What Does an Orton-Gillingham Lesson Look Like?
If you were to observe a lesson from an Orton-Gillingham based program such as Wilson, SPIRE or Barton, they would have similarities, but also plenty of differences. The same is true of a non-program-specific Orton-Gillingham lesson plan that follows the Orton-Gillingham approach. The exact lesson sequence may differ depending on where the teacher was trained, the student that they are working with, and what specific skills are being taught. However, there are certain lesson components that you are likely to see in some form or another.
I typically think of an Orton-Gillingham lesson as comprising 5 main sections. It is important to note that although there may be some variability in the OG lesson from teacher or tutor, these are the components you are likely to see in some combination. There will be opportunities to read and write using new skills and a variety of multisensory techniques to activate visual, auditory and kinesthetic systems. So if you are new to the Orton-Gillingham approach and wondering what it involves, this post is the perfect opportunity for you to learn more. Let’s begin!
Part One: Drills, Review & Explicit Instruction
Overall, this section of your lesson is brief, lasting at the most 10 minutes.
- Phonogram Review Almost all lessons begin with some sort of rapid phonogram card drill to review sound symbol correspondence. This may take longer as the stack of known phonograms becomes extensive, but a typical review may be about 5 minutes long. Particular attention is paid to vowels and tricky phonograms. Typically, there is some sort of procedure for error correction. I will have a student trace the tricky phonogram 3 times on the table repeating the letter(s), keywords and sound and then return the card to the back of the pile, so it will reappear once again in the drill. Find Phonogram drill cards for this portion here.
- Blending Drill Some lessons include a brief 2-3 minute blending drill using the phonogram cards, in which the student decodes and blends a randomly generated series of syllables. These are not necessarily real words, but do follow the expected rules of spelling etc. This gives students a chance to apply rules like the FLOSS rule in a hands on activity.
- Introduction This portion of the lesson is the teaching of the new concept such as a new phonogram, a new sound for a known spelling pattern, or a new spelling generalization. Typically, this is brief, lasting only 3-5 minutes, but utilizing visual, auditory and tactile pathways. Many teachers use a guided discovery method of introducing new learning, guiding the student through specific questioning and examples to be able to identify and verbalize the new concept themselves. For example, the student might be asked to identify what sound they hear in 3 words. Then looking at those words in writing, they may be asked to identify and mark the letters that make that sound. Finally, the student may trace in multiple textures the phonogram while reciting the keyword and sound. Often, this component of the lesson will also include a brief review of related concepts such as syllable types, long and short vowel sounds, or base words and affixes. You can find out more about multisensory ideas to use during this portion.
Part Two: Reading Words
This part of the lesson is very closely related to the teaching of the new concept. It is the application of that concept through the reading of a series of words and sentences that use the new pattern, as well as review words targeting skills that need particular practice. The length of the word list and number of sentences is very much individualized for each student and their strengths and needs. As needed, time is taken for error correction routines including tracing and discussion of unknown vocabulary. Typically, we read through the word lists and sentences twice to build fluency.
For younger students, this is very often where I will insert a game in place of a second reading. It livens up the practice and often gives opportunities for even more repetitions of the selected words.This second section of the lesson also takes approximately 10 minutes.
This Orton-Gillingham word list strategies post may help give you a few more ideas. These Orton-Gillingham word lists will help you organize your lessons and provide fluency sentences as well. For a time-saving tool, consider using Word List Builder for word list creation and more!
Part Three: Writing
What I think of as the writing portion of the lesson has 3-4 parts and lasts up to 20 minutes. This is a part of the lesson that often necessitates extra attention to following specific procedures without shortcuts. Students and teachers alike have a tendency to skip steps in the procedure, particularly if a student is doing well.
- What Says? This is basically a reverse phonogram drill. The student is asked what says a specific sound and he or she writes down everything that they have learned that makes that sound. So, for long vowels, students quickly have a lengthy list of possibilities. Typically, short and long vowel sounds are reviewed as well as the new concept and review concepts. 10-15 sounds per lesson is typical. I have students read back the sounds they have written.
- What Means? This is the morphology cousin of the “what says” component. Instead of sounds, the teacher asks students what prefix or suffix or root has a particular meaning. Any new morphological units are practiced as well as those recently introduced. Otherwise, rotating through taught morphemes with 5 or 6 per lesson is usually adequate. These morphology resources may help you with this portion.
- SOS (Simultaneous Oral Spelling) This is the word dictation portion of the lesson. It typically includes repeating the word, sounding the word out using finger tapping, spelling the word orally using finger tapping, writing the word while saying the letters, and then reading the completed word. I use 4-5 words that use the new concept and 5-6 review words. I also have students read back the words they have written. For more information on how to implement the SOS strategy you can read my SOS spelling strategy blog post or try this SOS spelling strategy freebie.
- Dictation The final portion of the writing section is sentence dictation. This is an opportunity for students to apply their learning (both new and old) to writing a complete dictated sentence. This frequently combines not only the new concept, but also spelling generalizations and phonograms that the student has learned in the past. It is important that the tutor takes into consideration different spelling possibilities and has a plan regarding how to reduce confusion where more than one spelling choice exists. I will often give students a general hint at the beginning of a sentence such as “This sentence uses all vowel team spellings.” Students are asked to repeat the sentence, write it independently, and then proofread using the COPS (or similar) procedure. Students very quickly take on responsibility for self-correcting errors of capitalization and ending punctuation. Frequently, I will ask students to identify a problem word if there is an error. Students usually know if a word is not quite right. Being able to identify which word does not appear to be correct is a valuable skill to carryover into the classroom. It will help the OG student identify when to use resources such as personal dictionaries or spelling guides. The dictation pages in the Orton-Gillingham materials will help you and your students keep the dictation process organized. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Orton-Gillingham-Materials-Multisensory-Phonics-Approach-1344257
For more ideas, “What’s In My OG Notebook?” may help.
Part Four: Text Reading
This is arguably the most important part of the Orton Gillingham lesson. Think about it. What is the end goal for these kids? TO BECOME READERS! A full 15-20 minutes is ideally devoted to this portion of the lesson. Students have an opportunity to read out loud and apply their decoding skills to continuous text. At the early levels, this is decodable text using as close to only skills that the student has been taught as possible.
These Orton-Gillingham decodable reading passages are great for fluency practice.
There is a focus on accuracy with a goal to break the guessing habit and get students using their decoding skills and strategies. At least one of the reading selections should include the new concept. Typically, I address comprehension during this time through informal dialogue and conversation.
Part Five: Additional Activities
This is probably the hardest part of the lesson to plan for and make decisions about on the fly. There is wide variability in which activities are included. The first activities listed here tend to be more common. These activities are very much time-dependent and based on individual student needs.
- Learned Words This includes practice with both reading and writing of specific sight words. Most of the time, these are limited to words that are not decodable using what the child has been taught and therefore are truly sight words at this point. Here is a Learned Words resource if you are looking for ideas. This learned words routine will explain the routine I follow.
- Phonemic Awareness Specific activities to promote phonemic awareness such as phoneme segmentation with manipulatives or sound sorts. Here are Phonemic Awareness activities if you are looking for ideas.
- Fluency Activities to work on fluency such as repeated reading, contrast cards, or speed drills. These Orton-Gillingham decodable reading passages are great for fluency practice.
- Handwriting Practice and Instruction There is a great deal of debate about how much time and effort to put into handwriting remediation. A reasonable goal is to focus on efficiency and legibility rather than precise accuracy.
- Grammar instruction This would include basic concepts such as parts of speech.
For More Orton-Gillingham Lesson Information
- I hope you found this post to be a helpful explanation of an Orton-Gillingham lesson. As you can see, it is jam-packed! If you are a traveling tutor, I have written a post which lists what I pack in my Orton-Gillingham tutoring bag.
- Finding your starting point with Orton-Gillingham will outline the assessment process I follow.
- For a list of professional books, I recommend reading “The Essential Reading List for Orton-Gillingham Teachers and Tutors.”
Check the Orton-Gillingham category of my store if you are looking for Orton-Gillingham lesson materials.
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