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What is Orton–Gillingham?

By Peg Rosen

At a Glance

  • Orton–Gillingham is a teaching approach designed to help struggling readers.

  • Orton–Gillingham teaches the connections between sounds and letters.

  • It pioneered the multisensory approach to teaching reading.

Orton–Gillingham is a teaching approach that was designed to help struggling readers. It explicitly teaches the connections between letters and sounds. Many reading programs include Orton–Gillingham ideas.

Orton–Gillingham is a structured literacy approach. It introduced the idea of breaking reading and spelling down into smaller skills involving letters and sounds, and then building on these skills over time.

It also 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. Orton–Gillingham is widely used to teach students with .

Dive deeper

What Orton–Gillingham focuses on

Orton–Gillingham focuses on teaching reading at the word level. It can also help develop reading comprehension, but that’s not the main goal.

This approach uses multiple senses to help students learn. For example, students might learn the letter p by seeing it, saying its name, and sounding it out while writing it with their fingers in shaving cream.

Orton–Gillingham also helps students understand the rules and patterns in reading. With those skills, they’re better able to decode, or sound out, words.

Learn more about decoding .

How Orton–Gillingham works

The first step is for a specialist or teacher trained in the Orton–Gillingham approach to assess students. This shows students’ reading skills and areas of strength and challenges. 

Students are then taught in small groups. Instructors teach skills in a particular order, which is based on how people naturally develop language.

Students must master each skill before they move on. If a student is confused, the instructor will reteach that skill. The goal is for students to use the skills they’ve learned to decode words independently.

Learn more about structured literacy .

Where to find Orton–Gillingham

Many teachers use Orton–Gillingham-type strategies in their general reading instruction. 

But reading specialists use the approach more comprehensively with students who have dyslexia and other reading challenges. Some schools provide Orton–Gillingham-type instruction through a student’s IEP or response to intervention (RTI).

Several reading programs are influenced by the Orton–Gillingham approach. These include the Barton Reading Program and the Wilson Reading System . These programs vary, but they all use a structured, multisensory approach.

Read about research related to these programs .

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom