What is an Orton Gillingham lesson?

So often I hear from people, parents and teachers alike, “What really is Orton Gillingham?” Since Orton Gillingham is not a curriculum, but rather a  discipline, it is like explaining an abstract noun! I find myself struggling to describe the magic that happens in my lessons. “What is it you do that the classroom teacher doesn’t?”, asks the bewildered parent of a newly diagnosed child. How do you begin to explain that teachers aren’t really taught the science of reading? What do we do? We teach reading and spelling with science-based techniques. That really doesn’t say much, does it?  We adhere to the tenets of OG to deliver a structured, individualized, systematic, cumulative, explicit, direct instruction lesson. Does that answer the question? no?


So let me break it down. OG is a phonics-based approach. We believe you need to meet the student where they are in their skill development. Because it is prescriptive and diagnostic, we are constantly looking for signs and clues to what the student needs. We fill pre-reading gaps. We move through auditory, visual and oral processing. Students learn the 40 plus sounds of the English language along with the correlating grapheme(s). They gain an understanding of typical patterns and rules.  They think metacognitively. Concepts are taught to automaticity and only then are new concepts introduced. Morphology is explored through affixes and roots. Etymology is inserted to help explain the fluidness of the English Language. Most importantly OG is emotionally sound.


So what is an Orton Gillingham based curriculum? ”Is that good too?”, they ask. OG based curriculum is usually written by a qualified practitioner; there are several very good ones out there such as The Sonday System and Wilson. But like anything, if it isn’t followed with fidelity it won’t be successful. People using these systems also need training.


Orton Gillingham looks different depending on where you are trained. They all follow Anna Gillingham’s 3 associations; we will get into those another time. Different parts of the United States teach differently,  having stronger emphasis in varying areas. With that said, a true OG lesson contains reading/writing sounds, reading/writing words, reading in context and often sentence writing. New material is only added when previous materials are mastered. OG practitioners write lessons based on the previous lesson, adding and deleting content to fit the student’s needs. Lessons aren’t prewritten. Practitioners don’t, and shouldn’t, do a little of this or some of that, or an eclectic lesson.


So, as a parent or teacher, you need to ask a lot of questions to this OG practitioner. I will give you a few great links to guide you through the process.




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