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Is Your Child Struggling to Read?

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

The Orton-Gillingham Approach Might Be of Help

Stacey Kinnamon, one of Bennett’s knowledgeable and experienced special education needs consultants and an Orton-Gillingham tutor (Classroom Educator Level), sat down with her colleague Annemiek Young to answer questions about what Orton-Gillingham is and what it offers both traditional learners and those with specific learning needs.

At what age do children typically begin to develop a mastery of reading?

Most children learn to read by 1st or 2nd grade. Educators often say that 3rd grade is a pivotal point in reading because, by the start of 4th grade, most children are no longer “learning to read” but are instead “reading to learn.”

How does a child’s struggle to read manifest itself, and what should parents be looking for? Can you share an example?

While each child’s struggle with reading can look different, there are a few warning signs to look for. One is when a curious child who has grown up in a literature-rich household and enjoys being read to does not enjoy reading books on their own. Further, a child might “skip over” words when reading aloud or make up words that are not in the text. Also, a child might have difficulty rhyming or spelling.

What is the Orton-Gillingham approach, and why is it so highly regarded?

Orton-Gillingham (OG) offers a structured approach to literacy. Grounded in multisensory phonics, it offers an individualized, explicit, and sequential approach to reading and spelling by breaking words down into letters and sounds. The highly structured approach teaches skills in a particular order, which is based on an understanding of how children naturally develop language. OG has been widely used and validated in classrooms and in one-on-one tutoring sessions for over 80 years.

Is Orton-Gillingham beneficial to all students?

While it is often used as a teaching strategy for students diagnosed with dyslexia, the OG skill set is beneficial to all students. For example, sometimes when a child has been educated in a “whole language” environment and there has been no direct instruction in phonics, a child might appear to have dyslexia because they simply have not been taught any phonics rules. For example, a few years ago, I was hired to tutor a 2nd grader who had been placed in a remedial reading group at his independent school because he was not on grade level. I will always remember that after a few lessons, one day his eyes widened, and he exclaimed, “Do you mean that there are actual rules for reading and spelling—I had no idea!” He had not received any phonics instruction, and once he understood that there were rules, his reading (and spelling) took off, and he was eventually placed in an accelerated reading group.

Are there other programs that use an OG-based approach?

It is important to know what reading program your child’s school uses, and whether that program is evidence-based. Some schools might follow OG while others might use OG-based approaches such as Wilson, Preventing Academic Failure, Slingerland, Take Flight, Lindamood Bell, Barton or Spire.

Can you describe what an OG lesson would look like and explain the multisensory element of the approach?

Sound cards:

Using sound cards, the student is drilled with skills that have already been taught. For example, a student might be shown a sound card with the letters “oo” on it and asked for the two sounds that “oo” makes. The correct answers would be: “/o͝o/” as in book and “/o͞o/” as in food.

Students are required to read these sound cards at the beginning of each lesson. Reviewing them repeatedly, week after week, month after month helps reinforce them over time.

Review of Writing:

The student is asked to write the alphabet in cursive (both upper and lower case) and to say the names of the letters out loud as they write. The theory of this is that cursive writing helps the student incorporate both visual and tactile information. Some students might need extra instruction on cursive writing, and this will be built into the lesson. The instructor also reviews some of the concepts that have already been taught by asking the student to write, for example, “the four ways to spell ‘o’,” and the student would be expected to write: o, oa, ow, oe.

Review of reading:

The student is asked to read words that they have already been taught but still need some practice.

Review of spelling:

The student is asked to write single words (and sentences with words) that they have already been taught but still need some practice.

Introduction of a New Skill:

When the student is ready to learn a new skill, there are several ways this is introduced in an OG lesson. The new concept (sound, syllable type, or spelling pattern) will be taught explicitly by the teacher using multi-sensory teaching methods, including, for example, clapping or tapping for syllables, skywriting, or writing in sand or shaving cream.

Please keep in mind that while OG is a structured approach, these steps might be modified slightly for different students.

Would struggling readers benefit most from one-on-one instruction, particularly if the program is not offered at their school?


How long will they need to continue with the program for it to have the maximum benefit, or does that depend on the needs of the child?

The length of the intervention will depend on several factors, including the frequency of the sessions, the age of the student, the level of cognition, and the student’s working memory.

That’s fascinating, Stacey, thank you for your insight. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you.

A conversation between Annemiek Young and Stacey Kinnamon

Stacey Kinnamon is a Special Needs Education Consultant. She obtained her law degree from New York University and worked as an attorney for nine years before she and her family relocated to London. After six years, Stacey and her family returned to New York where she obtained a dual Master’s degree in general and special education from Bank Street Graduate School of Education. Stacey has worked as a teacher and as a volunteer in New York City public schools, a private reading tutor, and has a son with learning challenges. She volunteers with the Promise Project, a non-profit, which provides educational evaluations to underprivileged children.

Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.


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