Orton-Gillingham (OG) Principles in the Chinese Classroom

The Chinese language is logographic and uses Chinese characters (汉字). Early characters were drawn to resemble objects. Chinese characters then progressed to come to represent ideas rather than syllables. These characters also have meaning independently of the sounds one can make to describe them. It is noted that dyslexic children who learn Chinese, have problems converting symbols into meanings, rather than letters into sounds.

Students who initially begin receiving Chinese support at DAS generally do not respond or react well to components taught in Chinese. They have complained of difficulties in reading and writing the language, and some even developed low self-esteem as they continued to fail their mainstream school exams. 

The OG principles have shown to address these problems students faced when learning Chinese. The approach is described as language-based, explicit, multisensory, systematic, and structured. It is also based on the sequential, cumulative, prescriptive, and diagnostic method of teaching. Its purpose is to help students from recognising words to composing an essay, henceforth becoming a confident and independent learner of the language.

Explicit teaching

In each lesson, it is important to target the students’ weaknesses through the direct and clear teaching of phonology, syntactic, and semantic components of the language. The programme also focuses on word recognition strategies, common vocabulary, and sentence structures to build efficiency in learning and interest in the Chinese language.

Systematic and Structured

 In class, a systematic approach is used to ensure that new concepts are taught in the same way every time. This is to help prevent the brain from getting tired from trying to figure out a new method. This also expects the routine of learning and the student can focus on the new concept being taught. When teaching, the information is presented in a structured and orderly manner, such that it shows the relationship between what was previously learned and the new material being taught. When introducing new radicals, it is good to always use the same method to teach, so that students remain engaged while grasping the meaning of the radical more efficiently. Afterward, students are asked to apply their learning in an orderly manner on an activity worksheet.

(Examples of using the same method to teach different radicals)

Sequential and Cumulative

When planning a lesson for a class, instructions should be clear for both teachers and students to follow, building from the simplest to the most complex. Students should understand what is required of them at the basic level before they can proceed from “the known to the unknown” (从已知到未知). This is particularly true when teaching the writing component. The student must understand the rules of forming a complete sentence first before they can move on to writing a paragraph, and then composition.


As many of the senses as possible should be used at the same time to help the information to be stored in long-term memory. In class, students are taught interactively with the use of stories, educational games, and hands-on activities. My students particularly enjoyed simple word games and riddles like“文字接龙” and “猜谜语”. They also like to learn through educational applications such as Kahoot and Popplet where class collaboration may be required to complete tasks. This does not only give students the opportunities to apply what is learned in class but also makes learning Chinese a fun and memorable experience for them.

(Examples of 猜谜语 word riddles to help build students’ interest in the language)

Diagnostic and Prescriptive

It is important to identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses when attempting to implement the most effective instructional strategies in class. This information helps the therapist create a plan for addressing areas of struggle and ensuring that each student is aptly challenged. If a student is weak in reading comprehension, the therapist will ensure appropriate scaffolding is given to the student. Scaffolding refers to a process where an educator provides supports for students to boost learning and help in the mastery of tasks. Within the classroom, the therapist systematically builds on students’ experiences and understanding as they acquire new literacy skills. In other words, the steps to complete a task is demonstrated first before the student attempts to do it on his own or with the help of his therapist. Moreover, the scaffolding is built upon what was observed in the previous lesson and what is judged to be necessary to move the student along in the next lesson. It is also always changing with how the students have developed in their oracy and literacy skills. The therapist also leverages the strengths of the student to devise compensatory strategies to counter their shortcomings.

(Scaffolding can also be in the form of a Story Mountain which helps students plan and organise their story before writing.)

2. Recognising a Rainbow of Learning Needs

While the OG approach has proven to be a highly effective method to help dyslexic children achieve, differentiated instruction is also necessary to engage dyslexic students who have been diagnosed with other comorbid conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyspraxia. Children who fall under this category may need extra special instructional practice to cope with learning.

Nevertheless, the OG principles overall ensure an emotionally sound learning environment for dyslexic students who struggle to do well in Chinese. When learning becomes meaningful, all students can succeed with much patience and dedication from school teachers, educational therapists, and parents.


Written by: Lian Peiqi, Educational Therapist, Chinese Programme