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Orton-Gillingham Reading Approach

Guest Author - Heidi Shelton Jenck

The Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading is widely used for students struggling with literacy skills, especially those with dyslexia. The teaching elements of Orton-Gillingham, including multisensory, systematic, direct instruction of language, have been used for decades, and are considered critical components of reading instruction programs for students with dyslexia.

Many commercial reading intervention programs include elements of the Orton-Gillingham approach, such as Wilson Reading, Lexia, Alphabetic Phonics, Language!, and others. Each is unique, and it is important for parents and teachers searching for an effective program for struggling readers to look at instructional components such as training requirements, cost, materials, lesson flow, and curriclum.

A typical Orton-Gillingham-based reading lesson includes suggested strategies presented in a direct instruction format. Lessons may last from 30-60 minutes or longer. Trained instructors use a variety of multisensory strategies, and each lesson part is introduced sequentially. Lessons include review and reteaching as needed, and move at an appropriate, individualized pace to assure students don't become frustrated. Many programs are commercially packaged to include letter and sound cards, poster sets, handwriting sheets, lesson sheets, multisensory components such as plastic letters or gel boards, and other teacher resources that can be used for all students.

Some of the key elements included in Orton-Gillingham-based programs are:
  • Systematic teaching of synthetic phonics, reading comprehension, fluency, phoneme segmentation and blending, and phonemic awareness skills.

  • Methodical skill building starts with what the student knows, and builds towards mastery. Orton-Gillingham-based programs work for students from elementary school through adults, and continue skill building as long as the student needs instruction. For example, a student who can’t read single syllable words learns skills to master that goal. Then, over time, builds towards reading multisyllabic words in a very systematic way.

  • Integration of reading, writing, and spelling instruction is an important element since many students needing special literacy instruction have difficulties in all three areas.

  • Use of multisensory instruction is key. This type of instruction is often referred to as “VAK”, which stands for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic multisensory instruction. Orton-Gillingham-based programs use three modalities to support student learning.

  • Although Orton-Gillingham-based programs are often taught one-on-one, they can be used effectively with groups as long as the instructor is highly trained and able to adapt the lesson elements to the needs of each student.


Each Orton-Gillingham-based program is a little different, and the training and materials involved are unique to the program. Parents and teachers looking for an effective program need to do some research to find out whether the program they are considering will be effective and worth the time involved and various costs. It can be expensive to hire trained tutors. Check with your local school district first. Many schools provide Orton-Gillingham-based program training to literacy specialists and special education teachers. Some districts teach important elements of the approach in the regular classroom. Homeschool parents may find online or local site-based training to help them provide support to their child. Online parent support groups often share excellent tips for budget-minded parents looking for low-cost literacy curriculum ideas.

The Orton-Gillingham approach is named after Samuel T. Orton (1879-1948) and Anna Gillingham (1878-1963). Samuel Orton was a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist whose studies focused on reading and language processing. His work included identifying remediation strategies. Anna Gillingham built on Dr. Orton’s studies to create curriculum for children struggling with literacy and language. She wrote Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship with a co-author in 1935. This book is currently known by a new name, The Gillingham Manual.

If you are looking for an Orton-Gillingham-based program in your area, you may be able to find local providers by typing Orton-Gillingham + Your City/State in your web browser. The International Dyslexia Association has state and local chapters that can provide resources and information.

Many parents of children with dyslexia begin the process of learning about dyslexia by reading good books and information on the web. Orton-Gillingham is a good place to start a search because the approach is often a springboard for new, research-based studies and reading instruction methods.

This book is good for adults with dyslexia as well as adults who work with dyslexic students. The focus is on the strengths people with dyslexia carry through their lives rather than focusing on the deficits. It is informative, inspiring, and helpful.




Here is a nice book for young children who struggle to read.


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Content copyright © 2014 by Heidi Shelton Jenck. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Heidi Shelton Jenck. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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