Orton Gillingham for All

It’s a Fact — Consonants

Today, I want to give you a few facts about consonants.

  • 21 Consonants are: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z
  • Consonants never say their name (except in words like x-ray).
  • Most consonants have one sound.
  • Five consonants have more than one sound: c, g, s, x, n
  • The letter r does not say “er.” It sounds more like a barking dog – “rhhh.”
  • The letter q is ALWAYS followed by a u in English words. They make the sound “kw” as in queen.
  • The letter x makes three sounds:
    “ks” as in Box
    “gz” as in Exit
    “z” as in Xylophone
  • No English words end in the letters v or j.
  • V is always followed by e. For example: active, believe
  • -ge and -dge are used for “j” at the end of a word. For example: ridge, engage
  • Consonant blends are two or three consonants which blend together: shrill, fast, lamp
  • Digraphs are two consonants representing as single sound: shout, thimble, chest

Phonemic Awareness: Speaking of Individuality

What’s the importance of phonemic awareness and what exactly does that mean? First, phonics and phonemic awareness is not the same thing. Phonics is the understanding of the relationship of letters and sounds in WRITTEN language. Phonemic awareness is understanding the sounds of language working together in SPOKEN language to make words.

According to the National Institute for Literacy, Putting Reading First, Kindergarten Through Grade 3, “If children are to benefit from phonics instruction, they need phonemic awareness.” The document goes on to say, “The reasons are obvious: children who cannot hear and work with the phonemes of spoken words will have a difficult time learning how to relate these phonemes to graphemes when they see them in written words.”

What that says to me, is that children need to be able to hear language as much as see language and even “feel” language by tapping the letters on one hand while saying the sounds, tracing in the air, on paper, in sand, underlining the word while they repeat it, and any other creative way teachers have come up with to implement the kinetic part of OG.

Phonemic awareness is a subcategory of phonological awareness, they are not interchangeable. Phonological awareness is broad, encompassing many different parts of spoken language. Phonemic awareness is narrow, boiled down to just identifying and manipulating individual sounds in words.

So, how do we put into use phonemic awareness?

Phonemic awareness is divided into categories to be taught.

Phoneme isolation

Recognition of individual sounds in a word.

Teacher says, “What is the first sound in van?”

Children: “The first sound in van is /v/.”

Phoneme identity

Recognition of the same sounds in different words.

Teacher says, “What sound is the same in fix, fall and fun?”

Children: “The first sound, /f/, is the same.”

Phoneme categorization

Recognition of a word in a set of three or four words that has the “odd” sound.

Teacher: “Which word does not belong? Bud, bun, rug.”

Children: “Rug does not belong. It does not begin with /b/.”

Phoneme Blending

Students listen to a sequence of separately spoken phonemes, and then combine the phonemes to form a word. Then they write and read the word.

Teacher: “What word is /b/ /i/ /g/?”

Children: “/b/ /i/ /g/ is big.”

Teacher: “Now let’s write the sounds in big. /b/ write b, /i/ write I, /g/ write g.”

Teacher: (Writes big on the board.). “Now we are going to read the word big.”

Phoneme segmentation

Break a word into separate sounds, saying each sound and tapping out or counting it. Then write and read the word.

Teacher: “How many sounds are in grab?”

Children: “/g/ /r/ /a/ /b/. Four sounds.”

Teacher: “Now let’s write the sounds in grab: /g/, write g, /r/, write r, /a/, write a, /b/ write b.

Teacher: (Writes grab on the board.) “Now we are going to read the word grab.”

Phoneme deletion

Recognize the word that remains when a phoneme is removed from another word.

Teacher: “What is smile without the /s/?

Children: “Smile without the /s/ is mile.”

Phoneme addition

Make a new word by adding a phoneme to an existing word.

Teacher: “What word do you have if you add /s/ to the beginning of park?”

Children: “Spark.”

Phoneme substitution

Substitute one phoneme for another to make a new word.

Teacher: “The word is bug. Change /g/ to /n/. What’s the new word?”

Children: “Bun.”


Keep in mind when taking in this information, where I said Phonemic Awareness is just one, narrow portion of Phonetic Awareness. The skills I am presenting here are important for the identifying and manipulating the individual sounds of words, not the whole kit and caboodle. But, isolating phonemic awareness is important in the overall of see, hear, feel approach. Once students get it that these little letters make up words then moving on to bigger words is much easier.

According to the Institute for Literacy, phonemic awareness is best taught in small groups, as opposed to large groups or individually, because students can benefit from listening to the exchange between peers and the instructor.

Let me know if you have questions or if you have anything to add to what I said here. Are you a teacher who has any creative ways that you work with kids on Phonemic Awareness?


Here is a list of terms for this post. It is straight from my source listed below.

phonemic awareness terms




The information in this post was taken from: National Institute for Literacy, Put Reading First, Kindergarten Through Grade 3, Third Edition. This was a publication I received in the Orton Gillingham course I took. I also have taken information from my notes from a class discussion.


Spelling Is Easier with Generalization Rules: OI/OY, OU/OW, AU/AW

In keeping with the past two posts on spelling consonant sounds and spelling vowel sounds, I am going to cover oi/oy, ou/ow, au/aw generalizations; when to use each to make their sounds. I mentioned these generalizations in my last post in a “Miscellaneous” category. Here I am going more in depth on when to use each letter combination.

It can look confusing at first glance to read what I am writing below. If you are not familiar, take your time looking at the rules. Then do the worksheets (or hand give them to a student). On all of these combinations, the dictation is as important as the worksheet. Knowing which combination to use to make the sound is great, but you also want to know how to spell the whole word.

OI/OY Generalization

Use oi at the beginning or in the middle of a word for the “oi” sound.

Use oy at the end of a word for the “oi” sound.

OI – beginning or middle of a word

Practice for reading: adenoids, anoint, boisterous, celluloid, coinage, devoid, embroider, exploit, thyroid, loiter, oilcloth, turmoil, embroil

Practice for spelling: avoid, boil, choice, coil, hoist, join, joint, moist, moisture, noise, noisy, oil, ointment, point, poison, rejoice, soil, spoil, toil, void, broil, coin, groin, loin, toilet, goiter, voice, foist, poise, foil

OY – at the end of a word

Practice for reading: alloy, cloy, corduroy, coy, deploy, Savoy, Troy, viceroy

Practice for spelling: annoy, boy, decoy, employ, enjoy, joy, soy, toy

Common Exceptions in a sentence for remembering: the Loyal Royal Oyster took a Voyage

Other, less common, examples: arroyo (a big ditch in the desert), boycott, Boyd, clairvoyant, flamboyant, gargoyle, Lloyd

Here are worksheets for practicing the “oi” sound. Be sure to not only do the fill in the blanks. Dictation is important for learning to spell the whole word.

oi oy dict oi oy

OU/OW Generalization

Use ou at the beginning or in the middle of a word for the “ou” sound.

Use ow at the end of a word for the “ou” sound.

If a single l, n, el, or er follows the “ou” sound at the end of a word, use ow.

See examples below in spelling practice.

OU – at the beginning or the middle of the word

Reading practice: blouse, crouch, pounce, shroud, slouch, sprout, stout, trousers

Spelling practice: around, bounce, count, flour, found, ground, house, loud, mouse, mouth, ounce, out, scout, shout, sound, sour

Exception: foul (bad)

OW – at the end of a word for the sound

Reading & Spelling practice: allow, brow, cow, how, now, plow
Spelling practice

N: brown, clown, down, drown, frown, gown, town
L: fowl (bird), howl, growl, prowl, scowl
EL: towel, trowel, vowel
ER: flower (plant), tower

Exceptions: coward, crowd, chowder, powder

Here is a sentence to help remember the exceptions to this spelling rule:
The coward put foul powder in the crowd’s chowder.

Here is a worksheet on OU/OW Generalization. Be sure to also do the dictation sheet so that the entire word is learned rather than just what to insert.

ou ow  ou ow dict

AU/AW Generalization

Use au at the beginning or in the middle of a word for the “ô” sound.
Use aw at the end of a word for the “ô” sound.
If a single l, n, or k follows the “ô” sound at the end of the word, use aw.

AUat the beginning or the middle of a word for the sound

Reading practice: audition, cauliflower, caustic, centaur, daub, daunt, fauna, fraudulent, laudatory, laureate, laurel, mausoleum, nautical, pauper, saunter, tarpaulin, taut

Spell practice: auction, August, applaud, author, auto, because, cause, faucet, fault, gaudy, gaunt, haunch, haunted, jaunt, launch, laundry, pause, sauce, saucer, sausage, vault

Exceptions: haul, Paul

AW – at the end of the word for the sound

Reading practice: coleslaw, craw, macaw, pawpaw, prawn, seesaw, taw

Spelling practice: claw, draw, flaw, draw, jaw, law, outlaw, paw, raw, saw, squaw, straw, thaw

L: awl, bawl (cry), brawl, crawl, scrawl, shawl
K: hawk, squawk
N: dawn, drawn, fawn, lawn, pawn, spawn, yawn

Exceptions: lawyer, awe, awesome, awful, awkward, awning

Here is a worksheet and a dictation page on the usage of AU/AW. Be sure to do the dictation as well as the worksheet.

au awau aw dict


Spelling Vowel Sounds: What Music They Make

In my last post I talked about how to spell consonants. This week, we will cover how to spell vowels.

It is important to note that when I say “spell” consonants and vowels I am talking about how letters can make more than one sound. For example, a makes a long and short sound, as in make and tack. But to spell the letter a, we can use many combinations to make the long a sound. For example, the long a sound can be spelled using the letters ai, as in rain, train, brain.

The difference that comes out of this is, if someone asks, “What does the letter i say?” You would say, ĭ as in igloo, or ī as in pike. If someone asks, “How do you spell i?” You would say, “With the letters I and y, as in pick or gym.

Here are the vowel sounds and how to spell them.

Long Vowel  Sounds

ā – a, a-e (make), ai (rain), ea (steak), ei (feign), eigh (freight), ay (hay), ey (they)

ē – e, e-e (Pete), ea (eagle), ee (bee), ei (ceiling), ie(thief), ey (monkey), y (candy)

ī – i (hi), i_e (pike), y (cry), y_e (type), igh (light), ie (pie)

ō – o (po), o_e (pole), oa (boat), oe (toe), ow (snow)

Long U makes two sounds – yoo and oo

yoo – u, u_e (cute),ew (few), ue (rescue), eu (Europe) – Tip: for long u, deciding if the word is yoo or oo,  if a word begins with c, f, or m it will be yoo rather than oo sound – examples: cube, few, mew, fuel, muse, music.

oo – u, u_e (dune), ew (grew), ue (soup), oo (food), ou (soup), ui (fruit)

Short Vowel Sounds

ă – a (apple)

ĕ – e (med), ea (bread)

ĭ – i (igloo), y (gym)

ŏ – (odd)

ŭ – u (mud), o (oven, love, come, brother ), ou (touch, young, double, tough)

oo – oo (blood), u (tulip)

Misc. Sounds

oi – oi (foil), oy (oyster)

ou – ou (noun), ow (now)

ô – a (all), au (auto), aw (saw)

ә (schwa)  – a (above), e (legend), I (unicorn) o (cotton), u (fortune), y (syringe)

Here is an exercise on how to use this spelling vowel sounds concept.

spelling vowels

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How to Spell a Consonant Sound

Often in spelling and writing the letters and their pronunciations are considered, but what I had never experienced until working with OG is how to spell a letter sound. This post is on how to spell consonant sounds. Next week, I will cover spelling vowel sounds.

There are letters that make sounds, d says “d” (dog), and there are sounds made up of letters, the sound “sh” can be made using the letters sh (shout) or ch (chef). We call that how you “spell” a sound.

This can come in handy when teaching how to spell and read. Knowing that certain letters and letter combinations make certain sounds that may not look right at first, can make a word that is foreign suddenly make sense. Once it is realized that gh can say “f” in a word like laugh or cough, spelling these word groups doesn’t seem so hard.

Here is a list of each consonant and how to spell the sounds :
“h”           h (hip)
“j”             j (jump), g (e,I,y) (gem), -ge (rage), -dge (judge), du (educate)
“l”             l (liver)
“v”            v (violin)
“b”           b (best)
“m”         m (milk), -mb (comb), -mn (column)
“sh”         sh (shower), ch (chef)
“r”            r (rest), wr (wrench), rh (rhino)
“p”           p (pest)
“f”            f (fish), ph (phone), -lf (calf), -gh (laugh)
“sk”          sc (scoot), sk (skate)
“ks”          x (box)
“n”            n (nose), gn (gnome), kn (knife)
“ŧh”          th (thimble) unvoiced
“g”            g (glue), gh (ghost), gu (guitar)
“ch”         ch (church), tch (match), tu (picture)
“kw”         qu (queen) (qu together are considered a consonant in OG)
“s”            s (scar), c (cist – e,I,y, rule), sc (science), ps (psychic)
“gz           x (box)
“k”           c (cram), k (kick), ck (kick), ch (Christmas), lk (chalk), que (antique)
“ng”         n (think, thing)
“w”           w (wing)
“d”           d (dog), -ed (bogged)
“t”            t (tick), -ed (jumped)
“z”            z (zoo), s (was)
“hw”        wh (while)
“th”          th (mother) voiced
“y”            y (yes)


Get Mixed, Blends & Digraphs

In my last post of the VCCCV syllable division pattern, or Ostrich words, I talked about blends and digraphs, and I said I would make my next post on these concepts so that Ostrich words will make more sense. That was three Mondays ago – I was out of town in Florida visiting my mom for the past two weeks. Even though I had good intentions of posting, it didn’t happen. But, now I’m back and ready to talk about Blends and Digraphs.

First, let’s cover blends.

Blends are consonants that when put together we can hear the pronunciation of each letter sound. For example, BL is “b,” “l” as in BLack. Or LM, is “l,” “m” as in caLM. There are even three letter blends. An example is SPL, “s,” “p,” “l” as in SPLash.

Pronunciation of these blends is important when teaching or learning blends. According to the class I took, there is a tendency to mispronounce “r-blends” and “l-blends.” For example, if the blend tr is pronounced “ter,” the word train would sound like “ter rain” with two syllables.  There is a similar problem with “l-blends” if gl is pronounced as “gul” and you have a word like glee. It can sound like “gull y” with two syllables.

Because it can be difficult to pronounce the letters in blends together, Gillingham did not teach blends as blends. She taught them as consonants that are blended together so that each sound is heard. This is the purpose of starting in OG teaching and learning to pronounce each letter sound and make sure it is correctly pronounced. When blends are taught, the correct individual sounds are already known and it is easier to understand how blends are just combinations of the two consonant letter sounds.

In my class, they taught blends with both real and nonsense words. Our teacher said words out loud and we had to spell them. This taught us to listen carefully to what was being said.

Some blends can be used in both the initial and final positions of words and others are limited to one location within a word. Three-letter blends are harder to learn than two-letter blends. Initial blends are easier to learn than final blends. It is recommended to start with two letter initial blends and move on from there.


Digraphs are different than blends in that we do not hear each letter sound. A consonant digraph is two written letters that do not say their usual sounds. A student must learn the “new” sound that each digraph makes and that it is considered to be one sound.

A little ditty I learned in class was called “The H Brothers.” It is to help with learning digraphs. It is meant for younger children – I use it to tutor second graders and I would use it on older children if I thought it would help.

The H Brothers Story

Shelby was saving money to buy gifts for his brothers.

For Whitney he bought a whistle.

For Charles he bought a cherry red choo choo train.

For Phinneas he bought a phone.

For Thaddeus who was taking sewing in school, he bought a thimble.

Whitney enjoyed blowing his whistle.

Charles pushed his train around saying the three sounds for ch, “ch,” “k” “sh,” “ch,” “k,” “sh”

Phinneas got on his phone and called his friend Phil.

Thaddeus did not like his thimble, stuck his tongue out and said “thhhhhhhhh.”

What do you think Shelby said? “Shhhhhhhhhh.”

Digraphs and Key Words:

Ch                           Chair/Christmas/Chef    “ch”/”k”/”sh      The chair of the Christmas chef.

Gh                          laugh                                     “f”

Ph                           phone                                   “f”

Sh                           shoe                                      “sh”

Th                           mother/thimble               “th” (voiced)/”th” (unvoiced)

Wh                         whistle                                 “hw”

It is important to often re-tell the meaning of a digraph and blend to students. It can be a difficult concept to remember.

Here are two worksheets on blends and digraphs. One to read and one to do. There is a book called, “How to Teach Spelling” that is helpful in teaching this concept as well. Pages 16 and 17.

Bl Dig Sheet Bl Dig worksheet


We Sailed and Jumped into a Twisted -ED (the suffix)

Hearing letter sounds is a major key to learning to write and understand English. It can be confusing because many letters or letter combinations have more than one sound. Today I will go over one of the combinations – the suffix –ed.

The suffix –ed is used to represent past tense; plenty of even smaller children may realize this. What a person may not have given attention to is that –ed makes three different sounds.

A sentence to represent this  (and practice) is: He rented a boat, jumped in and sailed off.

Hear it? Rented — /ed/  (said like the name, Ed)

Jumped — /t/ (sounds like the sound of a “t”)

Sailed — /d/  (Sounds like a “d”)

Below are examples of words that have the three different sounds. It is good to dictate the words to students, have them write what you are saying, and be sure to have student read back what has been written.

-ed = /ed/           This sound comes after a t or d

Examples: melted, twisted, planted, rented, mended, printed, rusted, acted, blasted, sanded, punted, salted.

-ed = /d/             

Examples: grilled, banged, smiled, saved, shelled, drilled, spilled, yelled, changed, filmed, ganged

-ed = /t/

Examples: masked, jumped, fished, skipped, asked, camped, blocked, checked, kicked, dumped, honked, limped

More Advanced words: rowed (d), slipped (t), scrapped (t), smelled (d), stepped (t), snowed (d), turned (d), filled (d)

In class, we had a “bank” of words at the top of a worksheet and a “grid” under the word bank.  At the top of the grid were the –ed sounds. We were asked to put the words under the correct –ed sound. After we completed the assignment, we went over each word and the sound they made in class, as a discussion. You may be surprised at how people hear sounds differently!

For Example (our worksheet had many more):

Melted                                 Grilled                   Jumped                                                punted                 limped                  filmed

-ed = /ed/ -ed = /d/ -ed = /t/
melted grilled jumped
punted filmed limped

Say, “Wuh”? Pronouncing Sounds

There are times when pronouncing a consonant letter, people will say it like this:

For “m” someone might say, “muh” or “d,” “duh.” Actually, m says, “mmmm” and d says “d” (clipped, no uh on it).

The sounds of letters are the smallest unit of sound in the English language. They are called phonemes (pronounced: phō-nēms).

This is a good place to start with a child in OG. In class we made a deck to use. I use the deck by showing each card with a different consonant on it. I usually have this conversation, “Tell me what the letter says.”

I hold up “m” and they say, “That is an m.”

I say, “That is an m, what does the m say?”

“Oh!” They say, “M says, muh.”

“Sort of, but when we say muh it can get confusing when you listen to someone talking and they say something like, milk. Since people don’t say muh-ilk.”

“Ok! M says, “mmmm.”

“Great! What does this letter say, (s)?”…

I always start by asking a student the letter sounds, no matter the age. It’s a good indicator of where to start. If they know the letter sounds, we can move on quickly from there. If they stumble, then more review can be done.

Many letters make more than one sound, like c says “k” and “s.” There is also more than one sound for many letters and letter combinations. For example, there are six ways to make the sound “k” – c (cat), k (kite), ck (sack), ch (Christmas), -que (Antique), and lk (walk).  A vowel team combination example is: ea. It says, ē, ĕ, ā – key words: eagle, bread, steak.

For review: Letters are said in a more clipped way. D is not pronounced “duh,” it is “d.”

If making a deck, the front of the card would have the letter in bold, the back would have the sound and the key word. When showing the deck, if a student says the correct sound, move on.

Sample card:

Cons sound card 2 Consonant sounds card

If they stumble, tell them the sound and the key word.

Have them trace the letter while saying the sound. They can trace on the table or in the air. It is important that they say the sound out loud as the tracing is being done. Pull that card aside and do it again within the drill until it is said correctly.

There is more than one way to say some of the letters. Below is a list of the letters and the sounds that they make along with a key word. These can be used to make a deck.

m         “m”      Milk

s          “s”        Sun    “z”        Rose

f           “f”        Fish

b          “b”       Bat

h          “h”       Hat

j           “j”         Jam

k          “k”        Kite

p          “p”       Pan

t           “t”         Top

c          “k”        Cat                  “s”        City                (Cat in the city)

r           “r”        Ring

l           “l”         Lamp

n          “n”       Nose               “ng”     Think

g          “g”       Gum               “j”         Germy            (Gum that’s germy)

w         “w”       Wagon

d          “d”       Dog

v          “v”        Valentine

y          “y”        Yarn

z          “z”        Zebra

x          “gz”     Exit                 “ks”      Box                 (Exit from a box)

qu       “kw”     Queen

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Schwa Happens

In the English language there is an interesting sound that can come from any of the vowels – a, e, i, o, u, and y. The sound is called a schwa.

A schwa is represented in print with an upside-down e, like this: ә. The sound a schwa makes sounds like a short u (“ŭ” or “uh”).

Schwas are only found in multi-syllable words. Let me give an example. Cotton. You don’t say, cot-ton (where the o sounds like the word ton), you say, cotton (and the second o sounds like a short u). This is a schwa.

In the word, love, the o sounds like short u, but it is not a schwa because it is a one syllable word. Same with the word “was.” Not a schwa.

An “a” at the end of a word will always be a schwa. Examples: cola (cō lǝ), mocha, umbrella, pizza, Montana.

Here a few more examples of words with a schwa – there are many in the English language.

  • Serpent
  • Tomato
  • Velvet
  • Signal
  • Mental
  • Lemon
  • Denim
  • Above
  • Cadet
  • Pecan
  • Beside
  • Mitten
  • Napkin

English Words with “V” at the End

English words do not end in V. There will always be an E after the V. If you can hear the “v” sound at the end of an English word, it’s a safe bet to put the letter E after it.

The saying I was taught is: “No English words end in V, it will always be followed by an E.”














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