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Structured Literacy, OG, and Multisensory Learning...OH MY!

By: Rachael Crawford

When working with students with dyslexia, the terms Structured Literacy, Orton-Gillingham (OG), and Multisensory Learning (MSL) are always used. They indicate an approach to teaching, but can be used interchangeably as they all have the same goal in mind. These approaches are explicit and systematic and prepare students for decoding words. They are highly effective for students with dyslexia, as well as, any struggling reader.

What is an Effective Reading Instruction?

Many states still use an approach such as Balanced Literacy or Guided Reading to teach reading curriculums. These approaches focus on exposure to leveled texts and the use of semantics and syntax to read. Phonics, decoding, and spelling are not explicitly taught and many children rely on "clues" from the story to help them make meaning and connections. According to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, 44% of students in 4th grade were "below basic" for reading nationwide. This raises huge concerns for what effective reading should look like. Structured Literacy is a term that was adopted by the International Dyslexia Association to refer to teaching approaches (such as OG and MSL) that follow the Science of Reading. This approach provides the principles for how to teach and the elements of what should be taught.

Teaching Approach to Structured Literacy

A Structured Literacy approach is one that is systematic, explicit, multisensory, cumulative, and diagnostic.


Systematic instruction follows a scope and sequence, progressing from simpler concepts to more complex ones


Explicit instruction encompasses many aspects. It is a way of providing clear and concise instruction that utilizes a multisensory approach in the areas of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile senses. New concepts are modeled and students apply new concepts while receiving guidance and feedback.


New concepts are introduced while building upon review of previously taught concepts.


Teaching for each child is prescriptive with decisions being made from formal assessments and progress monitoring.

Learning Approach to Structured Literacy

Structured Literacy works on learning phonology, sound-symbol association, syllables, morphology, syntax, and semantics.


The sound structure to spoken words. Students are taught how to distinguish and manipulate sounds in spoken words.

Sound-Symbol Association

The alphabetic knowledge. Students are taught to associate phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letters).


Syllable understanding is used to teach students vowel sounds and spelling, as well as decoding unfamiliar words


Morphemes are the smallest unit of meaning in a word. Students are taught morphology to determine the meaning of complex words.


The structure of a sentence. Students are taught grammar, sentence structure, and the proper use of language.


The meaning gained from words or sentences. Students are taught comprehension strategies to make meaning of text.

Structured Literacy for the Future

Structured Literacy is beginning to make headlines as an effective reading approach for struggling readers. It explicitly teaches students how to decode and make meaning of words, a concept our brain was not naturally designed to do. Curriculum changes, along with new district and state mandates takes time, so it is expected that we will continue to hear Balanced Literacy in our classrooms. But, what can we do in the meantime to support our students?


The most important thing we need to do is advocate for our students. Raise awareness about dyslexia, present research to the school districts, or just simply bringing the conversation to life is all a start.

Build Phonological Awareness

Building Phonological Awareness can be added into everyday life. It is essentially sound play that can be completed quickly. This includes having students determine syllables, rhymes, and manipulating sounds in words.

Work With A Highly Qualified Professional

There are many highly qualified professionals who can offer outside assistance with reading, writing, and spelling using a Structured Literacy approach. It is important to remember that Structured Literacy is an umbrella term for a teaching approach. Under it falls many accredited programs that can be taught by a trained teacher, tutor, or therapist.


(2021). What Is Structured Literacy? International Dyslexia Association.

(2019). NAEP Report Card: Reading. The National Assessment of Educational Progress.

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