The Big Five: Phonics – Developing Orthographic Mapping



The Big Five_ Phonics - Developing Orthographic Mapping Part 9


“Students are more likely to read words they have learned to spell than to spell words they have learned to read.” David Kilpatrick from his book ”Essentials of Assessing, Preventing and Overcoming Reading Difficulties.


My previous blog dealt with explaining the process of orthographic mapping and how it works to turn unfamiliar words into sight words, that is, words that are recognized instantly. You may be wondering how you can do that with your child, a child you are tutoring, or a student you are working with in a school situation. Today, I will share just a few examples of ways that I promote orthographic mapping skills with my students, but for a full list of ideas I highly recommend you obtain yourself a copy of David Kilpatrick’s book “Equipped for Reading Success.” Appendix D entitled “Activities That Promote Mapping Through Word Study,” which can be found on page 246 of his book, lists them all. Here are just a few of my favorites, plus a smattering of additional resources.


1. Mapping Vocabulary. I don’t shy away from using the technical terms to describe the different parts of a word that a student will encounter; such as syllable, onset and rime, phoneme, blend, digraph, trigraph, and so on. Sometimes students with working memory issues have problems remembering such terms, or muddle them, so resources like this one, from this Reading mama, might be very helpful. 


2. Phoneme to grapheme mapping. This was already mentioned in my previous blog where I took you through the steps I use. I would also like to share here Lynn Given’s ideas and activities for phoneme grapheme mapping. I am very grateful to Lynn for providing a free visual and explanation of how she uses phoneme grapheme mapping with her students. For more information about phonemic awareness and related activities, I encourage you to watch the free webinar produced by Lynn Givens on the Orton-Gillingham Online Academy website. Phonemic awareness skills are a prerequisite for successful orthographic mapping skills and activities such as phoneme grapheme mapping. 


3. Backward Decoding. When my students are familiar with the concept of an onset and a rime, we decode words starting from the rime. After they can tell me that, I ask them for the onset. This really makes them study the word, rather than guess it.


4. Reading a Sentence Backwards. Also known as the Reversed Sentence Reading Technique. I ask the student to read a sentence from the last word to the first word. This stops a student guessing words by using the context to figure them out. It is a particularly great technique for compensating readers. 


5. Reading Nonsense Words. Nonsense words are useful because the student has to know well the individual letter-sound relationships and the many common letter patterns in the English language, in order to read them successfully and quickly. When using nonsense words, you can easily see if a student is struggling with a particular letter-sound relationship, or a particular letter pattern such as a vowel-consonant-e syllable. David Kilpatrick has a whole section of nonsense words in his book “Equipped for Reading Success.” The Orton-Gillingham Online Academy provide nonsense words in the word lists for reading and spelling in their Orton-Gillingham Practitioner’s Notebook. The notebook is also included with their Orton-Gillingham Basic Language Course (Level 1) which is part of their online training suite. A quick search of the internet will provide you with many lists. Here is a very nice example from this Reading mama. 


6. Mapping Irregular Words. First let me define an irregular word: It is a word that cannot be easily decoded, because the sounds of the letters are unique to that word, or only found in a few words. Even when teaching irregular words, I always point out the regular parts to a word to a student. I then discuss the irregular part or parts of the word. A wonderful and very visual way of teaching the regular and irregular parts of irregular words is through the use of See to Spell cards. This collection also includes some high frequency regular words. I define those as common words for which the student has not yet learned the letter-sound correspondences. I only use my collection to teach irregular words. I love the way this program emphasizes the irregular parts of these words using faces and pictures, and generally leaves the regular letters without imagery. This has been very helpful for my students. 


My next blog will continue with a focus on phonics, as I look at syllable types, which further aids word study and orthographic mapping. 


Sources for Additional Reading and Watching:

1. Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties by David A. Kilpatrick 

2. Equipped for Reading Success by David A. Kilpatrick, Ph.D

3. Webinar: Recent Advances in Understanding Word-Level Reading Problems: Implications for Assessment and Effective Intervention by David Kilpatrick.




Lorna Wooldridge is a dyslexia specialist tutor with over twenty-five years of experience and qualifications in the field of learning differences, from both the UK and USA. Lorna has a unique perspective on this condition as she has dyslexia, and her passion is to serve this community in any way she can.

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