Have you ever kept coming across the same word in multiple places and thought that you sort of knew what it meant, but it kept coming up so much that you just had to stop, dig in deep, and make sure that you really understood it? That’s what happened with me and the concept of orthographic mapping in the process of learning to read. I needed to pause and dig deep to make sure I really understood what it is and how it comes into play in learning to read words.
What Is Orthographic mapping?
Orthographic mapping is the process of attaching graphemes (the written symbols of language) to the sounds of words in order. Beginning readers begin with words they know. The sounds and the meaning of words that they know are stored in their long term memory. When beginning readers orthographically map words, they separate the sounds of the word and then attach those sounds to graphemes. For example, a student knows the sounds and the meaning for the word lap. The student breaks it up into its sound /l/ - /a/ - /p/. Then, the student connects those sounds to the letters l, a, and p. With repetition, this leads to the word being stored in long term memory. That is orthographic mapping. The connecting of the sounds of a word to the letters of a word. In order for beginning readers to be able to orthographically map the word readers have to know three things:
The word has to be an orally known word;
The reader has to be able to pull the sounds in the word apart;
The reader has to know the letter sounds for the letters in the word to connect them.
More Experienced Readers
What about more experienced readers who aren’t only reading words they know? How does orthographic mapping work for them? When more experienced readers come across a word they don’t know, they also orthographically map words in order to store them in long term memory. The process is a little different because they pull on phonological knowledge of known sight words. Sight words are words that a reader knows instantly, by sight. They do not have to stop and decode the word. (Not to be confused with high frequency words.) When more experienced readers come across a word they don’t know, they pause, try to pull the sounds of the word apart based on what they know about the graphemes in the word. Then, they attach the sounds they perceive in the word in order to read it. More experienced readers pull out what they know about how phonics works in order to orthographically map the sounds of unknown words. For many readers this is an automatic process. For some readers it is not and leads to reading difficulty.
I used several resources to more deeply understand the concept of orthographic mapping. I’m linking them below. The information in this blog is synthesized from the resources below.
The Role of Orthographic Mapping in Learning to Read from Literacy Lines: The Keys to Literacy Blog
The Big Five: Phonics-Orthographic Mapping from Orton Gillingham Online Academy
Dr. Linnea Ehri’s List of Instructional Guidelines for Enhancing Orthographic Mapping and Word Learning from Understanding the Science of Reading