Learning to read is complicated. In recent years we’ve learned so much about how children learn to read, and the best ways to support their learning. You might have been hearing some buzz about orthographic mapping and how it can help your students become fluent readers. Join me as I share everything you need to know about orthographic mapping and fun activities to target it!
What is Orthographic Mapping?
Orthographic mapping refers to the process that our brain uses to quickly remember and retrieve words from our memory. This process explains how children can recall sight words, and how as an adult you can merely glance at a word and read it instantly.
Think about it as you read this sentence. Your brain quickly and easily sees words and recalls them from memory without you having to take the time to sound out each letter, right? This is ultimately what we want our students to learn to promote fluency in reading!
This function of our brain is not something you can teach per se, but rather something you can promote and strengthen through specific techniques, activities, and learning games. In my room, this was something we tackled during our weekly word work activities. Word work is a great routine to add to your small group lessons since you can align your activities with the varied skill levels of each grouping of your students.
How Is Orthographic Mapping Used In Reading?
For many years, rote memorization was the only technique used to master a large number of words in the primary grades.
However, with continued research emerging on the Science of Reading, we know now there are many other things we can do to support this skill! While sight words are definitely a GREAT way to help your young readers master basic (and hard-to-sound-out) words that they will see frequently in print, there’s so much more to reading than simply memorizing words on flashcards.
Beyond that list of “Fry’s First 100” words, orthographic mapping can help turn any word into a sight word as children connect the sound, pronunciation, and spelling of the word in their brains. Orthographic mapping occurs when children connect bits of stored information about a word (the meaning and pronunciation) with the spelling and sound of each letter. Once their brains make this connection, the process of orthographic mapping begins and children are well on their way to recognizing words in print quickly and easily!
How To Tell if Students Are Ready For Orthographic Mapping
Before you begin to target orthographic mapping in your classroom, you’ll want to make sure your students have plenty of practice with basic phonemic awareness skills prior. You’ll know your students are ready if they can:
- identify letters
- identify sounds
- segment sounds
- blend sounds
- identify syllables
If your students are still working on these skills, you’ll want to hold off on activities that specifically target orthographic mapping. Instead use word work activities that will help your students with basic phonics fundamentals and preliminary skills such as mastering letter identification, segmenting sounds, and identifying spelling patterns. Taking the time to focus on these skills first, will lay the foundation for future success when it comes to orthographic mapping.
Word Work Activities to Support Orthographic Mapping
So, now that we’ve covered the basics of orthographic mapping, you may be wondering how to provide activities that support it. I’ve got just the thing! As I mentioned, word work made up a huge part of the curriculum in my weekly lessons as a first-grade teacher. Once children in my class were well-versed in phonemic awareness skills, I knew it was time for activities that promote orthographic mapping.
1. Counting Sounds & Building Words
One of the best activities to support this skill is asking children how many sounds they hear in the words you’re targeting. I liked to do this in my classroom using picture cards and small manipulatives of some kind.
During small groups, we would focus on a few words each day. First, point to the picture card for each word and say the word aloud. Then ask the children how many sounds they hear.
Kiddos will listen to each sound and use manipulatives to illustrate that number. After they have counted out the sounds, I like to have them write the letter for each sound they hear on a whiteboard. You can also use letter tiles to build the word.
This simple activity helps activate the part of their brains that will use this information to connect what they know (pronunciation and meaning) with what they are learning about these words (letter sounds and spelling).
2. Spelling Words Orally & Writing
One of the best ways to target orthographic mapping is by asking students to spell words orally during small groups.
You can do this after counting the sounds. Have kiddos point to those same letter tiles as they say each letter aloud.
Another good way to do this is by having children say the letters aloud and then write them on the board for everyone to see.
You can even take the time to draw a dot under each letter. This helps to double-check that you managed to find the letter for each sound that was counted.
3. Stamping Words
Another fun activity that’s great for promoting orthographic mapping skills is stamping words.
I like to use pictures for this as it allows students to work independently. This allowed me to quickly and easily add an orthographic mapping activity to our center rotation.
First, I have students identify the picture and say it aloud. Then they will sound the word out, and stamp each letter on their paper as they go. I encouraged students to pull the letter stamps out and lay them in order. Then they can check the sounds before actually stamping the letters on the paper. Afterward, we say the word again and count the sounds to be sure we got them all.
This is a fun way to mix things up if you use whiteboards and letter tiles most of the time.
Putting it All Together
Any of these word work activities are a great way to help nudge your students towards accessing those orthographic mapping skills with ease. I recommend including one of these activities in your word work sessions for each new set of words you focus on. Doing so will help turn those words into “sight words” and propel your students forward in reading fluency.
More Word Work Activities
The great thing about word work is that it can be used throughout the entire process of learning to read. Whether you’re just getting started with letters and sounds, working on segmenting, or targeting orthographic mapping, there’s a word work activity out there for you!
I’ve written quite a few posts on this topic since it’s one of my favorite ways to help students grow their reading skills. If you’re looking for even more ways to support your young readers, be sure to take a peek!
- Word Work in the Primary Classroom
- Word Work Sorting Activities
- Word Work and Segmenting Sounds
- Building Words with Letter Tiles
- Using Work Word to Teach Sounds and Spelling Patterns
Word work is an effective and engaging way to help students learn a variety of phonemic awareness skills. It’s also great for tapping into mental processing abilities like orthographic mapping. I loved using some kind of word work activity every week in our small groups. I’ve found that this was key to helping my students succeed in the long term and gain overall reading fluency.
Grab A FREE Word Work Resource
Ready to try engaging youn students in orthographic mapping with fun, hands-on word work activities? I’ve got a FREE Word Work resource that you can use to get started right away! Included you’ll find a variety of materials that will help you target these skills like picture cards, letter tiles, stamping pages, and MORE! Download the resource to test out these activities with your students today!
Use Word Work All Year Long
Are you looking for ways to incorporate word work all year long? You’re in luck! I have a whole bundle of word work resources that will help you target a variety of skills easily. Use word work to practice segmenting sounds, blending letters, learning spelling patterns, accessing orthographic mapping, and more.
Check out the HUGE Word Work Bundle here! Included you’ll find tons of fun lessons, activities, and worksheets to make using weekly word work simple and easy. Help your students achieve reading fluency and make planning your small group sessions simple with this comprehensive resource!
Save This Post
Not quite ready to target orthographic mapping? No problem! Save this post on your classroom Pinterest board and come back to it when your students are ready!