Orton Gillingham Lesson

This is Part 1 of a series of posts about what is included in an Orton Gillingham lesson plan. Many assume an Orton Gillingham lesson only includes phonics. While explicit instruction of many phonics skills is a large part of an OG lesson, a quality lesson covers SO many more aspects of our language. This post will dive deeper into the first part of an Orton lesson including the visual drill, the auditory drill, and a blending drill/phonological awareness activity.

A Little Foundation First:

The English language is an alphabetic one.  Specifically, it is made up of 26 letters and 44 phonemes.  Although decoding depends on letter-sound correspondence, it is also important to ensure that students know the letter names

-Firstly, knowing the letter names provides a common language for discussing letters, sounds, syllables, and words. 

-Secondly, many letters or letter combinations have more than one sound.  For example, the letter <c> can say /k/ or /s/.  It will be crucial for the student to know the letter names before learning the different sounds they may represent.

-Thirdly, many letter names provide a hint to the letter sound.  For example, the name of the letter <p> starts with the sound that it represents (/p/).  So, learning the letter names will help the student master many letter-sound correspondences.

-Students need to solidify their letter-names so that they can fully engage in discussions about these letters and how the sounds in our language are mapped to them.

The Visual and Auditory Drill of an Orton Gillingham Lesson:

A quality Orton Gillingham lesson is completely individualized and based on the needs of the student.  Using initial and/or ongoing assessments and error tracking, the teacher includes 10 phonogram cards in the drill pack.  The teacher will review these skills in the visual/auditory drill and as part of the student’s word and sentence reading/spelling EACH lesson.  As the student masters a skill, the teacher then removes that card from the pack.  After the teacher introduces a new skill, she adds that card to the drill pack for review.

Video an example of the Visual and Auditory Drill of an Orton Gillingham Lesson


After a warm-up drill to prime the student’s brain for learning, the teacher will initiate the VISUAL DRILL.  In this drill, the teacher shows the student the front of the card with the grapheme on the front. The student says the sound that the grapheme represents and simultaneously traces the letter(s) shape on a textured surface.  If the student knows more than one sound for the grapheme, he says both sounds and traces for each sound. This continues for all cards in the deck.


In the AUDITORY DRILL, the teacher faces the card deck towards herself. She says the sound of the first grapheme. The student then repeats the sound.  Next, he writes all the spellings in order of frequency that he has learned so far that represent that grapheme. This continues until the teachers dictates all the sounds and the student writes the corresponding spellings for each sound.

Traditionally this has been done in person with the teacher sitting across from the student. Recently there has been more need for virtual sessions. So you may want to consider using FREE online card decks like these for virtual tutoring sessions. If you want written instructions for the visual and auditory drills, check out this FREE resource.

Back of a set of cards for the Visual and Auditory Drill

Blending Drill and/or Phonemic Awareness:

As part of any good Orton Gillingham lesson, the teacher creates the lesson based on the individual needs of the student.  For this part of the lesson, some students may require a phonemic awareness drill, some a blending drill, and others may need both. 

Phonemic Awareness drill:

There is a continuum of phonemic awareness skills.  The teacher should first assess these skills and explicitly teach them to the student as needed in a systematic manner.  These drills include only letter SOUNDS.  You can read more about those skills in another of my blog posts here. Below is one example of a phonemic awareness drill.  This requires the student to isolate a sound and then delete the sound.  Higher-level PA drills like this lead to orthographic mapping of sounds for efficient, long term memory and retrieval of words.

Phonemic Awareness Activity Deleting a Phoneme

Blending Drill:

While phonemic awareness deals with only sounds, a traditional blending drill requires the student to blend together sounds represented by letters.  When first starting out, work with only two sounds/graphemes at a time.  Work up to the student blending CVC syllables and then words with consonant blends.  These can be real or nonsense words. The student’s ability to blend more letter sounds will often depend greatly on their phonemic awareness skills.  Below is an example of a simple blending drill of CVC syllables. 

Blending drill with CVC

These are the first parts of a basic Orton Gillingham lesson.  In this other blog post, I will dive into the review and reinforcement parts of a lesson, new information, grammar, oral reading, comprehension, vocabulary, written expression, and more!

After comprehensive training, teachers learn how to provide immediate and specific error correction.  They also learn how to offer non-verbal cues, handwriting instruction, and multisensory techniques to support the student’s learning. Most importantly, they learn the “why” behind the parts of each lesson and how the skills weave together to support overall skilled reading. All of these components can be done in person or virtually. I encourage you to read the blog post of one of my colleagues, Carolina Orton-Gillingham, here on how to set up an Orton lesson for a virtual tutoring lesson. All parts of an Orton Gillingham lesson can be done virtually and with multisensory strategies. Carolina Orton-Gillingham explains all the components you will need to make your virtual lesson complete!

Would you like to learn more about becoming an Orton Gillingham tutor? Check out quality trainings here. I hope that you will follow my blog and read my next post about other important parts of an Orton Gillingham lesson.

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