The Orton-Gillingham Approach

To round out dyslexia awareness month, we’re featuring the Orton-Gillingham approach. This approach is designed to help students with dyslexia learn in a multi-sensory, cumulative way that makes sense to them. Orton-Gillingham was created in the 1930’s by Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist, and Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist. It is important to emphasize that this is an approach, not a packaged program. Although it is designed for language-based learning differences (like dyslexia), some schools use it in their general education programs. Since Orton-Gillingham has been around for so long, there are many different variations of the approach, but there are some components that are universal. In this article, I’ll take you through the different core components of Orton-Gillingham as well as some elements that are unique to Wright Academics.


When learning is associated with different senses, it creates new neuropathways, which lead to long term memory. For this reason, Orton-Gillingham incorporates all 5 senses; the more senses, the more new neuropathways. Students benefit from seeing, hearing, touching, doing, and saying a concept. This also adds a lot of fun to learning! In the office, we often use shaving cream, sand, salt, markers, or other materials to make learning more appealing. 

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness deals only with sounds, not letters or symbols. We play around with sounds…segmenting, sequencing, counting, and deleting sounds and syllables. Students need to be able to do this quickly and automatically because this is the precursor for spelling, reading, and writing. Students need to be able to delete sounds as well (like saying the word “table” without the “t”).

Other skills covered in phonemic awareness are sequencing sounds and syllables, counting sounds, rhyming and substituting letters (i.e. changing the “m” in “mat” to a “p” to form “pat). Often dyslexic students have a hard time with these skills initially because dyslexia is a language-based learning difference. Dyslexic students can often get frustrated with these skills because what is easy for most people is not easy for them, but this stage also helps us identify students with dyslexia early on. If students are having a hard time rhyming or deleting sounds, it is usually an indication, amongst other things, that they may be dyslexic.


With Orton-Gillingham the next step is phonics. Phonics emphasize the connection between sounds and syllables. Letters and symbols are introduced, and students start utilizing their phonemic awareness to work on sounding out letters, syllables, and, eventually, words. To do this we start small and build gradually. In this way, Orton-Gillingham is sequential, not haphazard.


Orton-Gillingham gradually progresses from synthetic (the smallest unit of sound) to analytic (the breakdown of larger words). We consistently review a student’s sound pack (their working set of sounds) with them as we gradually teach them new sounds and expand their repertoire. From there, we move to syllables and practice by reading and decoding (deconstructing) sounds. After that, we can move to writing and encoding (constructing) sounds as well as sight word development, reading full words on the spot. The unique part of Orton-Gillingham is it advocates for learning at the student’s own pace. Often general education operates on the opposite premise: the student needs to adjust their learning to the curriculum rather than adjusting the curriculum to the student. In Orton-Gillingham, there’s constant practice, review, and monitoring.


We emphasize fluency by starting to read and write with first words then phrases and finally sentences. From there, students learn to read short paragraphs and full pages. Eventually we build up to short books. This method is both systematic and repetitive. Because of this, it ensures dyslexic students do not get left behind and can learn in a way that makes sense to them. What a non-dyslexic reader might need to hear 2-3 times, a dyslexic person might need to hear 10+ times. The reality is dyslexic brains just learn differently than other brains; they process language differently which provides unique strengths as well as struggles.

Why We Love It

At Wright Academics, we’ve used Orton-Gillingham for many years because it has all of the elements that are most helpful for dyslexic students, and we’ve seen countless students make incredible progress. Orton-Gillingham is diagnostic and individual, which allows the program to be tailored to the student’s unique needs. It is also ENGAGING because of its multi-sensory philosophy! Orton-Gillingham is interactive and provides a constructive WHY behind each systematic step.

Interested in learning more about Orton-Gillingham or the unique services we offer dyslexic students? Click HERE.

Interested in learning more about Orton-Gillingham or the unique services we offer dyslexic students? Click HERE.

About Evelyn Wright

Evelyn Wright is the Director of Wright Academics, a tutoring business created to target kids’ specific needs. Her passion is helping students and families succeed so that they achieve their maximum potential in and out of the classroom.

With over 25 years of experience working with children and their families in public and private schools, as well as in private practice, Evelyn’s focus is understanding the individual’s learning profile, guiding families of children with learning differences and matching students to the tutor or coach that best fits the student. She believes in not only matching educational needs to the right tutor’s skills, but matching a student to the tutor with the right personality.