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What is Orthographic Mapping all about?

**This post is the first in a series that will focus on what orthographic mapping looks like in a French immersion classroom and tips and techniques for how to implement it with your own students.**


Over the past few years, there has been a huge shift in the philosophy of how we teach students to read. I know, I know. You may be sitting there thinking that the pendulum is constantly swinging back and forth and there’s no point in changing your practice for it to just swing back the other way in a year or two. I totally get it. I’ll lay my cards on the table here and tell you that that has often been my way of thinking when the board introduces some new ‘revolutionary’ way of teaching.


However, this time it was a bit different for me. My background is in science and even personality wise, there’s nothing I love more than practice that is based on sound and robust data. The Science of Reading (SoR) is not only based on years of data and peer-reviewed studies and observations, but is also focused on bridging the ever-present gap between research and classroom practice. Some of you may have been applying the strategies and techniques of the SoR in your classroom for years, but if you’re anything like me not so long ago, this may all be pretty new and mind-blowing!


While there are many components of the SoR, the one that has made the most impact in my classroom is a focus on explicit phonics instruction combined with tons of orthographic mapping. Orthographic mapping is basically the way in which we store words

into our long term memory for quick and effortless recognition (i.e., how we turn unfamiliar words to sight words). This process is integral to developing students' abilities to decode and encode words, as well as becoming fluent readers. Orthographic mapping is the end result, but there are some important building blocks that have to be scaffolded before jumping right into orthographic mapping.


The key idea of mapping words to be stored in their long term word bank is that words are NOT stored visually or as whole words, but are stored phonetically. Looking at the graphemes (e.g., the word's sounds in print) helps activate the phonetic knowledge in the student's orthographic memory. Asking students to memorize words based on what they look like will lead to many students forgetting the words once you are done your word study. Instead, if we help students become more proficient at recognizing the phoneme-grapheme relationships, this helps them map the word into their orthographic memory and become permanently mapped.


Obviously, for students to be able to recognize these phoneme-grapheme relationships, they first need to have a strong handle on the oral phonetic system. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate phonemes (i.e., speech sounds) in words, such as initial sound isolation, segmenting a word into individual sounds, etc. If students don't have solid phonemic awareness, they won't be able to hear and isolate individual phonemes in the words they're trying to decode. Research shows that if students are able to identify at least 17 different phonemes by the end of kindergarten, regardless of which phonemes, it's a good sign for their future orthographic mapping, and therefore reading, skills.


Once students have developed some proficiency in phoneme recognition, you can then begin the process of connecting the phonemes to their corresponding graphemes. This is where some students can stall out, as certain phonemes can be represented by a variety of graphemes (e.g., phonème /ã/ can be represented by the graphemes an, am, en and em). In the French alphabetic system, there are 26 letters, but 36 phonemes and 130 graphemes. That is one complex system! This makes it even more important that we're providing explicit and systematic phonics instruction to help students learn and understand the most common graphemes for each phoneme to help them be able to decode (read) and encode (spell) almost any word!

One fun way to help develop the phoneme-grapheme connection is to play Freeze Dance Phonics! Play your favourite jam and the kids can dance around. When the music stops, I say a phoneme (i.e., t-t-t) and the students write the corresponding grapheme. This game can get more challenging by saying phonemes that can be represented by multiple graphemes. Another version is to have students write two different graphemes on the board (i.e., in and ou) and the students have to circle which grapheme is represented in the word you say out loud. Example: The teacher says the word 'matin' and the students circle the grapheme in after hearing the phoneme [ɛ̃] in the word.


One thing that is especially helpful is to provide students with a common word to anchor the phoneme. I love to use this little comptine des sons to help students remember the phoneme-grapheme connection. Additionally, repeating things in a rhythmic, choral fashion helps students develop an ear for language and store information in long term memory. We read it together every day and I send it home for students to practice at home.⁠ The format is to say the letter name, the picture word and then the phoneme So, you would say f - fleur - ffff or F comme fleur fait ffff. It's structured around the phoneme, so not always the initial sound. ⁠

This is based on something that is used in the French board here in Ottawa, but I changed many of the words to make them more recognizable and accessible to immersion students.⁠😍


Coming soon...


In the next few weeks, I'll be releasing two more blog posts all about orthographic mapping. The first will talk about what orthographic mapping looks like in the French immersion classroom and the second will focus on tips and tricks to help your students become pros at connecting phonemes to graphemes!



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