skip to Main Content

Orthographic Mapping: The Key To Learning Sight Words

Have you ever found yourself asking, “Why does my child have so much difficulty learning sight words ?” or, “Why does my child read the word correctly on one page and then read it incorrectly on the next?”  The answer may lie in what is known as orthographic mapping.  Orthographic mapping explains how we learn to read words by sight, spell words from memory, and acquire vocabulary from print.   According to Dr. Linnea Ehri, the orthographic mapping process determines how quickly a student’s sight vocabulary grows.  This process is critical to reading fluency and comprehension, it determines how we map sounds (phonemes) onto letters (graphemes).  

Sight vocabularies are the pool of words we immediately recognize from our permanent memory. They affect reading fluency, which then affects reading comprehension. The word orthography comes from the Greek word “orthos” which means straight and “graphos” which means writing. Therefore, orthography means straight writing, it is the memory for the correct way to write  words.  It is  a memory of the precise letter order in words.  It allows one to instantly remember the sequence of letters well enough to instantly trigger the word without sounding it out or guessing.  Remember, writing was invented to make speech visible.  Students will understand that specific letter sequences are meaningful because letter order represents speech sounds in spoken words.  In the English language 59% of words follow precise letter sequences of spoken speech and an additional 36% can be spelled out correctly except for one speech sound, which is usually a vowel sound.  These letter sequences can be anchored into permanent memory if the student is aware of the stored phoneme sequence in a spoken word. The student will instantly make a connection between the letter and the sound sequences.  This is orthographic mapping, how words are permanently stored in memory, by the connection between the string of spoken sounds in a word’s pronunciation with the letter order in the written word.  When children do not recognize the meaning of the letter strings that make up a word, recognition becomes effortful and storage of the word in permanent memory becomes difficult.  

How is orthographic mapping accomplished? According to Ehri (2014), this process develops in overlapping phases and changes as the child learns more complex skills. These phases include letter knowledge, complete connections between letters and sounds, segmenting pronunciations into phonemes, reading words by analogies, and understanding that pronunciations are unitized into larger spelling patterns that recur in many words.  It is critical to understand that these phases become automatic, not a sound out process.  Orthographic mapping is the instantaneous recognition of a word. This process does not focus on one or two letters at a time, it is the immediate recognition of a word. All letters of the word are processed at once and are seen with a glance of the eye.  It is a spoken sound to letter process, it turns unfamiliar printed words into familiar words.  

The three areas of reading that students must become proficient in order to access the orthographic mapping process are: Phoneme awareness, which is the automatic access to sounds in spoken words and letter sound skills, which is the pairing of letters to sounds.  The third area of reading is word study, which is the unconscious and unconscious connections of phonemes in spoken words or letters in written words. Word study is not possible if your child is not proficient in phoneme awareness and letter sound skills.  Word study is the link in the process that attaches the letter to the sound and stores it in permanent memory.  

 If your child is struggling with instantly recognizing words, they probably have a weakness in one or all of these areas.  It is critical that your  child’s skills, in these areas, become  automatic.     It is these word study skills that grow vocabularies.  Also, if your child has begun to read silently, on their own, it is important to teach them to pronounce new words aloud while reading.  Often, struggling readers skip over new words and infer their meanings.  This strategy will help your child to connect the letters to sounds and retain the word’s spelling, pronunciation, and meaning into memory.  Reading science reveals that when students learn new vocabulary, they should hear the words aloud, say the word, and be exposed to the word’s proper spelling.  These strategies enhance vocabulary learning and will help store the word in memory. 

Ehri, L. C. (2014) Orthographic Mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling, memory, and vocabulary learning.  Scientific Studied of Reading, 18 (1), 5-21.             

Back To Top

Patient Reviews

LLA Therapy

Patient Reviews

Crystal Scheibe

Great place, glad we found them. Been going to Medina over 2 months now and he loves Lauryn and Kyler. Wish they had more ABA therapy places available... live in Wooster and long drive everyday.

Karrie Swan LaRock

My 11 year old son has dyslexia and has made noticeable gains in working At LLA THERAPY. Katie is strong in her approach toward him and also keeps him comfortable enough to perform well. We will continue visiting both the Fairlawn and Hudson offices and recommend them highly.

Ron Monroe

My 9 year old just completed about 9 months of weekly speech sessions (due to his stuttering) with Matt Hagge at LLA and we are thrilled with the experience and results. What I thought might be a negative (what kid really wants to go to speech class?) was made very positive by Matt, and my son never hesitated or complained when we talked about class. He really enjoyed it and really took what Matt taught him to heart. His speech has been greatly improved and we definitely recommend LLA. Thank you so much!

Heather Dougherty-Pantoja

My son’s Occupational Therapist, Jess, is an amazing OT! She gives practical tips on working with my son at home and school!

Terri Apgar

I cannot say enough good things about LLA Therapy. My daughter was a client of Teal Simmons’ for approximately 2 years and was just released from speech therapy! She was diagnosed with Apraxia in 2015 and worked with Teal twice a week. Through Teal’s application of PROMPT therapy, my daughter had age-appropriate speech after one year. All of the staff we interacted with at LLA were absolutely wonderful. They really care about what they do and making sure your child achieves their goals.

Kelli Geisler Davisson

LLA Therapy has been an excellent experience for my son as well as my family! My son always asks, "When can I go see Ms. Jeannine again, is it Monday??" He has also made huge gains in only 5 months! I would highly recommend LLA and have already shared my experience with friends looking for services!

Victoria Hansford-Price

We are so grateful for our Speech Therapist Ms.Teal. We have seen a great improvement with our sons confidence and communication abilities since we have started "Prompt" therapy. What we love the most about LLA and Ms. Teal is that Kohl feels comfortable and relaxed which has played a critical role in his progress. Thank you Ms. Teal for all you have done.

Laura Lee Hogsett

They have helped in numerous ways. Speech, OT and behavioral. I've had numerous compliments on my son's progress thanks in very large part to LLA. I would recommend LLA before I recommend our local children's hospitals, though they are good, they don't have the staff that LLA does.

Amy Furukawa

We had a great experience with Matt Hagge at LLA! Our Middle School age son was becoming very conscious of his voice, which is nasal due to a cleft palate. Matt helped him to better form his sounds and project his voice in a way that makes the unavoidable nasality less noticeable.Our son is more confident and outgoing & even took on a speaking role in the church play. Matt has the perfect personality to relate with our son, and we would recommend him to anyone needing speech therapy services!

Jessica Havalotti

LLA Therapy has been an excellent experience for our daughter. I would highly recommend LLA. Miss Grace was so amazing and I can't believe how quickly our daughter showed improvement. Thank you!
Read More