This summer I attended the Orton-Gillingham 30-hour Comprehensive training to kickstart my new role as a reading interventionist. I felt like I needed a more structured method for teaching phonics and word study to our struggling readers and I have truly used the strategies daily in all of my intervention groups and in my second grade class this year. A frustration I had with our school’s word study program, Words Their Way, was that it didn’t seem to reach our struggling readers and English Language Learners in the way it helped students who were on grade level. Travelling to more classrooms this year, I have seen kids from my old classes repeating sorts and studying patterns they have done at least twice before.
The Orton-Gillingham methodology was designed originally for students with dyslexia but it is an excellent source of review and practice for all readers. It introduces students to patterns one at a time, instead of jumping right into comparisons as many Words Their Way sorts do. This means that instead of studying the long vowel patterns of “a” by sorting words with a_e, ai, and ay, students deal with one of these patterns at a time. They are exposed to and practice many more words of that pattern type before moving on to another spelling sort. I have been excited this year to try to combine both programs in order to meet all students’ word study needs.
To start the year, I administered the Primary Spelling Inventory from the Words Their Way book to all students. This gives a clear indication of a student’s mastery of spelling beginning and ending sounds, short vowels, long vowels, abstract vowels and even spelling rule endings. Once I had placed students into four different spelling groups I looked at the Orton-Gillingham text Recipe for Reading to see what order in which to begin instruction. I then began making spelling sorts based on the word lists in Recipe to use alongside Words Their Way sorts in my five day spelling practice cycle. Some groups have been using Words Their Way sorts predominantly, but I have begun to add in my hand-made sorts as well to offer additional practice.
For my lower groups especially I use a combination of both ready-made sorts from the Words Their Way Letter Name and Within Word workbooks alongside sorts I made from the Orton-Gillingham lists. For example, if a group was to study long vowel “a” I began by using a Words Their Way sort that compared short “a” words to long “a” words with the sneaky “e” pattern. Then, moved to two weeks of Orton-Gillingham sorts with “ai” and then “ay” patterns. Then I went back to the Words Their Way book to find a sort that included words from all patterns studied to check for mastery on the concept. In this way, I could provide additional practice and time for students who needed to see the patterns more than once to make sense of the idea.
I have made my sorts available in a Teachers Pay Teachers store if you’d like to give the idea a try. The sorts can be used in isolation as a word study program or in conjunction with either Orton Gillingham and Words Their Way. I encourage you to think about how we can help our students to extend their understanding of these patterns beyond a one week study and to actually use them in their daily writing. For me, the key is repetition and exposure.