reading instruction methodologies

What is Orthographic Mapping? Why is it SO Important? + Orthographic Mapping Examples!


  1. What is Orthographic Mapping?
  2. How Can We Do This Orthographic Mapping Process Successfully?
  3. Examples of Orthographic Mapping Activities
  4. Activity #1: The High-Frequency Words Game
  5. Activity #2: Using Orthographic Mapping  Principles to Practice Any Word
  6. Final Thoughts
  7. Orthographic Mapping Resources

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If you have been looking into the most up-to-date research on how to teach reading, you may have come across the term ‘Orthographic Mapping’.

Even though this concept is by no means widespread in reading instruction, it is starting to gain traction and popularity.

But, what is it exactly? What can it do for your child’s reading success?

And, most importantly, how do we go from theory to practice?

That is, what orthographic mapping activities can we do with our children?

What is Orthographic Mapping?

Simply put, Orthographic Mapping is the mental process that we use to remember words by linking its individual sounds (called phonemes) with their graphemes (that is, their graphic representation or letters).

An example is the sound of the letter m is /m/ and the graphic representation is the letter “m” itself. Sound and letter are mapped out in our brain…

Ok, let’s go a bit deeper.

Let’s think for a moment: What are words?

They are just strings of familiar sounds that come in a specific order. For instance, the word ‘at’ is just a string of two familiar sounds at that follow the specific order ‘a’ in the first place, and ‘t’, in the second place; and that we’ve heard so many times that it has been stored in our library of words.

This specific string of sounds in that specific order (or word, as we have just learned) is added to our library of oral words, so we are able to recognise the word ‘at’ and its meaning as soon as we hear it. This is the mental shortcut (or trick) that we take to process the information really quickly.

Now, it is  a question of adding another leg to the equation of familiar string of sounds. The third leg is the written representation.

So, when we are practicing and learning words through Orthographic Mapping, there is a mental process going on in which we map a string of familiar sounds that come in a specific order (those are our oral words) to the letters used to represent those sounds until that specific string of letters in that specific order also becomes familiar and inevitably linked its corresponding string of sounds.

Next time we encounter one of these words,  we will be using that shortcut of going to our memory of familiar words rather than doing all the process of sounding it out from scratch.

Grab notes easily from our Orthographic Mapping presentation on Slideshare!

What is Orthographic mapping?

How can we do this Orthographic Mapping process successfully?

To successfully link our library of oral words to the library of written words, we need to be really good decoders a strong phonics foundation is crucial…


Because it is proven to be the most efficient and effective way to actually achieve our objective.

You may be wondering if we can rely on visual memory at all and the answer is that you can, but unfortunately this is a very inefficient method. You are going to collapse and have problems with that strategy at some point.

This is because we do not have the visual cognitive capacity to store 30 to 75k words in our brain (that is the average number of words in our vocabulary)

If you find the topic as fascinating as I do and you really want to dig into it you can check this book: Equipped for Reading Success, as the author (David Kilpatrick) is one of the leading experts on this view of teaching reading called the Science of Reading.

Equipped for Reading Success A Comprehensive, Step-By-Step Program for Developing Phonemic Awareness and Fluent Word Recognition Encuadernación en espiral – 1 Octubre 2016


Activities, Examples and Tips for Orthographic Mapping

Activity number #1:  Using Orthographic Mapping to learn and practice High-Frequency words.

The first activity is aimed at learning high- frequency words using Orthographic Mapping principles.

For extra convenience, we are going to be using our free online game called the high frequency words game which is available completely for free here: The High-Frequency Words Game!

See the game in action in this video!

Basically, our high-frequency words game to learn them following Orthographic Mapping principles goes like this:

  • We hear a high-frequency word.
  • We are asked how many sounds we hear.
  • The same number of boxes as the sounds we can hear appear on the screen.
  • We are also presented with letter we need to put in the right order inside the boxes. e letters in the right order two

I encourage you to try out the game here:

Even though on the surface the game looks simple… Let’s recap and see what we are doing here with this simple game:

  1. We are training our ears to hear the individual sounds in words. Therefore, building up our phonemic awareness.
  2. Right after that, we are mapping (or tying together) the individual sounds in these words (phonemes) to the graphemes (the written representation or letters).

Studies show that we need around five repetitions to store words in our memory (even though, it varies from person to person), so imagine the power of your child doing this a number of times!

Of course, as I mentioned before, the specific number of repetitions that your child is going to need is very personal and will depend on factors, such us the level of phonemic awareness, the decoding skills, the level of complexity, the familiarity of the word, etc.

However, our objective with this game is that next time your child encounters one of these high-frequency words, s/he uses that shortcut of going to his/her memory of familiar words rather than doing all the process of sounding the word out from scratch

NOTE:  I  haven’t had a chance  to include all high frequency words. Give me time, but also tell me if you find this game/activity useful so I can prioritise this! Any other feedback is also highly appreciated.

In the meantime, if you want to use these principles with your child for other high-frequency words that are still not on the game, or for any word whatsoever, you can do this…

Activity number #2:  Using Orthographic Mapping to Practice Any Word.

You will only need a piece of paper, some chips/counters (or any manipulative), and a pencil.

Divide the piece on paper in two. Draw boxes in one of the parts. Leave the other blank.

Orthographic Mapping Activity Template
Download Template for FREE!

The activity goes like this:

  • Say the word to your child.
  • Ask to put as many chips in the boxes as the number of sounds s/he can hear.
  • Move as many chips inside the boxes as you can hear.
  • Get them to think and figure out the right letters for those sounds and write them inside the boxes.

See me doing this activity with my daughter in this short video!

A few more tips:

    • For a less challenging variation of this activity: you can say the word, show it and then hide it from your child.
    • Instead of using counters/chips, you can also ask your child to tap on her body as many times as the number of sounds she can hear on a word. That is a very popular strategy as well because it is sensorial, as some kids respond very well to kinetic learning.
    • You can also use a POP IT and ask your child to tap as many times as the number of sounds s/he can hear. This is another alternative for making the activity for sensorial.If you don’t know what a POP IT is, check the link below to see one on Amazon! They are very extremely popular sensorial toys!
(4 Pack) Pop It Fidget Toys, Pop Its Fidgets Stocking Stuffers for Kids, Fidget Toy Pack Figit Sensory Toys Popit Popits Christmas Kids Stocking Stuffers Ideas Teens Adults Gifts Girls Boys Toddler


    • Work on words that contain sounds you’ve just  explicitly taught to your child. For instance, practice the digraph ‘CH’  (chat, chin, chip, chop) or the digraph ‘TH’ (this, that, then, them) using this orthographic mapping activity right after introducing these digraphs to your child.
    • You can (as I did on this activity with my child) work on 2 similar sounds to make sure that they are able to fully understand the difference.

What about Orthographic Mapping and Irregular Words?

Don’t think that this process only works for regular words that do not present unexpected spellings. No, it works the same.

If you want to learn more about this, I suggest you read this article How to Teach High Frequency Words Using Phonics? A New Approach to Teaching Sight Words!, because I offer a good explanation on how to go about this with irregular words.

Final Thoughts

To finish up I just wanted to mention that you don’t need to do this for all words in the English language.

In fact, some kids naturally learn to do this, but if you teach them this explicitly with this strategy then you are facilitating the path.

This is especially important for kids at  risk of reading difficulties.

And finally also wanted to remind you that it is key that they have phonics skills and more specifically phonemic awareness in order to do this successfully!

Orthographic Mapping Resources

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