Forums/Best Practices for Language-Literacy Services/Continuing Education

What is Orton-Gillingham and who are its "grandchildren"?

Sandie Barrie-Blackley
posted this on September 26, 2011 18:29

The Orton-Gillingham (O-G) Approach is not a published program; rather, it is an “approach" that is considered to be "best practice" for intervention with people who have language processing differences like dyslexia.   You can read more about the distinction between an “approach” and a “program” on the website of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators.


Methods that follow O-G principles are referred to as structured language methods because they all involve a highly structured and linguistically focused scope and sequence and teaching methods that are multisensory and explicit.  To use any structured language method effectively the provider must have a thorough knowledge of the structure of English print (orthography). Converging research suggests that a structured language approach is best-practice for clients with language processing weaknesses like dyslexia.


While O-G is not tied to any box of materials or any specific score & sequence various companies have published programs derived from O-G. You might think of these as "grandchildren” programs.  Some of these programs include: The Wilson Method, Slingerland, Sonday, The Herman Method, The Language! Curriculum & The Barton Sysyem. The Lindamood Individual Phoneme Sequencing (LiPS) program, while not strictly an O-G Approach, has a number of similarities and fits the definition of a structured language approach.  Each “grandchild” program has its own shtick or twist. For example, LiPS emphasizes articulatory feedback, Slingerland and Wilson were developed for use with (school) groups. Sonday was developed for use by volunteer tutors with minimal background, Language! is now focused on the needs of English Language Learners in classrooms, Barton is designed with video tutorials for parents. Lexercise was developed to provide the daily, structured practice that is an essential component of any structured language approach, using web-based, blended learning tools to help fit  in busy schedules.



There is little or no research to suggest that one O-G "grandchild" program works any better than another, but there is a lot of evidence that children’s outcomes are highly related to what their clinician or teacher knows about the structure of English. Publishers often provide short, "overview" workshops, teaching the use of their product. While this might be a place to start, the structure of English can't be learned in an "overview". When clinicians or teachers struggle to implement a structured language approach it is usually because:


1) They don't have thorough enough knowledge of the speech-to-print structure of English;

2) They do not have a deep enough understanding of neurolinguistic language processing problems and how structured language approaches can be adjusted to meet individual needs.

3) They are not enticing adequate structured practice with error correction that raises awareness and increases the chance of success on the next opportunity.



The advantages to learning to use O-G as an approach as compared to learning a published program can be summarized as follows:

  • O-G as an approach 

If you learn O-G as an approach you aren't tied to one set of materials or one scope & sequence. You can better use clinical reasoning to individualize and adapt it. Learning O-G as an approach stimulates you to think deeply about the methods.  See this link for some O-G Approach training courses we recommend.


  • O-G as a published program

If you use O-G as a published program you don't have to know as much or think as much.  You have one set of scripted materials, and they are all in the publisher's box and you are not expected to think outside that box



Partly because of the growing availability of "open-source" (free) materials and partly due to how digital connectivity enables people to work together, sharing both content and data, there is a movement away from "products" and toward "processes", both in education and health care. (See Education Week article: Free Online Content Forces Publishers to Adjust, July 3, 2013)


As Will Richardson points out on his blog, Read. Write. Connect. Learn., the digital revolution is changing everything about the way we teach and the way we learn.  While the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) Approach is decades old, the methodology continues to be influenced by best-practice research and by the new technologies.