Why playing games in an Orton-Gillingham lesson is a good idea

Why playing games in an Orton-Gillingham lesson is a good idea


I don’t know about you, but when I took my first Orton-Gillingham course I was taught to be: firm but gentle, quiet but engaging, encouraging but not forceful, professional yet compassionate. We definitely were not taught to end the lesson with a game. When I was taught to be an OG practitioner, things were very black and white, and yet incredibly pliable. From what I understand, I was taught OG with a lean toward Paul Dozier’s philosophy. I was taught to teach using very little conversation and no gimmicks. So how does a believer in a pure OG lesson end up being a creator of games?

I was mentored under Karen Sonday, a Fellow of the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners while working at her center in Minneapolis. She believed students should always leave their lessons happily. What better way to make that happen than with a game? We taught solid lessons: read sounds, write sounds, read words, write words, write sentences, and read in context. But we always saved the last 5 minutes for a game. Not just any game, but one that focused on the concepts we were teaching. Our favorite games came from Moose Materials. However, we still had gaps that needed to be filled, so I thought maybe I could try my hand at making card games. Not as easy as you would think! Who would have imagined that finding a local printer who made cards could be so hard? Karen and I spent hours at the coffee shop test driving my games, which were written on scraps of paper, and I tweaked and retweaked! After a lot of trial and many errors, Laughing Ogre Press was born.

So, back to why we need to play games! Let’s break this down inside the principles of Orton-Gillingham, which I am taking directly from the Orton-Gillingham Academy page. It had been a few years since I visited this page, and if it has been a while for you, too, I encourage you to check it out. I love how they have updated the tenets with language that feels modern.

Personalized: We can choose the perfect game for each student’s needs.

Multisensory: Games incorporate several modalities.

Diagnostic and Prescriptive: We see where the student needs help, and choose the game accordingly.

Direct Instruction: We are reinforcing concepts that the student is working to master.

Systematic Phonics: We choose games that incorporate previously taught concepts.

Applied Linguistics: The student reads additional words, beyond what was included in the lesson.

Linguistic Competence: By identifying word patterns, students increase encoding skills.

Systematic and Structured: We play games that are geared to the student’s specific level.

Sequential, Incremental, and Cumulative: We can control the words we want to focus on depending on the student, adding harder concepts as we teach them.

Continuous Feedback and Positive Reinforcement: As we play, we praise the student, and the student builds confidence. We may see things we didn't pick up on during the lesson.

Cognitive Approach: Students feel success by applying their honed skills and refining new concepts.

Emotionally Sound: It’s just plain old fun (especially if the student wins), and who doesn't need a little fun?

There are so many games available now. Teachers Pay Teachers is bursting with games. Moose Materials and Washington Reads, now sold through Kendore were my favorite. As with anything, buyer beware—not all games are equal. For me, many lean a little too far away from controlled instruction. I have found myself butchering games to make a game that was applicable to the skills of students at particular levels. Check out the games on my website too! All of my games have been test-driven with many students before printing.

I need to insert a note here: I have not veered away from delivering a solid OG lesson. Here in the Twin Cities we are trained either through Orton-Gillingham of Minnesota or at Orton Gillingham Reading Specialists under Fellow Karen Sonday. Both organizations follow the same lesson plan format, introduced years ago by Arlene Sonday, founding president of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, who later used it to write the Sonday System. As I said earlier, we deliver a solid, no frills lesson: read sounds, write sounds, read words for 10 minutes (well over a hundred words), write words for 15 minutes (we shoot for 20-50 words). We dictate a few sentences, then do contextual reading, discussing the book along the way to check for comprehension. Finally, we end with a game! Often the lessons include phonological awareness skills and handwriting. These are quality lessons designed for success.

Games don’t need to be complicated or long. I suggest picking up a Chutes and Ladders game at a garage sale or thrift store, making a stack of word cards, and having the student read one or more cards on each turn. Or play Go Fish! Everyone can play that. If you aren't into making games, check out my Short Vowel booklets. They’re loaded with reproducible cvc Tic Tac Toe and Go Fish pages. Just remember to keep the games simple and rewarding for the students.

happy games!

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Nancy Barth - September 14, 2019

Great blog post. This is how I use games, too. I repurpose board games all the time to fit the skills that need practice. They are especially handy for reading words.

Karen Sonday - April 30, 2019

Thanks for the updated principles from AOGPE! I didn’t realize they’d tweaked them.

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