Simply put, orthographic mapping is a way of bonding sounds in spoken language with letters and spelling as a way to get words into permanent memory. Dr. David Kilpatrick, a leading researcher in this area describes it as, “The mental process we use to store words for immediate, effortless, retrieval. It requires phoneme proficiency and letter-sound proficiency, as well as the ability to unconsciously or consciously make connections between the oral sounds in spoken words and the letters in written words.”
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I highly recommend his book Equipped for Reading Success for both a deeper exploration of what orthographic mapping is and for word study activities that promote orthographic mapping.
Using orthographic mapping with students
Before students can begin orthographic mapping, they need strong phonemic awareness as well as sound-symbol skills. If students have both, they are ready to start putting things together. For successful sessions, cover only a few words at a time (I find 3 works best) and try to keep lessons to about 3–5 minutes. Keep it short and snappy so kids stay engaged.
Even though you can’t train students on every word this way, you can help students build the mentality they need to get words into their permanent memory on their own.
Phonemic awareness activities
When I do orthographic mapping with students, I often start with quick phonemic awareness activities. I’ll walk students through these questions (It’s okay to skip some or mix up the order):
- Tell me the sounds in [word]
- What is the 2nd sound?
- What is the last sound?
- What is the 1st/3rd sound?
- How many sounds?
- How many syllables?
- Delete/substitute a sound
Note that the focus here is on sounds, not letters. In a word like brush, there are 5 letters, but only 4 sounds.
Orthographic mapping tasks
Immediately after the phonemic awareness tasks, I move onto mapping tasks. Again, you don’t have to ask every question, but you’ll want to ask students to identify what represents a number of sounds in the words. Some of those sounds will be represented by one letter, some by two or more. Help students connect more than just one sound to one letter with these questions.
- Get the child to tell you the sounds and write the word on a whiteboard.
- Ask what represents the [?] sound? (one letter)
- Ask what represents the [?] sound? (more than one letter)
- What represents [part of the word] sound?
- Get the child to orally spell the word
- Get the child to write the word.
To see how this works with specific examples and student responses, download my free Direct Mapping Strategy Cheat Sheet:
Remember these sessions are short—3–5 minutes and only about 3 words at a time. Continue using other resources to develop phonemic awareness and orthographic mapping in your classroom.
And remember to keep it fun! My students love learning with:
- Phonics Cootie Catchers—Cootie catchers, fortune tellers, what have you … these fold and play toys work beautifully for students to practice phonemic awareness. Students read each sound of the words they choose and then write and blend the sounds together. You can follow up with questions that help map the sounds to letters.
- Spelling Card Games—Orthographic mapping is linked to spelling, and spelling card games help students practice. These are great for your literacy or spelling center, partner or small group work.
- Phonics Bingo—Bingo is an endlessly adaptable game, but students don’t seem to tire of it, and because they are familiar with how it works, you can get more quickly to play (and the practice that comes with it!)
Have you practiced orthographic mapping in your classroom? What’s your favorite tip or tool?