How To Orthographically Map A Tricky Word

How To Orthographically Map A Tricky Word

Research has demonstrated that children learn to read through a process called orthographic mapping. This is where the brain maps (connects) the sounds (phonemes) to the letters (graphemes) in a word. Orthographic mapping allows students to take an unfamiliar word and turn it into a ‘sight word’. This is where a sight word can be immediately retrieved from the brain.

Therefore, in order for tricky words to truly stick, we have to help children connect the sounds to the symbols that represent those sounds.

The Orthographic Mapping Process

In order to successfully map words, students must have the ability to orally segment a word, as well as some knowledge of letter-sounds.

The process for orthographically mapping a tricky word is as follows:


1.Say the word and tap the sounds in the word. How many sounds altogether?

Show boxes/circles to represent each sound. No letters (graphemes) at this point.

2. Discuss the sounds

For example:

  • The first sound in ‘said’ is /s/. Touch the first dot or box.
  • The second sound in ‘said’ is /e/. Touch the second dot or box.
  • The third sound in ‘said’ is /d/. Touch the third dot or box.

3. Map the word

Discuss which letters make each of the regular sound.

  • The first sound is /s/. What letter do we use to spell ‘s’?
  • The last sound is /d/. What letter do we use to spell ‘d’?
  • The middle sound is /e/ but we don’t use the letter ‘e’ to spell this sound. We use the digraph ‘ai’.

This is where students may draw a little heart over the tricky part of the word.

4. Discuss any words with similar spellings (if possible) and/or reasons why that particular spelling is used.

Take the tricky and make it sticky!

As much as I have loved a good classroom password in the past, we know that simply asking students to memorise words isn't evidence-based. So, how can we still have the fun of a classroom password but align it to best practice?

Take the tricky, and make it sticky!

Take the tricky and make it sticky

This freebie can be used with or without post-it notes to focus on the tricky spellings in target words. Use as a display to support your explicit lessons, OR as a classroom password alternative. Students tap each of the sounds as they enter and/or exit your room!

Download your free posters here.