When I kept encountering the words “orthographic mapping” in my reading, it piqued my curiosity! What is this? Why is it important? I decided I needed to knuckle down. I was determined to research and read (no more browsing and skimming) to fully grasp this difficult concept.
What Is Orthographic Mapping?
Orthographic mapping is a “behind the scenes” cognitive process. It is the way we store a word’s spelling in our long-term memory. It explains how we can instantly and automatically recognize words.
Orthographic mapping is not a visible process. Successful readers use what they already know about a word- how it is pronounced and what it means. They connect that information to the sounds they hear and the sequence of letters they see in a word. Then, they store these linked sounds and letters of the word, as well as its meaning, to be quickly and easily retrieved as a “sight word”.
This process happens one word at a time.
Why Is Orthographic Mapping Important?
This is the process that enables us to develop a vast “sight word vocabulary”.
Sight words are those words that we recognize instantly and can retrieve from memory without conscious effort. These words can be phonetically regular or irregular, decodable or nondecodable, high-frequency or low-frequency.
When we recognize a word by sight, we do not need to decode it letter by letter, sound by sound. You know- that painstaking process you’ve observed so many times!
When orthographic mapping has developed, students will begin to store high-frequency words as sight words on their own, without overt instruction. Self-teaching students- it doesn’t get any better! Think about the tremendous number of words you recognize instantly. This is how you acquired that sight word vocabulary.
Typically developing readers begin to apply this skill in second or third grade.
At this point, students do not need to decode each and every word they encounter. Students who have a large sight word vocabulary become fluent readers.
Fluent readers can focus their mental energy on making meaning from text. And isn’t that our goal?
How to Promote the Development of Orthographic Mapping
Orthographic mapping is not a natural process. Our brains need to learn how to map words.
Unfortunately, orthographic mapping is NOT:
- a skill
- a teaching method
- or an activity
So, what can you do?
You CAN teach the essential components. The essential components are letter-sound correspondence, phonemic awareness, and decoding.
Students need to be proficient with these skills to enable the development of orthographic mapping. These skills need to be explicitly taught.
- Teach the major letter-sound relationships to mastery.
- Don’t stop after teaching the letter of the week! There are 44 unique speech sounds in the English language.
- Teach them in a clearly defined step-by-step sequence.
- The two most important phonemic awareness skills are segmenting and blending phonemes.
- These are reciprocal processes.
- Segmenting phonemes helps with spelling and also helps to cement those spellings in memory.
- Teach phonemic awareness using letters. Students acquire better phonemic awareness skills when segmenting and blending activities include letters.
- Critical research is ongoing. It has not been conclusively determined whether other more advanced phonemic awareness proficiencies are essential. This research is particularly relevant for students with reading difficulties.
- Students need to apply phonics knowledge to decode unknown/ new words.
- They need to look at every letter, say the corresponding sounds, and blend them to form meaningful words.
- Use a systematic, explicit, and sequential approach.
- Teach letter-sound correspondences, spelling patterns, spelling rules, syllable types, and morphemes.
I recommend reading these instructional guidelines provided by Dr. Linnea Ehri for additional information.
Take a close look at your chosen or required curriculum. How does it hold up to scrutiny when viewed through the lens of orthographic mapping?
- Does it include the essential components?
- Are the components taught in a comprehensive, explicit, and systematic way?
- Are there areas where you should supplement or expand your instruction?
- How well does it meet the needs of all your students?
One Resource to Get You Started
You’ll want to try this word mapping resource designed to help your beginning and struggling readers connect the sounds they hear with the letters they see in CVC words. By strengthening those phoneme-grapheme associations, you’ll set your students on the road to orthographic mapping. Plus, you’ll help them build automatic word recognition for high-frequency CVC words.
Why These Words?
I chose the words from two popular high-frequency word lists. If a child has difficulty with automatic word recognition, you want to focus on the words that will be the most beneficial. Aha…that would be words that occur frequently in print. And let’s keep them phonetically regular VC and CVC words for now.
So, I created a list of phonetically regular high-frequency CVC words to focus on. Each of the 34 words in this resource can be represented by a visual image.
What Is Included?
- teacher directions
- large word cards
- small word cards
- black/ white CVC word mapping mats
- color and black/ white CVC word mapping strips
How Can I Use This Resource?
Get started by following the teacher’s directions to introduce each new word to your students. Complete the word mapping mats together. Provide even more practice when you follow up with the word mapping strips as a center activity.
Try these activities:
- with your whole class
- in small instructional groups
- with individual students
- as a center rotation
- for morning work
Click on the highlighted words to find out more about this resource, CVC Word Mapping With High-Frequency Words, available for purchase in my TpT store.
Check out my companion resource with 30 rapid word charts that also promote orthographic mapping and automatic word recognition of CVC high-frequency words.
Helpful Articles About Orthographic Mapping
I read articles on these sites (and more) to get a fuller understanding of orthographic mapping.
What are the most beneficial ways you’ve discovered to enhance your students’ development of orthographic mapping? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!