Preventing Academic Failure: An Orton Gillingham Approach

What's All the Hype?

By: Jennifer Smalley

Phonics instruction is crucial in the development of reading and language skills. Preventing Academic Failure (PAF), by Phyllis Bertin and Eileen Perlman is an Orton Gillingham based mulit-sensory program targeting grades one through four. Using the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities simultaneously, the PAF curriculum systematically and unequivocally teaches the skills required for the successful acquisition of reading, writing, and spelling. The program includes a curriculum sequence (level 1 through 245) that provides a complete language lesson with each new skill taught. The level of difficulty determines the length of time necessary for each new skill. Assessment is proficiency and sequentially based.

The PAF program is coordinated with the Merrill Linguistic Reading Program, Explode the Code, and Megawords. PAF is a highly structured program, appropriate for all children including and especially those identified with dyslexia and learning disabilities.

Components of a Daily Lesson

1. REVIEW of sounds, key words and motor patterns previously taught. (These sounds are presented on the PAF Alphabet Cards). This includes phonograms, affixes, and red words (non-phonetic words). The student views the letter(s) (visual), says the name of the letter, names the key picture, says it's sound (each auditory), and then sky writes the letter (writes in the air, arm extended-kinesthetic).

2. INTRODUCTION of the NEW SKILL: Key sound(s), key word and motor pattern to be taught in the curriculum sequence is presented. This part of the lesson includes five components: 1. Phonograms, 2. Grammar rules, 3. Syllabication, 4. Spelling rules, and 5. Red words.

3. SPELLING DICTATION: Here the students apply previously taught skills as well as the new skill in writing. It is important to select words that can be spelled with skills previously taught and red words learned, to a mastery level, in the spelling and sentence dictation. Writing includes individual phonetic words, as well as sentences dictated by the instructor and student originated sentences. A corresponding word list is provided in the back of the PAF manual.

4. READING: The students practice the skill of decoding words on lists of isolated words, corresponding to the skill taught.

5. REINFORCEMENT: Teacher made activities and/or phonetic workbooks (i.e.: Explode the Code) provide practice of the skills.


Level 106 / fl/ Red Words: one, done, someone, none


Drill and practice 4-8 previously introduced red words on flash cards. Drill previously taught phonograms using the PAF Alphabet Picture Cards. The student names the letter(s), the key word/picture illustrated, says the sound of the letter(s), and then practices the motor pattern.


Write 8-10 words on the chalkboard beginning with the sound /fl/. Have the students identify what is similar with each of the words. Identify the / fl/. Next, show the students a picture of a flag (the key word) displayed on the PAF Alphabet Picture Card. The sound of / fl/ is then taught, and the motor pattern is demonstrated. The students then say the letters fl, name the key picture (flag), say the sound of /fl/, and then practice the motor pattern.


This will always be done the same way. Model on the board when getting started. It is sometimes helpful to skip lines between lines 1 through 6.

Line 1

Students write the sound(s) for: ar, cl, gl, e, sh, I, sl, sm, a

Line 2

Students write the suffixes for the: past (ed), doing(ing), and plural(s,es)

Line 3

Students write the following red words: one, done, none, someone

Line 4

Students write the following dictated words: flag, flop, flat, flu, fly, flesh, flex, flashbulb,fling, flab, flips, flatbed

Line 5

Students write 3 or 4 of the following dictated sentence: -Don't fling the fly on the flashbulb! -Who will flop on the flatbeds? -The flag in flying over there. -Someone has done flips in the sand.

Line 6

Students use the following words in an original, student generated, sentence: flips, flesh


Students practice the skill of decoding words on word lists corresponding to the sound of fl.


Students practice the skills taught in teacher made materials and/or phonics materials.

**About the Author**

Jennifer Smalley is currently a Fourth Grade Inclusion teacher in Wappinger Falls, New York. Her 14 years of experience have included teaching Self Contained, Resource, and Inclusion Room programs, covering grades 1 through 6.

**Sites That Can Help**

For more information on PAF visit: