What does Multisensory look like in an OG lesson?

What does Multisensory look like in an OG lesson?

Orton Gillingham is a multisensory approach, sometimes referred to as multisensory learning, which is not the same as teaching through learning styles. Multisensory instruction has undoubtedly caught the attention of educators, however, this is not a new craze; it has been studied by scientists, doctors, and educators since the 19th century. In this blog post, I would like to clarify what multisensory is, and what it is not, inside an Orton Gillingham lesson. 

Multisensory instruction is nothing new. The late 19th century was riddled with scientists looking for techniques to teach patients with brain damage-and what Hinshelwood in 1917 referred to as word blindness-to read using bypass strategies. Throughout the 20th-century, scientists and educators have discovered the benefits of multisensory, structured language instruction. Credit has been given to Grace Fernald for using the approach we now refer to as VAKT. She and Helen Keller determined in 1921 that the rate of learning was more rapid when tracing with a finger than using a pencil. Maria Montessori, in 1912, was preparing children to write by having them trace on sandpaper. Strauss and Lehtinen, 1947, through a whole language approach, used multisensory instruction. The person we tend to recognize the most was Samuel Orton. In 1928 he believed in and pushed for simultaneous association: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic instruction. Anna Gillingham refers to the three associations, as seen below, combining the three senses for multisensory instruction.

Language Triangle from The Gillingham Manual.

MSLE Multisensory Structured Language Education 

According to the 3rd printing of Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, The term multisensory pertains “to teaching strategies to guide students in eye, ear, voice, and hand to bolster the carefully sequenced teaching of language structure.” Now that is a mouthful; what does that really mean? It goes on to say “In learning letter-sound associations the student is visually reinforced by looking at the letter; auditory reinforcement is derived from listening to and hearing the sound identified with the letter; kinesthetic reinforcement stems from the student feeling the articulatory muscle movements associated with saying the letter sounds and tactile reinforcement occurs through writing the letter on a rough surface and feeling the associated sensations.” 

Another acronym for multisensory instruction is VAKT: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Tactile 

Visual: the student is seeing the grapheme or word

Auditory: the student hears the phone, phonemes or words

Kinesthetic/Tactile: the student feels how the sound is formed in their mouth and on their lips, they feel the large muscle movements of the arm and shoulder while tracing or skywriting, and a surface with their fingers as they form a grapheme or word 

Now, this is not at all like what many people may think of as a multisensory approach. For example, a science teacher may be multisensory because instead of just reading about a volcano, they make one and even cause an eruption! Or a classroom teacher may teach a concept through the use of a song. Or maybe it is Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and the class eats green eggs and ham. Do all those activities include varying senses? Yes, absolutely. However, it is not the same as what it means in an OG lesson! I am seeing so many activities that are losing sight of the fundamental meaning of multisensory. 

Here are a few examples of what multisensory looks like in an OG lesson. When introducing a new sound, the Orton Gillingham practitioner will show the student a card with a grapheme on it, sometimes known as a sound card. The instructor will tell the student how this is pronounced, she will ask the student to trace the letter, the student traces the letter with the first two fingers of their writing hand onto a tabletop or textured object, saying the sound. This activity includes all four modalities. When a student is decoding a word, they will trace that word onto a tabletop or a textured surface. This also consists of all four modalities. During the dictation portion of your lesson, your student may first isolate the sounds, then proceed to write the word as they say the sounds (some say the letter names). They again have used four modalities.

Years ago, I did a series of lectures discussing the tenets of Orton Gillingham. While researching my facts, I came across this video. I think she does an excellent job of demonstrating what multisensory is and what it isn’t.   


It was long believed that students learn differently; they each had their own learning styles. This belief has been debunked. Students who struggle with reading need multisensory approaches, which is not the same as teaching to their ”learning style.” There are a lot of studies to support this; I have included a couple of articles on the subject. In addition to those articles, I have included several links on multisensory instruction. I hope this gets you all thinking about why and how an OG lesson is what it is!

happy senses!








The Gillingham Manual

Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, 2nd and 3rd edition

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