moving any words to “mastered.” If they remembered the cards over the weekend, they were more likely to stay mastered. Second, I reviewed all recently mastered cards weekly for 3 weeks, and then once a month later. I shuffled the cards to make sure like patterns were not together, and we just reviewed several each day. The extra review really helped my kids.

Finally, one thing that I found really helped with my kids was to quickly review the new concept each day by stating what we had been working on. For example, “This week we are learning how to add silent E. Do you remember how silent E changes a word?”

or, “This week we are studying how to spell the /j/ sound at the end of a word. Do you remember what our choices are for that sound?” If your child remembers, great, praise her! Then ask a follow-up question, such as, “How do we decide which one to use?” At whatever point she doesn’t remember, review it. Then, walk through a tile demonstration whether she remembered or not, and have her teach it back to you.

This act of having the student teach it back to you makes them learn on a deeper level. They don’t just memorize letters or learn a concept for that lesson but then forget it. They have to learn it more deeply in order to be able to explain it. Hearing and seeing are more passive ways of learning while explaining and doing are more active–so you want to make sure that you incorporate all of those aspects until your student finds the concept easy. Do this type of review daily until your child can easily remember the new concept and teach it back to you with the tiles without your help or prompting (but while the student is working towards mastery, give all the help and prompting needed. Don’t stop helping/prompting until it’s obvious she doesn’t need it.)

I hope this helps you to make some tweaks that help your student be more successful with spelling!

Karin Coutsouridis

says:

Thank you for all the insights

Thomas IMFELD

says:

This sound promising. Our son is 9 years old and is a native German speaker. I’m from New York. Our son’s passive English is good while active English is not yet fully developed. What would you recommend in this case? Do you have any partners engaged in intensive “summer camp”-like learning sessions? If so where? UK, IRL EU? If you think this is a no-go in English, do you know of something similar available for German speakers? Sorry for these outlier questions. Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thomas,
As a company, we provide materials to help parents, teachers, and tutors help students succeed with reading and spelling English. We don’t have materials for teaching the speaking of English, nor do we host classes or camps.

Hopefully you can find the resources you are looking for to help your grandson. Please let me know if you have additional questions.