The Orton-Gillingham Approach of Reading Instruction

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we discover an important learning method, the Orton-Gillingham Approach, which can help students with dyslexia and other reading-related learning disabilities to overcome their disorders.

Orton-Gillingham Approach to Reading

Just about everyone has those moments where they say 'left' when they mean 'right' or say they're going to 'trash the take-out' instead of 'take the trash out.' These are little slips of the tongue often caused by fatigue or carelessness.

But could you imagine if those little transpositions and slip-ups were part of every moment of your life? It must be maddening. Sadly, there are thousands of children afflicted with dyslexia and other learning disorders, which turn words and sentences into jumbled messes in their heads. Fortunately, scholars and professional educators have devised ways to tackle such problems, and in this lesson we will explore one such method: the Orton-Gillingham Approach.


First off, we should probably note what the Orton-Gillingham Approach is intending to cure. When it was first pioneered in the 1930s, the approach was tailored to help students with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disability from which students have difficulty reading. For most dyslexic students, their reading trouble has little effect on other areas of their educational or social development.

Whether it is an inability to read quickly, spell words correctly, or difficulty translating written speech down on paper, dyslexia can be both genetic and caused by other factors like brain injury. Regardless of its causes, it can be incredibly frustrating and often discourages young students from education altogether.

The Approach

The Orton-Gillingham Approach attempts to rid children of this frustration by teaching students a whole new approach to reading which mitigates the issues caused by dyslexia. It was first designed in the 1930s by the psychiatrist Samuel Orton and the educator, Anna Gillingham. In essence, Orton had spent much of his career analyzing children with learning disorders and had developed a set of maxims for teaching these types of students. Anna Gillingham worked closely with Orton and took his principles and applied them to the classroom.

The Orton-Gillingham Approach is painstaking in its detail and much importance is laid on the student understanding every facet of the language. Students are taught the basics in multiple ways: for example, a student is expected to sound out a letter and write it down at the same time. This creates multiple positive associations for the student.

Rather than simply teaching students letters and then moving right on to words, sentences, etc., students in the Orton-Gillingham Approach move on to basic syllables and other word roots. By focusing on these word parts - prefixes, suffixes, and the like - students learn the basics of words before words themselves. Only after students have mastered these do they move on to whole words and more complex elements of the language.

Teachers work closely with students in this approach
Teacher reading to student

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