Preparing young learners for reading & writing success in English - UNOi Internacional
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Preparing young learners for reading & writing success in English

by Elaine Gallagher, Ph.D   Let’s begin with what I mean by «success». «Success» means that a child can exhibit reading and writing skills, uses critical thinking, and truly enjoys reading and writing. Ever since the 1920’s and 30’s when Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuro-psychiatrist, at the University of Iowa (USA), noticed that many of […]

Autor: UNOi

Fecha: 18 de mayo de 2015

Elaine Gallagher 11 cegby Elaine Gallagher, Ph.D


Let’s begin with what I mean by «success».

«Success» means that a child can exhibit reading and writing skills, uses critical thinking, and truly enjoys reading and writing.

Ever since the 1920’s and 30’s when Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuro-psychiatrist, at the University of Iowa (USA), noticed that many of his young patients had problems with language that were similar to symptoms of patients with certain kinds of traumatic brain injury, educators have been aware of a neurological connection to language problems. Orton’s fundamental conjecture that dyslexia (although he did not use that word) was neurological in nature is now widely accepted, and has been proven by various brain studies research, such as at Lake Forest University, USA..

In addition to investigating the physiological causes of language difficulties in children, Dr. Orton developed theories on how dyslexics should be taught. A teacher, Anna Gillingham, began to use Orton’s methods and saw almost miraculous improvement in her students’ academic, social, and emotional development.  Anna Gillingham wrote books, manuals, prepared teaching materials, and trained other teachers and researchers.

The Orton-Gillingham methods are based on a multisensory, structured, phonics approach. Results with students have been phenomenal.  Dr. Orton, discovered that babies, who had skipped crawling, proceeding straight to walking, missed a physical step in their growth, and later exhibit language or reading problems.

Anna Gillingham, working with children of 8 – 12 years old exhibiting severe dyslexia, had them play games where they would crawl through play tunnels, walk on balance beams, jump, skip rope, re-enacting basic physiological movements that a child much younger might have done.  Gillingham combined a multisensory approach with physical skills development, and added those activities to a strong phonetic approach to teaching language.

While there is no such thing as a “cure” for dyslexia, 15% of humans have the biological tendency for dyslexia, Gillingham and Orton proved with 1000’s of children over 40 years, that the obvious symptoms of dyslexia could be completely avoided if all children were taught with a highly kinesthetic, multi-sense approach. Since students don’t arrive at Kindergarten identified as one of those 15% of humans exhibiting dyslexia, Dr. Orton and Anna Gillingham strongly supported that every child have high-quality sensory activities beginning in pre-school, such as crawling games, running, jumping, calisthenics, making letters with their bodies, and a wide variety of other physical/sensory activities.

Theories in practice today, from using four modes in teachers’ lessons, including visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile activities daily, to utilizing work that enhances the students’ abilities, such as Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, to Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive growth, are connected to the pioneer work of Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham.

If we intend to provide all children with the best possible early childhood experiences, allowing each child to progress to his/her potential, it is essential that we recognize and utilize Orton’s and Gillingham’s work, as well as Dr. Jean Piaget’s studies. Piaget stressed, in his theory of four developmental stages of human growth, that children are not biologically ready for some activities, such as reading/writing, at an early age. He suggested that approximately seven years of age (first grade) is the best time to begin to read and write.

Finland, for example, which has consistently been #1, out of 70 countries, in international PISA exams for 15-year old students, begins teaching reading/writing at age seven.  Prior to that, all Finnish schools concentrate on the child’s physical, emotional, tactile, artistic, musical, and social development.

What type of activities provide the development a child needs in order to be READY for the fine motor skills work necessary for academic school success?

Many activities are ones teachers already know.  It is NOT that our educators don’t know about these activities; it is that they do not realize the IMPORTANCE of concentrating on a multi-sensory approach in pre-school and beyond in order to provide all of our children an equal opportunity for success.

Pushing children to read and write at younger and younger ages results in children who are “burned-out” by 2nd or 3rd grade, when it is obvious to see that the once-eager-to-learn child has become passive, less eager, and even frustrated. What’s the rush to read and write?  They aren’t going out on the job market at 8 years of age. By providing children with a wide variety of multi-sensory activities, we are permitting that child to begin 1st grade with a firm base of success, physical/mental development, and a strong sense of self.  “I can do it!”

The same way a building needs an excellently-constructed foundation so it will withstand earth tremors, so our children deserve a strong base to prevent the “school tremors” that inevitably will come their way.


  1. The usual physical ones for gross motor skills:
    • Running, relay races, kick-the ball (like baseball, with bases, but kids kick a big ball instead of hitting it with a bat)
    • Tag (the one who is “IT”, runs to touch someone else, and the touched one becomes IT)
    • Hopscotch, walking a balance beam, jumping rope
    • Playing with trucks, sand box, a huge doll house (child size), swimming (in real water or with physical movements of their bodies)
  1. Games & music
  • “Simon says”, “The Farmer in the Dell”, “London Bridge is Falling Down”, “The Hokey Pokey”
  • Dancing in rhythm with the CD being played: slow movements to slow music, fast with fast, etc.
  • Ballet, jazz, and tap dancing experiences
  • Singing…any songs so children get the rhythm in their brains and their bodies exhibit it.
  1. Pre- readiness skills practice
  • Reading aloud to the children daily, with the students repeating a refrain, or acting out scenes after they have heard the same story several times
  • Students telling stories, show & tell
  • Students gluing pictures of words that they are learning as a vocabulary (NOT writing the word). For example, the Teacher can have 5 new words to discuss and show, such as “blue.” The child will try to find something “blue” in a magazine, cut or rip it out, and glue it on a paper.  Same with “dog”…most kids know these vocabulary words if they are English speakers in the home; but if not, they are building an oral vocabulary with a sensory approach.
  • Making letters with their bodies (individually or as a team) An “A” the kids can form with 2 or 3 team members.
  • Making a 3-dimensional/mosaic letter. The teacher can make a big letter for each child on a piece of colored paper, such as an “M.” The students can use pieces of a variety colored paper that they have torn into small pieces (good use for scrap paper).  Then they glue the mosaics onto the letter the teacher has given them.  This could be repeated week by week until they complete the alphabet.  The objective is NOT that the children be able to read or write the letters (although some may be able to). The goal is that the kids are using motor skills to develop the basis for writing in first grade.
  • Coloring/ drawing pictures with fat crayons.
  • Making letters of the alphabet in sand. The teacher will have trays with about 2 inches deep of sand. Teacher will show a letter, like an A, and the students will attempt to form the letter by tracing in the sand.
  • Word Wizard: The teacher or a student is the WIZARD, who wants to know the other students’ names.  The children “write” their name in the air with body movements, and the WIZARD has to correctly guess the name. Then a new child is the Wizard.
  • TALKING by the student is necessary. The students should talk more than the teacher!!! Talking to each other, to the teacher, in front of the group….all give the children a sense of accomplishment, reduce the fear element of speaking, and allow them to feel capable because they are developing strong ORAL skills, which, we all know as educators, is the precursor to reading and writing

It is obvious that teachers have a huge repertoire of similar activities to these given above.  If they can vary activities for the child, transitioning smoothly though various auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic activities DAILY, (more doing than sitting), we will see a great difference in the preparation/readiness level of our children entering 1st grade.



  1. A step-by-step Orton-Gillingham training session, see the book, School Success for Students with Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties. by Dr. Walter E. Dunson.
  1. The Gillingham Manual: Remedial Training for Students with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship… by Anna Gillingham

(Republished: Aug 1, 2014) AMAZON.CO

  1. Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, Third EditionJun 20, 2011