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The Orton-Gillingham Lesson – What it looks like, What is in it, and a Sample Video!

If you have been researching reading programs for struggling readers, you might have come across the Orton-Gillingham method a few times. This is by far the most effective reading approach for kids that need to learn differently. It might seem really complicated – but it isn’t. On today’s post I am going to explain to you step by step what happens in an Orton-Gillingham lesson and also show it to you in action!  

Step 1: Review with Phonogram Cards

Using Phonogram Cards or Sound Cards the student is drilled with skills he/she has already learned. This is a quick step. Phonogram Drill Cards are usually separated by color.

For example the vowels might be green, the consonants might be white, the suffixes might be blue, etc.

Before each new lesson, students are required to review these phonogram cards. Reviewing them over and over again, week after week, month after month, helps the kids remember them over time.

Step 2: Introduce a New Skill

When the student is ready to move on and learn a new skill, there are several ways this is introduced in an Orton-Gillingham lesson.

Every new phonogram, sound, syllable type or spelling pattern will need explicit instruction and multisensory teaching methods to help the concepts “stick.” This means the students will see it (visual), hear it (auditory) and move with it (kinesthetic).

Many Orton-Gillingham lessons have pictures or keywords to introduce the new sound or spelling rule. 

These pictures (often called keyword pictures) help the students remember a particular letter or sound relationship with a visual.

Thereafter, students are also asked to trace, skywrite, use arm tapping, write on their palms and paper, build words with letter tiles, write on textured material, and use other multisensory activities to help learn the new concept.  

Step 3: The Blending Drill in the Orton-Gillingham Lesson

The Blending Drill in the Orton-Gillingham lesson is when the student practices reading nonsense words. Nonsense words force the students to use decoding and not memorization skills. The phonogram cards are separated into three piles on a table top. The vowels are put in the middle of the pile.

The student points to each phonogram card from left to right and blends the sounds into a nonsense word. The teacher keeps flipping the cards from the different columns to make different combinations.  

Step 4: Red Words in the Orton-Gillingham Lesson

Red Words or Sight Words are those words that cannot be sounded out phonetically and do not follow any particular phonemic rule. These must be memorized.

In an Orton-Gillingham lesson, the Red Words are also taught using multisensory techniques. These activities might include Arm Tapping, Finger Sliding, and Finger Tracing.  

red words gif

Step 5: Reading Words, Sentences, and Text

In each Orton-Gillingham lesson, students are asked to begin reading words, then read sentences and finally read a decodable text.



Students are asked to underline, link, divide, and box letters and letter combinations, suffixes and prefixes.

Students will identify vowel sounds and letters and other concepts when reading and learning new words. 


Students are asked to read relatively simple sentences utilizing their newly learned concept.

They might read these silently to themselves and then again aloud with the teacher.

Comprehension questions are also often used in this step.  

Decodable Stories:

Finally, students are asked to read a story or text.  

The reading passages in Orton-Gillingham lessons are always decodable and only contain sounds and concepts that the student has already learned.

Semantics and vocabulary development are a continual process throughout the entire reading of the passage.

Students are also asked to visualize, use prior knowledge, use context clues, and other reading comprehension strategies.   

Step 6: Writing 

Students are asked to write sounds, words, and sentences that are dictated by the teacher in each Orton-Gillingham lesson.

It typically begins with the teacher dictating a word and the student will repeat the word. The student then uses either finger tapping, sound segmenting, or palm writing while saying the word aloud.

The student will follow up by writing the words down on a sheet of paper and then asked to read the words back.  


Some Additional Activities that are Included in Orton-Gillingham Lesson

Phonological Awareness:  

Most Orton-Gillingham lessons will also teach and practice phonological awareness activities throughout the entire program.

These will include activities with rhyming, syllable division, and sound segmentation.

If you want to read more on phonological awareness in Orton-Gillingham, read my post:

 >>>What is Phonological Awareness: Strategies and Activities 


Fluency Drills:

Fluency Drills are often used during the Orton-Gillingham lessons to help the students practice mastering their newly learned Orton-Gillingham skills. Students are given a fluency practice drill and with a marker across the first line, they read the words as quickly as they can. They will do this with every line increasing their speed over time.   


Many Orton-Gillingham teachers and tutors like to use games to reinforce the skills that the students are learning. Using a lot of interactive and fun learning games, the Orton-Gillingham lessons can become a bit more colorful and lively for the kids. 


Do you want to see an Orton-Gillingham Lesson in Action?

(This is just a short segment to give you an idea, it is not the entire lesson.)


Thank you so much for reading my post today! You might also enjoy reading my posts:

What is Orton-Gillingham

How is Orton-Gillingham Evidence-Based Instruction?

The Science of Reading: What All Teachers Should Know


And while you are here…you might want to check out The PRIDE Reading Program, an Orton-Gillingham reading, writing, spelling, and comprehension program that is 100% scripted, affordable, easy to use and used by teachers, parents, and tutors all over the world with great success!

PRIDE Reading Program<<


Karina Richland, M.A., is the author of the PRIDE Reading Program, a multisensory Orton-Gillingham reading, writing and comprehension curriculum that is available worldwide for parents, tutors, teachers, and homeschoolers of struggling readers. Karina has an extensive background in working with students of all ages and various learning modalities. She has spent many years researching learning differences and differentiated teaching practices. You can reach her by email at info@pridereadingprogram.com or visit the website at www.pridereadingprogram.com