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

The Orton-Gillingham (O-G) Approach is not a published program; rather, it is a general method* that has been shown over decades to be the most effective way to teach reading and writing to people with language processing differences like dyslexia. The modern term for the Orton-Gillingham approach is structured literacy.



Methods that follow O-G principles are referred to as structured literacy methods because they all involve teaching the structure of language (and especially the structure of words) using a step-by-step sequence that aims to make the student mindful of words, interconnecting spelling, pronunciation and meaning.

To use any structured literacy method effectively, the provider must have a deep knowledge of the structure of English words (phonology, orthography and morphology).

Converging research suggests that a structured literacy is the most effective approach for people with language processing weaknesses like dyslexia.

While structured literacy is not tied to any box of materials or any specific scope & sequence, various companies have published programs derived from O-G principles. You might think of these products as the "grandchildren” of O-G.  Some of these products include: The Wilson Method, Slingerland, Sonday, The Herman Method, The Language! Curriculum & The Barton Sysyem and RAVE-O. 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 literacy approach.  Each “grandchild” program has its own shtick or twist. For example, LiPS emphasizes articulatory feedback, Slingerland and Wilson were developed for use by teachers in (school) group education. Sonday was developed for use by volunteer tutors with minimal background, Language! is now focused on the needs of English Language Learners in classrooms and Barton is designed with video tutorials for parents. 

The Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum is a grandchild, too. The Lexercise platform was developed using web-based, blended learning tools to leverage the following:

  • the power of a knowledgeable and skillful provider (clinician or teacher)
  • the power of involved, understanding and informed teachers and parents 
  • the power of mindful, daily practice and a growth mindset 



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 outcomes are highly related to three elements:

1) The methodology must include all the ways English is structured--from the speech sound structure to the letter symbol that represent them to the analysis of meaningful elements (i.e., phonology, orthography and morphology);

2) There must be regular, motivated, structured and focused practice with feedback;

3) The clinician must be a expert in the structure of English and how to teach it.


Publishers sell 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" or a workshop. When clinicians or teachers struggle to implement a structured literacy approach it is usually because:

  • They don't have thorough enough knowledge of the structure of English;
  • They do not have a deep enough understanding of neurolinguistic language processing problems and how to adjust a structured literacy approach to meet individual needs;
  • They are not enticing and enabling adequate mindful practice.
  • The intervention unintentionally encourages a counterproductive fixed mindset in the child so that errors are viewed as failures as opposed to opportunities for growth and learning.


For a clinician, there are advantages and disadvantages of learning to use structured literacy as an approach as compared to the use a published program:



If a clinician learns structured literacy as an approach they aren't tied to one set of materials or one scope & sequence. They can better use critical thinking and reasoning to individualize and adapt it. Learning structured literacy as an approach stimulates the clinician to think deeply about the methodology.  See this link for some training courses we recommend.



If a clinician uses a published "program" they don't have to know as much or think as much. They have one set of materials, and they are all in the publisher's box. They may even have a step x step script for teaching.  While convenient, this may make thinking "outside that box" for problem solving more difficult. 



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 structured literacy methodology continues to be influenced by best-practice research and by the new technologies.


*Read more about the distinction between an “approach” and a “program” on the website of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators.


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