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A Multi-Sensory Approach to Structured Language Education: Curriculum and Instructional Principles

The purpose of any multisensory organized language program is to help students improve their independent capacity to read and write.

What is being studied?

Phonology and phonological awareness

Phonology is the branch of linguistics that deals with the study of sounds and their patterns in a language, and phonological awareness refers to the understanding of the structure and organization of sounds within words. Phonemes are the smallest units of sound that can be distinguished from other sounds in a language. An important aspect of phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate phonemes, specifically the ability to segment words into their individual sounds, known as phonemic awareness.

Sound-symbol association

The understanding of the different sounds in the English language and how they relate to the letters and letter combinations that represent them is what is meant by sound-symbol association. This knowledge must be both taught and fully understood, involving the ability to link visual letters and letter combinations to their corresponding sounds and vice versa. Additionally, students must be able to effectively blend sounds and letters to form words and break down words into their individual sounds.

Education on syllable formation

A syllable is a unit of sound in speech or writing, characterized by the presence of one vowel sound. Education on syllable structure must include instruction on the six fundamental types of syllables found in the English language: closed, vowel-consonant-e, open, consonant-le, r-controlled, and diphthong. It is important that students are also taught the rules for dividing words into syllables and how these apply to the structure of words.


Morphology is the study of the structure of words, specifically the way that morphemes, the smallest units of meaning in a language, are put together to form words. The curriculum should include instruction on the basic building blocks of words, such as base words, roots, and affixes, in order to fully understand the structure of words.


Syntax refers to the set of rules that govern the arrangement and function of words in a sentence to convey meaning. It encompasses elements such as grammar, sentence structure, and the mechanics of language, which are essential in order to effectively convey ideas and ideas through language.


Semantics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the study of meaning in language. It is concerned with understanding how words, phrases, and sentences convey meaning, and how people interpret and understand the meaning of language. In order to effectively communicate and understand written language, it is essential that the curriculum includes instruction in semantics from the very beginning. This instruction should cover the various elements that contribute to meaning, such as word and sentence structure, context, and tone. It should also include exercises and activities to help students develop their comprehension skills, so they can accurately interpret and respond to written language.

The style of teaching

Simultaneous, multisensory (VAKT)

Teaching is an effective way to learn by utilizing all the different pathways in the brain at the same time. This multisensory approach involves the use of visual, auditory, kinesthetic-tactile, and other sensory modalities to enhance memory and learning. By providing multiple pathways for the brain to access information, students are able to process and retain information more effectively. This method of instruction not only improves learning outcomes but also helps to make the learning experience more engaging and memorable for the students. Additionally, this method of teaching is beneficial for students with different learning styles as it allows them to access the information in a way that works best for them. By using this multisensory approach, the teacher is able to reach all students and provide them with the best possible chance for success.

Systematic and cumulative

Effective multisensory language instruction demands that the material is presented in a logical and orderly manner, following the natural progression of the language. The instruction should start with the simplest and most fundamental elements and gradually move on to more complex material. Each new concept should be built upon the previous ones, ensuring that the students have a solid foundation to work from. Additionally, the material should be systematically reviewed to help strengthen the students' memory and retention of the information. This methodical approach to instruction ensures that the students have a clear understanding of the material and are able to progress smoothly through the curriculum.

Direct instruction

The process of inferring new concepts cannot be assumed or taken for granted in any form of instruction. This is particularly true in the case of multisensory language instruction. To ensure that the students fully understand and retain the material, it is essential that all concepts are taught directly and explicitly. This direct teaching approach should be coupled with continuous student-teacher interaction, where students are actively engaged and encouraged to participate in the learning process. The teacher should provide clear explanations, models, and examples to help the students understand the concepts. The students should also be given opportunities to practice, apply and reflect on the concepts taught. This direct and interactive approach to instruction helps students to build a deeper understanding of the material, leading to improved retention and recall. Additionally, it ensures that students are not just passively receiving information but actively engaged in the learning process.

Diagnostic teaching

To ensure that the instruction is effective, the teacher must possess the ability to adapt and individualize their teaching style to meet the specific needs of each student. This prescriptive or individualized teaching approach is based on ongoing and thorough assessment of each student's needs, abilities, and progress. Once the individual needs of the students have been identified, the teacher can create a tailored teaching plan that addresses those needs. This plan should be flexible and adaptable, allowing for adjustments as needed based on the student's progress. Furthermore, the teacher should aim to provide instruction that leads to mastery of the material, where the students have the ability to automatically perform the task or concept without conscious effort. This level of mastery allows the students to use their learned skills and knowledge in a more fluid and natural way, rather than having to actively think about them. It also free up cognitive resources for other activities, such as problem solving and decision making.

Synthetic and analytic instruction

Multisensory, structured language programs are an innovative approach to language learning that incorporates multiple methods of instruction to provide a comprehensive education. These programs utilize synthetic and analytic instruction to effectively teach language acquisition. Synthetic instruction, which presents the different parts of a language, teaches students how these individual parts work together to form a cohesive whole. Analytic instruction, on the other hand, presents the language as a whole and teaches students how to break it down into its component parts. This combination of synthetic and analytic instruction allows for a well-rounded understanding of the language, providing students with the tools they need to effectively communicate in the target language. The multisensory aspect of these programs also helps to engage multiple senses and further aid in language acquisition. Overall, multisensory, structured language programs are an effective method for teaching and learning a new language.

Information about various MSSL reading programs

Several variations of the Orton-Gillingham method have been created, including methods developed by Orton's students such as The Slingerland Method, The Spalding Method, Project Read, Alphabetic Phonics, The Herman Method, and The Wilson Method. Other methods, such as The Alphabetic-Phonetic-Structural-Linguistic approach to Literacy (Shedd), Sequential English Education (Pickering), and Starting Over (Knight), were created by authors who were not directly trained by Orton-Gillingham, but were influenced by Orton's work. Additionally, and the The Association Method (DuBard) have their roots in research on hearing and language impaired individuals - all these methods are found in Learn with Koala reading classes.

Alphabetic phonics

Alphabetic Phonics is a method that builds directly on the Orton-Gillingham approach. It incorporates three different learning modalities - auditory for spelling, visual for reading, and kinesthetic for handwriting - to provide a comprehensive learning experience. The method features the "Instant Spelling Deck" for quick daily spelling drills and the Initial Reading Deck, which features 3D images of key words to help students learn the 44 speech sounds. Benchmark measures are included to track students' progress in reading, spelling, handwriting, and alphabetizing, to help guide the teacher's instruction and boost students' confidence. For more information, please contact the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital at 2222 Welborn St., Dallas, TX 75219 or call 214/559-7425.

The Association Method

The Association Method is a multisensory, systematic, and incremental program that teaches and improves oral and written language skills. It emphasizes multisensory teaching techniques that utilize auditory, visual, tactile, and motor-kinesthetic cues to enhance learning. The method also employs the Northampton Symbol system for teaching sound-symbol relationships in reading and uses cursive writing for initial instruction. Additionally, the method utilizes a slower rate of speech, precise articulation, and color differentiation to improve attention and language processing. A personal workbook is created for each student as they progress through the method. For more information, contact The DuBard School for Language Disorders at the University of Southern Mississippi, Box 10035, Hattisburg, MS 39406-0035 or call 601/266-5223.

The Herman Approach

The Herman Method, developed by Renee Herman, is a sequence of instruction and methodology that begins by teaching students at their current level of deficit and then progresses through mastery of each skill level. The instruction expands upon these skill levels in a vertical and horizontal manner, similar to an inverted pyramid. This method utilizes multisensory strategies that link visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile stimuli to help dyslexic students compensate for visual and auditory processing problems. Kinesthetic and tactile exercises are used and repeated until the response is automatic. The reading curriculum of the Herman Method includes; decoding and encoding skills, sight word recognition, structural analysis, use of contextual clues, dictionary access skills, decoding of diacritical symbols, and the complete spectrum of comprehension skills.

Montessori and Sequential English Education Approach

The Sequential English Education program is a multisensory approach to teaching reading, writing, and spelling for students with dyslexia or related disorders. The program focuses on mastering the code of the English language, including the alphabetic and phonetic system, making it suitable for children as young as 5 or 6 years old. The instruction is provided in a one-on-one or small group (1:7) setting and is intensive. Multisensory techniques, such as the use of a memory board for visual-auditory-tactile and kinesthetic input, are used to enhance learning and correct errors. The program progresses from teaching word meanings to sentence paraphrasing to improve comprehension.


Orton-Gillingham is a structured and sequential multisensory approach to teaching written language that emphasizes the constant association of a letter or word's appearance, sound, and the physical sensation of producing it. Children learn the common rules of the English language, such as the final e rule and when to use -ck and -tch. Older students progress to learning syllable patterns, common prefixes, and suffixes, as well as Latin and Greek word parts.

Project Read

Project Read is an approach to teaching reading and written expression skills to children and adolescents in mainstream and special education settings, as well as Chapter One services. It started as a program for decoding and encoding, but it was soon realized that many students had more extensive language learning challenges, so the program was expanded to also include reading comprehension and written expression. The program is now known as "Language Circle" as it incorporates all aspects of language learning.

The Slingerland Multisensory Approach

The Slingerland Multisensory Approach is a classroom adaptation of the Orton-Gillingham method, designed for both preventive and remedial instruction. It can be taught in classrooms, small groups, or one-on-one with students of all ages. The Slingerland approach emphasizes the use of simultaneous, multisensory teaching strategies and starts by teaching the basic units of sight, sound, and feel - letters. It covers all language arts skills, including oral expression, decoding, reading comprehension, spelling, handwriting, and written expression, using an integrated direct instruction approach. The goal is to guide students towards independent reading and writing.

The Spalding Method is a comprehensive approach to language arts instruction that covers listening, speaking, writing, spelling, and reading. It is taught using integrated, simultaneous, multisensory instruction and emphasizes a child-centered approach, multisensory instruction, higher-level thinking, quality work, and the importance of tasks. It also incorporates language arts instruction into all curriculum areas.

Starting Over is an instructional program that aims to diagnose and remediate reading, spelling, vocabulary, writing, handwriting, and comprehension difficulties in dyslexic children and adults. Its philosophy is based on the belief that dyslexics can learn to read, spell, and write if they are diagnosed and taught using a multisensory, structured language approach. The program teaches teachers to do both the diagnosis and the remediation, and emphasizes the importance of developing awareness of differences among sounds, encouraging critical thinking, and fostering independence through daily review and sequenced steps for decoding and spelling. Additionally, the program posits that comprehension can be improved by improving decoding, and that writing can be mastered when taught alongside decoding and comprehension.

The Wilson Reading System

The Wilson Reading System is a 12-step program designed to help individuals with language-based learning disabilities improve their reading and writing skills. It is based on the Orton-Gillingham philosophy and current research on phonological coding, and teaches the structure of words in the English language to help students master the coding system for reading and spelling. Unlike other programs that may be overwhelming, the Wilson Reading System presents the language system of English in a systematic and incremental way, making it more manageable for students. The program specifically focuses on teaching strategies for decoding and spelling, but also includes oral expressive language development and comprehension from the early stages, using visualization techniques for better comprehension.

Learn with Koala is a comprehensive and interactive learning platform that is based on the principles of multisensory structured language programs. It provides a systematic and cumulative approach to teaching reading and spelling, using a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities to help students better understand and remember the material. The program is designed to directly teach the structure of words in the English language and provides strategies for decoding and spelling. Additionally, Learn with Koala includes oral expressive language development and comprehension, using visualization techniques to help students understand the material better. With its focus on the content and principles of instruction, Learn with Koala is an effective tool for helping children with language-based learning disabilities improve their reading and writing skills. For more information, You can find and book those classes on this page.

Happy Learning!

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