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As you move through the world of reading differences and dyslexia, you are or will soon become familiar with the phrase "Orton-Gillingham based intervention," or at least hopefully you will. The Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading has been around for more than 80 years and is the most research-supported approach to teaching reading. Unfortunately, it is seldom practiced in the general education classroom. Interventionists, special education teachers, and reading specialists should all be well-versed in the Orton-Gillingham approach but, disappointingly, not all have been educated and trained in the approach.


Samuel Orton was a neuropsychiatrist at Columbia University who studied children with the kind of language processing difficulties now associated with dyslexia. He formulated a set of teaching principles and practices as early as the 1920s to address these difficulties. Anna Gillingham was an educator and psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University. She worked with Dr. Orton to train teachers in this new approach. Gillingham combined Orton’s teaching methods with her analysis of the structure of the American-English language. Along with Bessie Stillman, Gillingham wrote what has become The Gillingham Manual: Remedial Training for Students with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship. It was first published in the 1930s. It is updated and republished regularly. This work forms the basis for most reading interventions used with people with dyslexia and other reading challenges.


Orton-Gillingham is sometimes mistakenly thought of as a curriculum; however, it is an approach to teaching reading rather than a specific curriculum.  The Orton-Gillingham approach involves the following components:

  • It is multisensory. Teachers involve multiple modalities in their instruction such as vision, auditory, kinesthetic (movement), and tactile (touch).

  • It is systematic and structured. This means new concepts are taught in the exact same way every time. With an expected routine, the student can focus on the new concept being taught.  Structured instruction means that information is presented in an ordered way that connects what was previously learned and the new material being taught.

  • It is explicit. The rules and patterns of decoding and encoding are directly taught.  Traditional learners can pick up these rules and patterns naturally in the regular classroom environment or in their own reading; however, students with dyslexia need to be taught every rule and pattern explicitly.  

  • It is sequential and cumulative. There are a specific sequence and a clear plan to teach each rule. One step builds from the previous step.  It is extremely important to follow the sequence.

  • It is diagnostic and prescriptive. The teacher monitors skill development with each step. The instructional practices are built upon what was observed in the previous lesson and what is judged to be necessary to move the student forward in the next lesson. 


When you choose a professional to provide intervention services, be sure to ask if they are using an Orton-Gillingham approach. This may be provided in the form of a published curriculum or lessons written by the instructor. Either way, all the elements of Orton-Gillingham should be included and the instructor should be responsive to the needs of the individual learner.

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