The best way to catch up a struggling reader

Reading Does Not Come Easily to all Children…

Kids can slip behind in school for a variety of reasons, leaving children feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even self-labeling as a “bad reader.” Learning differences like dyslexia, processing issues, ADD, and more play a role in a child’s development as well. A child might be in 4th grade without mastering phonetic concepts from 1st grade, which inherently impacts their learning. Sometimes, and rightfully so, the English language flat out does not make sense to a child. So I learn the letter y makes the “y-uh” sound but when it’s at the end of a word it can say a, e, or i? Huh?! No wonder! Reading and writing are confusing and tough with so many contradicting rules. 

Not only can struggles in reading affect the child but the parents and teachers.

Adults also can feel frustrated and confused about why concepts just “won’t stick,” how to help their child emotionally, and feel hopeless that their child might hate reading forever. 

As an educator for seven years, there is no one magic pill for reading success. Some kids can come into the first grade reading Harry Potter and having fully mastered the English language. Others have no idea what a letter is, much less the sound it makes. Teachers see everything in their classrooms and while they teach one grade level, sometimes (especially K-2) it can feel like a one-roomed schoolhouse.

However, if there is one program I stand behind to catch children up to speed with the phonetics of reading and spelling, it is the Orton-Gillingham approach. 

Orton-Gillingham or “OG” is a multi-sensory approach to reading. This means the program appeals to all of a child’s senses-they see the letters, they say the letters, they write the letters (often in something fun like sand or shaving cream), and they hear the letters. OG is also repetitive-it is a routine that kids get used to and know. The routine, or “Three-Part Drill” as some OG trainings call it, stays predominately the same throughout the course of whole-class teaching or one on one tutoring sessions. Children review sounds they have previously learned and mastered, then learn a new sound that they will also review the next session. 

Orton-Gillingham is also extremely helpful to identify gaps. I’ve worked with 4th and 5th-grade children who are solid readers, but something is a little off. Through their assessment materials, OG has helped me identify crucial gaps in their learning-like not knowing the sound “o” makes. By finding these gaps and then filling them in through the OG approach kids can catch up to grade level and feel successful! 

Why Use the Orton-Gillingham Approach? Georgia Grey explains

The OG approach, in my eyes, is one of the best tools to break the reading code for children with learning differences.

Orton-Gillingham is repetitive and reviews concepts in a variety of ways for different learners. Children with ADD, ASD, processing issues or dyslexia need to see the various letters and sounds over, and over, and in a multitude of ways.   

Orton-Gillingham can get the reputation that it is solely for children with dyslexia. Orton-Gillingham, while fantastic for children with learning differences, is just as needed for all children in a whole classroom setting.

In one Colorado classroom study from 2014-2018, by using the OG approach, the total population of at-risk readers dropped from 40% to 28%.*

Further, children who are behind in younger grades (K-2) tend to fall more and more behind as they progress in their academic careers. 

OG is a wonderful approach to help breakdown the English language.

However, it is not the only thing that will make a strong reader.

OG does not cover reading comprehension skills or necessarily conveys a love of reading to a child. However, once children can “graduate” from the program and catch up to speed, they can then start to work on other reading skills, such as fluency or comprehension. 

Reading is not just decoding. This is why in an hour tutoring session with a struggling reader I do 30-40 minutes of the OG approach and then spend the remainder of the time (always depending on the child of course) actually reading. The only way to become a better reader is to read! Kids need the broken down phonetic practice that OG offers as well as actual practice with a text. 

Why Use the Orton-Gillingham Approach? Georgia Grey explains

As I mentioned, there is no one way to teach reading. Learning to read and spell is a process that takes a copious amount of different skills, strategies, and resources. We all want our children to fall in love with reading, but what child is going to love reading when trying to read a grade level book feels like a different language to them? By equipping kids with the decoding skills that OG does, kids can then translate that knowledge into their books, and start to enjoy what’s on the page-not feel frustrated. 

I used to tell parents in my first-grade classroom that reading is like learning to walk-it might take some kids longer to learn how to crawl, but eventually, they got there and started walking. It’s the same with reading, it might take some kids a little bit longer, but that does not mean they are any less smart than their peers. When we can lift children up and set them up for success to love reading, that’s the best benchmark of all. 

Living in Denver and want your child to work with Georgia?

Georgia Grey is a former teacher and current tutor. She runs her own Holistic Nutrition business, WBH Nutrition Co. where she helps others heal through food. Georgia uses her nutritional knowledge to help the children and families she tutors. You can learn more about Georgia and her business by visiting



*Note: I have no affiliation (besides a certification) with Orton-Gillingham nor are they sponsoring this post.