Building Orthographic Knowledge

What is Orthographic Knowledge?

One of the main components of reading is the ability to decode and recognise words quickly. If students have trouble with the “look of words” then they will not be able to read with fluency and as a result will struggle with comprehension.

Orthographic knowledge is a visual skill involving letters patterns and knowing how words should look. Students with poor orthographic knowledge often have an over reliance on letter to sound correspondence (sounding out) when reading and can not edit their own work because they don’t know when a word looks right or not. Students with orthographic dyslexia also known as surface dyslexia will have trouble in storing strong mental representations of words, especially phonetically irregular words.

According to John Munro’s research about the representation of word knowledge by dyslexic readers  there are four factors for changing a reader’s orthographic knowledge base. These concepts will help all readers to develop sound orthographic knowledge.

  1. Being taught to make analogies between words is more useful for students whose phonemic knowledge is better developed.
  2. After initial letter-sound mastery, teaching readers to link letter clusters rather than individual letters with their sounds has greater gain in orthographic knowledge and greater transfer to unfamiliar words.
  3. Building long-term memory strategies (such as visual imagery, or a kinaesthetic code and then recorded verbally) into the word recognition program improves retrieval and transfer of word knowledge.
  4. Having students reflect on how they learn written properties of words helps them form explicit concepts.

Implications for the Classroom

  1. Find out what students already know, phonemically and orthographically.
  2. Explicitly and systematically teach the links for the sounds in the spoken words and the letters that represent them.
  3. Keep meaning at the forefront by using whole words – students must be able to read and say the words and understand them.
  4. Use a multi-sensory approach that combines, visual, auditory and tactile elements in learning.
“Students need to see the words, utilise colour and patterns, they also need to say the word and hear it said and used in context, they also need to write the word to feel what it is like.” (Michelle Hutchinson: The Smart Spelling Approach)

Some Activities to Develop Orthographic Knowledge

Use onset and rime and build word lists with the same letter patterns. (Or use the Scope and Sequence guide from (Michelle Hutchinson: The Smart Spelling Approach) At least 6 words are needed to establish a pattern.

Throughout the week complete activities that help reinforce automatic recognition of the word list and other words that might fit into the same family.

*Meaningful sentences (written or recorded using an ipad for younger students) help establish meaning of the word in context.

*Spelling Grids,

via Michelle Hutchinson
via Michelle Hutchinson

Other activities could include breaking the word into *Syllables, *Colour Coding (consonants in blue, vowels in red) , *Fancy Writing, but each time it is important that the student 1: Say the word aloud, and 2: Write the word.

Add some Technology

An element of technology might add some interest for students who don’t particularly like homework or practising an activity that they have found difficult. Some apps that students could use to improve automatic recognition and long term retention could include the following.


VocabularySpellingCity is a software application that can be used for free on your desk top computer (there is also a paid version) or on your ipad. An adult or teacher will need to register to use the application but it has the ability to save a list of words and then use those words in a variety of games and tests. It recognises the words in lists and provides the meaning and age appropriate sentence for each one.


A+ Spelling

The A+Spelling App (free) for the iPad is a no frills way to practise spelling lists. You can easily enter your own lists with the recorded word for each one and then use one of the four activities (Practice, Unscramble, Ace It, Test) to work on spelling the words correctly. Feedback is provided for each activity.

There are many other phonic/spelling type apps available but it is important for students who are just developing orthographic knowledge, that the words lists are controlled to just one pattern at a time. Too much variety may be confusing and will not help the student see the letter sound pattern or enable them to extend the pattern in order to decode other similar words.


Munro, J. (1995). Explaining developmental dyslexia: Orthographic processing difficulties. Australian Journal of Remedial Education, 27, 1, 5-15.

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How Will I Make the World a Better Place? #YourEduStory

Being the Best You Can Be


For the past couple of weeks of the holidays I have been enjoying this stunning Gloriosa Lily, as it sits on my veranda . It was one of my Mum’s pot plants that I have had since she passed away 3 years ago. In the past it has had one or two blooms but this year it has eleven beautiful flowers. Due to a little TLC this is the best it has ever been. I love to post photos of my garden so this is a good excuse to use this plant as an analogy for how, as a teacher, I hope to make the world a better place.

Just like the lily all I want for the students that I teach is that they become the best that they can be. Everyday teachers start with a curriculum planned to help their students move onto the next step of the academic ladder, but it doesn’t take long before the social and emotional issues of home or the playground have moved to the forefront of the agenda. We have to balance all the areas that our students and their families are concerned with, working together to build a pathway so that students make good choices based on knowledge, social justice and an intrinsic desire to do the right thing.

The Right Environment

The Gloriosa Lily needs lots of sunshine, good soil and not too much water. Of course students need the right environment too and I believe the most important part of the school environment is the relationship between the student, family and teacher. Without enough sunshine the lily won’t flower and without a strong trusting relationship and mutual respect the student won’t “blossom”.

Plenty of Encouragement

Fertilising the plant while it is growing and flowering ensures that there will be plenty of blooms in the following year. Students need that encouragement while they are working, playing and experiencing life to know when they are on the right track. I hope that I help them to understand that their efforts, failures, social interactions are part of the process that will make them a stronger, wiser and more capable person in the long run.

The Right Support

Different plants need different conditions for optimal growth. Just as the Gloriosa needs a special frame to wrap it’s tendrils around so that it is upright, students often need a personalised plan for optimal development. This year I’m hoping that formal study in the area of Inclusive Learning will help me become better at planning for student’s individual needs and better at providing specialised support for them and their families.

And so that is how I’m hoping to make the world a better place; by being a teacher who helps students, through mutual respect, encouragement, support and personalised learning to become the best person they can possibly be .

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Yikes – A Blog Post Each Week #YourEduStory

This year promises to be full of Challenges – New Job – New Study and almost a completely new role so this is the perfect time to “restart” my blog. When I started my blog my challenge was to overcome a “fear” of writing – writing was something I’d never felt confident about and struggled with all through my school years. Blogging was a good way to work through some of those issues mainly because it was short and to the point and easily edited at a later date.

When I was studying in 2008 I found that blogging was quite helpful for clarifying thoughts and writing about new discoveries. At that time I was studying a Masters in Education Information Technology and there were so many things to learn. Blogging was a great way to make sense of it all. Over the years my blog has served many purposes; reflective practice, a place to save “how to” information, and a place to celebrate achievements. Sadly it has had less and less updates over the last couple of years.

I intend to use the #YourEduStory as motivation to write about my new journey and in particular my new studies – Master of Education (Special Educational Needs). I am particularly interested in melding my two studies together in my work. I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes!

Thanks to for tweeting about this challenge @SteveBrophy3 @sduncan0101 @ccoffa @medg56 @hbailie @mrkrndvs I look forward to reading and responding to your blogs.

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Slide2Learn 2014 – My Workshop Sessions

This is the abbreviated version of my workshops at the 2014 Slide2Learn conference in Sydney.

The following TV shows were made in an hour, during the workshops called “Using Your Ipad to Make an Online TV Show”, at the Slide2Learn Conference. Participants worked in teams to create the short segments about the conference using Google Docs, and iMovie. Two other participants recorded the host sections using a “make-shift” green screen (hence the green hair) and the Doink Green Screen app. All the sections were compiled in iMovie by uploading and sharing through a Google Drive folder.

S2L-TV-show#1 from Lois Smethurst on Vimeo.

S2L-TV-Show #1
Hosted by Jo and Michael
1. Slide2Learn 2014
2. Tony Vincent’s Teacher’s Pet
3. Making an Online TV Show with Lois Smethurst
4. Google Drive – with Greg Swanson

S2L-TV-show #2 from Lois Smethurst on Vimeo.

S2L-TV-Show #2
Hosted by Charlene and Andrew
1. Teacher’s Pet by Tony Vincent
2. How to Keep Warm at Slide2Learn
3. Making It Your Own – (from Tony Vincent’s Keynote)

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