Introduction to Orthography
Orthography is a term that is often associated with visual memory and
spelling. Orthographic awareness is needed when trying to write. In the
process of writing, students have ideas and attempt to find printed words to
express these ideas. To accomplish this task, they need to visually reference
"word pictures" in their long-term memory. Once they have a picture in their
"mind's eye", they write it down. Within developmental ranges, students store
many words as they read, encounter them in the world or directly learn them.
Most of the time, students store correct images at a steady rate during the
early elementary years. If they misspell a word, editting will often help them
revise the word in their long-term memory so that next time they reference the
image, it is retrieved correctly.
Orthographic Processing Deficits
On occasion, the process of storing words does not occur easily or naturally
for children. This can be seen in writing samples or other spelling tasks.
Students with orthographic processing deficits often spell words incorrectly.
One key indicator is when a student spells the same word wrong, but with
different errors, within the same sample (e.g., "when" is misspelled as "wen"
and "whan". This suggests that each time they are attempting to spell the word
"when" they reference an image that is not stored or is not stored correctly.
As a result, the student guesses with the resources that they do have (e.g.,
phonics knowledge). This is when you see students with "inventive spelling".
Inventive spelling is fine in early elementary, but is often a sign of
problems as children progress beyond grade two or three.
Assessment of Orthographic Processing
Assessment of Orthographic Processing can be accomplished using a few tests.
One cognitive test that is used is the Process Assessment of the Learner
(PAL). Assessment should also include a spelling test and an analysis of
There are a number of spelling interventions for children with orthographic
processing difficulties. The Intervention Guide for the PAL offers some ideas
that are listed below. The first step to the process is to identify which
words will be targeted for intervention. One idea is to pull frequently
misspelled words from your child's writing samples. Keep a journal of errors
and see if some are "frequent flyers". These are great target words. As well,
weekly spelling lists can be target words. Word lists can also be used to
build orthographic awareness (e.g., Dolch Lists, Ohio Word List).
The following games are intended to be played for five to ten minutes at
a time. The following ideas are adapted from the Intervention Guide for
the Process Assessment of the Learner.
1. Matching Game – Create game sets by writing individual words on
3 x 5 index cards. Have students chose matching word pairs from a set of
visually similar words.
2. Searching Game – Create game sets by writing individual words
on 3 x 5 index cards. Have the student find the word in a set of
visually similar words that match the target word. As well, have the
student find the word in a set of visually similar words that contains a
target letter or letter cluster.
3. Whole Word Looking Game – Direct the student to look carefully
at the word as you sweep a finger under the word, left to right. Then
cover the word. Ask the student to spell the word orally from memory. If
the student’s spelling does not match the model, repeat the process. This
game can be played in a small group.
4. Letter in a Word Game – Direct the student to look carefully at
the word as you sweep a finger under the word, left to right. Then cover
the word and ask the student to name the letter in a designated position in
the word (e.g., What was the first letter? Third letter? Last letter?). If
the response is incorrect, repeat with a letter in a different position.
5. Letter Cluster in a Word Game - Direct the student to look
carefully at the word as you sweep a finger under the word, left to right. Then
cover the word and ask the student to name a letter group in designated
adjacent positions (e.g., What were the first and second letters? The last two
letters? Third and fourth letters?). If the response is incorrect,
repeat with a letter in a different position.