What is Orton Gillingham?

Orton-Gillingham (OG) is an educational approach, not a curriculum, for teaching the structure and code of the English language. The philosophy has been in use since the 1930s and relies on phonics and progresses from teaching the fundamentals of word-formation to advanced decoding of language.

The brainchild of Samuel Torrey Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist, their philosophy is based on extensive studies of children with language processing difficulties like those of dyslexia. Together they developed a teaching approach to help these children and mentored teachers accordingly.

The Orton-Gillingham approach is appropriate for all ages and skill levels. By intellectualizing the language, rather than depending on rote memorization, students are able to make sense of English. By removing the confusion and mystery, what seems to be an illogical system is shown to be quite regular and predictable.

Step-by-step instruction helps each student master skills in a cumulative way, incorporating tactile and visual as well as auditory elements. This approach provides students with a solid foundation for building a thorough understanding of reading, writing, spelling, and vocabulary, ensuring that every student has the skills and the confidence to succeed in the classroom.


The Orton Gillingham approach is:

Structured and Sequential

  • The elements of the language are introduced systematically and in a logical sequence, going from most common and easiest to least common and more complex.

Diagnostic and Prescriptive

  • Practitioner is adapting the plan as needed based on verbal, non-verbal, and written responses which identify progress and difficulties.
  • Lesson plans are written for the next lesson based on information from the current lesson.
  • Practitioner is making decisions on a continuous basis before, during and after each lesson.

Systematic and Cumulative

  • Material follows a logical sequence and builds step by step based on previously mastered material.
  • New information is deliberately tied to previously learned information to build a framework for understanding the language.

Direct and Explicit

  • Concepts are directly taught using language that is clear and consistent.
  • Students aren’t encouraged to guess at a new concept or figure it out on their own.
  • Nothing is assumed about what a student already knows.
  • Immediate and continuous feedback is provided.

Simultaneous and Multi-Sensory

  • Teaching uses all pathways: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile
  • Tactile includes tracing words and sounds but also drawing attention to speech mechanics.
  • At all times integrates reading, writing, spelling, speaking.

Synthetic and Analytic

  • Synthetic – how the parts work together to form a whole. 
  • Analytic – how the whole is broken down into parts. 
  • Sound and symbol correspondence
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Language structure
  • Rules and patterns
  • Morphology
  • Etymology
  • Syntax and semantics

Individualized and Emotionally Sound

  • Lessons are tailored to the individual student by being diagnostic and prescriptive.
  • Maintains a high degree of success and positive reinforcement.
  • Provides an experience that is stress-free; promotes positive attitudes about learning; and builds motivation, self-confidence, and self-esteem.
  • Utilizes eliciting questions and metacognitive thinking for self-correction.

Alphabetic and Phonological

Understanding that:

  • letters have names and sounds
  • words are made up of sequences of sounds
  • letters go from left to right in the order in which they’re spoken

Teaches to Automaticity

  • Without mastery, information is not accessible when needed.
  • Skills need to move to the back burner.