What is the Orton-Gillingham approach and why is it important?

The Orton-Gillingham Approach was named for a neurologist and pathologist, Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948) and a psychologist and educator, Anna Gillingham (1878-1963).

Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948), a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, was a pioneer in focusing attention on reading failure and related language processing difficulties. He brought together néuroscientific information and principles of remediation. As early as 1925, he had identified the condition of dyslexia as a medical diagnosis requiring an educational treatment.

Anna Gillingham (1878-1963) was a gifted educator and psychologist with a superb mastery of the language. Working with Dr. Orton, she trained teachers and compiled and published instructional materials based on Dr. Orton’s theories.

Tenants of the Orton-Gillingham Approach

Diagnostic and Prescriptive

Always the teacher seeks to understand how an individual learns and to devise appropriate teaching strategies. Each lesson is planned for a particular student. Infinitely adaptable, Orton-Gillingham is flexible; it is an approach rather than a system.

Direct and Explicit

The instructor presents the material in a direct and explicit fashion. Never is the student expected to know anything that has not been taught and practiced.


The Orton-Gillingham approach is based on a technique of studying and teaching language and the understanding of the nature of human language, the mechanisms involved in learning, and the language learning process in individuals.


The Orton-Gillingham approach is multi-sensory. Sessions are action-oriented with auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements reinforcing each other for optimal learning. Spelling is taught simultaneously with reading. In this respect, Orton-Gillingham differs from traditional phonics instruction.

Structured, Sequential And Cumulative, but Flexible

The elements of the language are introduced systematically. Students begin by reading words and writing sounds in isolation. These are blended into syllables and words. The various elements of the language (consonants, digraphs, blends, and diphthongs) are introduced in orderly fashion. As students learn new material in a structured, sequential, and cumulative manner they continue to review old material for mastery.


Students learn about the history of the language and study the many generalizations and rules which govern its structure. Repeatedly, they are encouraged to think rather than to guess.

Emotionally Sound

Because old material is constantly reviewed and new material is introduced systematically, the student experiences a high degree of success in every lesson and gains in confidence in skills. Thus, self-esteem develops directly from the student’s achievement, and learning becomes a positive experience.

To read more about Orton-Gillingham and its use in Dyslexia remediation visit the Orton-Gillingham Academy

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