The Orton Gillingham Order to teach letters
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The Orton-Gillingham Order To Teach Letters

As a speech therapist and teacher myself, I understand entirely and advocate the importance of teaching and facilitating reading skills. This skill paves the way for other literacy and learning abilities later in life.  The Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading describes a specific order for teaching letters and reading in general.

The Orton-Gillingham order to teach letters has five main sequential steps to implement effectively. The steps, which come with sub steps, include phonological awareness, Teaching letters, syllabification, irregular words, and oral reading. The Orton-Gillingham process is principally used to assist dyslexic learners.

Each step in the order of the Orton-Gillingham approach has several sub-steps involved. According to a set of principles, the Orton-Gillingham order and approach allows for individual plans for each learner.

Other than reading, the system also tends to help learners with spelling, reading comprehension, and fluency which in turn improves over all literacy.

How to Use the Orton-Gillingham Approach to Teach Letters.

The Orton-Gillingham approach is a reading training and teaching approach that aims to help learners who struggle with reading, specifically those with dyslexia. This approach is well-known and well utilized and can vary in its implementation, although the core principles stay the same.

The Orton-Gillingham order is a multisensory approach, using four senses. These include using movement, sight, hearing, and touch to facilitate learning. For example, when learning the letter /b/, a child would see the letter, say the letter, hear the letter, and write the letter on paper or another creative way like in sand, plasticine or using their body in an activity.

The approach focuses on teaching the connections between letters and sounds to enable and improve reading ability. There are several levels of teaching reading to children – sound, word, sentence, and conversational level. Orton-Gillingham focuses on the word level, but solid letter-sound knowledge is initially essential.

The Orton-Gillingham approach also makes use of teaching the patterns and rules of reading. The language rules help students understand reading better, like segmenting words into sounds. This skill is called decoding, whereby a student can break up a word (cat) into its smaller parts (c-a-t) which are sounded out aloud letter for letter.

Instructors teach the skills sequentially one by one, and the student can only move on to the following abilities if the previous one is mastered and completed. If a learner struggles with a skill in the process, then the previous skills are revisited to help them build both their skills and their use of language. .

Although a few different letters and sounds are targeted at once, they will continuously be revised and practiced if a student struggles to learn a letter. Letters can be drilled in isolation and words before moving to more complex letters and combinations. The aim is to provide solid phonics foundations for students to reuse as the skills become more challenging.

orton Gillingham Approach

What Are the Five Steps to Teach Using Orton-Gillingham Method.

The Orton-Gillingham order to teach letters includes five main sequential steps:

  • Phonological awareness,
  • Teaching new letters/concepts
  • Syllabification
  • Learning of irregular words
  • Oral reading practice

This approach is implemented primarily for learners with dyslexia. We go through the steps in the Orton-Gillingham order in more detail below.

There are also plenty of reasonable priced resources to help teachers and parents using this method.

The Orton-Gillingham Order To Teaching Letters

The following is the order of steps that the Orton-Gillingham approach uses to teach letters, and therefore reading skills:

1.    Phonological Awareness

The first step in the sequence of tasks for reading is phonological awareness. This step usually starts with a review of concepts previously learned. Activities include visual drills (teacher shows a letter and the student has to say the sound), auditory exercises (teacher says a sound and the student writes it out), and saying the sounds in a word out loud. We have loads of resources to teach these initial steps of orton-Gillingham which you can access here, and from the image below

2.    New Letters, Sounds, And Concepts

The next step is to teach new concepts, such as new vowels or consonants, depending on the learner. This step can start as simple as introducing a new letter-sound relationship and its keyword, or it can be more advanced, like making/creating words with sound and letter cards.

We have vowel resources for free use on the site, from simple short vowels to diphthongs and even schwa, we also have online short vowel games to use in homes and classrooms to add a little diversity to your Orton Gillingham method.

Teachers often used keywords to help students read. Keywords help students learn specific letters/sounds, like a keyword for /b/ would be /bat/. Teachers also instruct learners to play with word structure, like adding or removing letters from words.

3.    Syllabification

Syllables are the doorway to a rapid expansion of vocabulary. Although we have plenty of one syllable words in English, true mastery comes by learning how to construct words. The orton-Gillingham method recognises that and put heavy emphasis on learning how to construct multi syllable words

The syllables already taught are repeated and reviewed. These activities are done by breaking multisyllabic words into syllables. For example, /magnet/ can be broken down into /mag/ and /net/.

The teacher gradually adds new syllable types. Syllables in a word can be divided by cards or by drawing lines to separate the syllables. Specific coding and markings are written to identify the vowels and consonants making up different types of syllables.

4.    Learning Irregular Words

Decoding is the next step, especially irregular words, sight words, or red words. These words do not follow the language’s regular spelling and reading patterns and must be memorized (such as /again/). The student learns these words by rewriting them repeatedly in multisensorial ways.

Limit the number of irregular words taught at once. Teachers focus on practicing these words many times. They have to be mastered and memorized before new words are introduced. There are pages on how to teach sight words including our article below, however limiting to little and often is the approach we have found to be most successful.

You can build a portfolio for students using the two sets below. these have 40 of the most common sight words and are multi intelligence based worksheets to cover diverse learner motivations.

5.    Reading Aloud

The last step is usually oral reading. A simple oral reading passage is given to the student, only containing the skills they have learned so far. Fluency plays a significant role here, which involves reading accuracy and reading speed.

These simple passages aim to build confidence and reading skills and to progress at the speed the students is capable of (not what a curriculum or educational theory says is appropriate). These can extend from simple CvC readers to more complex multi syllable reading passages in higher grades.

We have two examples of our free downloads to help with this above and below. However we also have a full pack of phonics and reading skills workbooks on the site for a nominal fee that we will link to here. It is often on sale and helps teach the Orton-Gillingham Method from initial sounds to multi syllable words. it can be used in both classroom and homes.

General Order Of Teaching Letters

In general, sounds and their corresponding letters are taught based on their frequency. That is, how often they appear in a language. Continuous sounds like /a/, /t/, /s/ and /m/ can be introduced especially early on. As they can be seen in programs such as Jolly Phonics and Reading AtoZ.

The order of letters can vary quite a bit and depend on the teacher, the English curriculum, and the purpose of English lessons (Second language for example) but two examples include /t/, /a/, /s/, /n/, /p/ and /i/ and /a/ /m/ /t/ /s/ /i/ /f/ /d/ /r/ /o/ /g/ /l/ /h/ /u/ /c/ /b/ /n/ /k/ /v/ /e/ /w/ /j/ /p/ /y/. These letters are common enough to build a large number of words.

Visually similar letters, like /b/ and /d/, and those auditorily similar like /e/ and /i/ should be separated to avoid confusion. Once students have mastered one it becomes easily to distinguish between the two similar letter sor sounds.

Once a few letter sounds are learned, CV (consonant-vowel) sound combinations are taught. Some examples include /pa/, /si/ and /ta/t. This step becomes more complex by adding consonants to make CVC (e.g., cat) words and later consonant clusters to make CCVC (e.g., stop) words.

it is also possible to introduce minimal pairs at this stage, an have students starting to look at word families and similar onset and rime pairs. Ther eis an artcile here and some resources below to help with this.


The order of teaching letters in the Orton-Gillingham approach includes activities involved in phonological awareness, learning new concepts, syllabification, learning sight words, and reading out aloud.

Instructors follow this process for each new letter-sound combination taught, and the previously learned skills are revised before moving to the following skills. Teachers introduce these skills using multisensory activities.


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