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Orton-Gillingham is an instructional approach intended primarily for use with individuals who have difficulty with reading, spelling, and writing associated with dyslexia.


Orton-Gillingham Approach

The Orton-Gillingham Approach was created by Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton, Anna Gillingham and Bessie Stillman in the 1930’s to remediate the difficulties associated with dyslexia.

The Orton-Gillingham Approach teaches the structure of the English language to students of all ages, so that they can learn the code and how to read. What was once a seemingly arbitrary and confusing system becomes predictable and clear. The student is empowered by the knowledge gained. Through multisensory practice and systematic teaching our dyslexic learners unlock the power of print.

The Orton-Gillingham Approach uses a structured lesson plan involving all four senses:
visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile.

The methodology proceeds from the simple to the complex and from the predictable to the unpredictable. Phonemic awareness, phonics, morphology, grammar, vocabulary and reading comprehension are all taught using a systematic, cumulative and sequential approach. Orton-Gillingham teachers design lesson plans based on careful observation and error analysis. Thus, instruction addresses specific difficulties and deficits unique to the students in the class as opposed to delivering a scripted “one size fits all” programme.

For further information about the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators visit The Orton Academy and The Canadian Dyslexia Society.

Who was Dr. Orton?

Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948)

Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton was the son of the first president of the University of Ohio. He was
a psychiatrist and neurologist and became interested in education when his youngest child had difficulty learning to read. Dr. Orton believed that “strephosymbolia” was caused by neurological differences in the brain. He received a government grant in 1925 and over the following two years, working with a team of professionals, saw over 2500 students who had difficulty learning to read. The staff taught the most severe cases to read using a visual-auditory-kinesthetic-tactile approach, which was customized according to the needs of the individual child. The members of his staff included names that are now well-known for their work in the field of reading disorders: Loretta Bender, Marion Monroe, Donald Durrell and June Lyday.

In 1928, Dr. Orton moved to New York where he worked at the New York Neurological Institute continuing to see patients with reading disabilities. There, he met Peter Gow who brought his son, David, for testing. Peter Gow went on to establish the Gow School in Buffalo. Paul Dozier, a Harvard graduate in medicine, requested to work with Dr. Orton and using a Rockefeller Fellowship set up a clinic in Philadelphia. Dr. Dozier trained his niece Paula Dozier Rome and helped Margaret Rawson set up a school for students with dyslexia in Rose Valley.

Dr. Orton published many research papers from 1925 to 1948 and wrote about his observations and theories in his book Reading, Writing and Speech Problems in Children (1937).

Who was Anna Gillingham?

Anna Gillingham (1878-1963)

Anna Gillingham was a psychologist and teacher who worked mainly in the field of psychology and was one of the first to pioneer intelligence testing. She first consulted with Dr. Orton in 1929 and later, in 1932, she and her colleague, Bessie Stillman, began working with Dr Orton collating his theories and remedial practices in a training manual. The Gillingham Manual: Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship, the brown edition was first published in 1936.

Anna Gillingham and Bessie Stillman set up a teacher-training program in Honolulu where she trained Beth Slingerland who later created the Slingerland Method. In 1946, she went to Massachusetts General Hospital to work with Dr. Cole and train teachers. She expanded on her manual and published the blue edition in 1946, followed by the red manual in 1956 and finally the green edition in 1960.


Orton-Gillingham: Practical Linguistics™ Therapy

Orton-Gillingham: Practical Linguistics Therapy™ is a methodology that teaches students to explore and think about the language they use. The student comes to understand that the language they need to read and write can be conquered. By revealing the underlying logical and linguistic patterns of English, the student learns to decipher the code. This therapeutic approach is suitable for all students of English: kindergarten, grade 1, ESL, ELL, and those with language-learning challenges.
A large variety of teaching methods are employed. Multisensory methods create neural networks linking three modalities: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Direct instruction delivers knowledge of spelling rules, the alphabet principle, morphology and phonics. Guided Discovery helps engage and motivate, and students learn to “own” the information and personalize their understanding.
The curriculum is:

  • Logical
  • Cumulative
  • Sequential
  • Therapeutic
  • Differentiated

O.G. Practical Linguistics Therapy™ provides a comprehensive understanding of the structure of the English language. The curriculum covers English orthography, phonology, spelling rules, sentence structure, syntax, vocabulary acquisition, passage comprehension, reading and writing fluency. The methodology addresses cognitive processes, including, auditory and visual discrimination, memory, and processing. Lesson plans are structured to incorporate occupational and eye tracking therapy where needed. This therapeutic linguistic approach may be applied in a classroom, small group or one-on-one setting.


The Orton-Gillingham Approach



  • Phonological Awareness
  • Phonetics
  • Phonics
  • Visual-orthographic Recall
  • Syllabication
  • Morphemic Knowledge
  • Vocabulary Acquisition
  • Grammar
  • Text Analysis
  • Prosody
  • Fine-motor Skills
  • Handwriting


Key Elements

The Orton-Gillingham Approach has been rightfully described as language-based, multisensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, and flexible. These characteristics can be easily amplified and extended as they are in the following attributes.

The basic purpose of everything that is done in the Orton-Gillingham Approach, from recognizing words to composing a poem, is assisting the student to become a competent reader, writer and independent learner.


The teacher needs to observe and record where the student is having difficulty and makes corrections immediately. Based on the student’s performance, the teacher determines what elements need to be taught, reviewed and drilled, and uses the appropriate VAKT associations to do so.


All lesson elements listed involve having the student analyze phonic or graphic information into their component units, and conversely when presented with the units have them assemble them to form appropriate phonic and graphic units.


Students need to overlearn material, which involves drill work, review and repeated practice.


The structure of the language is taught in a predictable way and the same elements of the lesson are used each time and repeated until automaticity is achieved. The OG lesson plan follows a set format proceeding from simple to complex, with each lesson element building on the skills taught in the previous segment.


Linguistic instruction follows a research-based scope and sequence, which parallels the acquisition of spelling skills according to a developmental continuum.


Each piece of new information is linked to what has already been taught. New learning makes sense to the student and links with previously taught concepts and skills mastered.


Engage all the sensory modalities simultaneously throughout the lesson, that is, use auditory, visual and kinesthetic pathways as often as possible.


The student is taught in a supportive environment in which success is ensured. The student develops a sense of accomplishment and pride instead of failure and frustration. Knowledge becomes accessible and learning enjoyable.

The student is taught in a supportive environment in which success is ensured. The student develops a sense of accomplishment and pride instead of failure and frustration. Knowledge becomes accessible and learning enjoyable.

"The Great Word House is a crucial tool for all teachers. It is the missing link between initial teacher training and effective teaching."


Mia, Grade 7

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"Combined with OG training from Evelyn Reiss, The Great Word House™ makes each class a joy for both the student and the teacher. Great Word House™ allows for individualized programming which targets each student’s specifics needs. The support games and videos are amazing! I recommend it to English teachers of all ages."

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