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The Sonday System in Action: Part 1 of 12

Tom Guyer


Design features and proven techniques that make the Sonday System the best reading intervention program for students with dyslexia and other struggling readers. 

Phonemic Awareness 

42 states have now passed dyslexia laws – proof positive that serving the needs of students with reading difficulties is a primary focus in schools across the nation. Study after study has concluded that the best way to serve these students is with an Orton-Gillingham based curriculum. 

The challenge to school districts is that, because Orton-Gillingham historically requires lots of lesson planning and extensive training, it can be difficult to implement. Since our foundation in 1997, our goal has been to build a curriculum that would not compromise the highly effective Orton-Gillingham approach while making it so anyone could use it to be an effective teacher of Orton-Gillingham. 

In the 20 years since, we have worked closely with school districts all across the country to develop a streamlined, easy-to-implement multisensory curriculum that empowers teachers to get more students reading sooner. This 12-part series highlights the specific features that help make the Sonday System so effective in serving the needs of students, teachers and administrators.

According to the National Reading Panel, Phonemic Awareness is one of the two best predictors of how well children will learn to read. Many people find this surprising because Phonemic Awareness relates more to hearing than seeing: It is defined as “the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds.”1 

What this means is, in order to be an effective reader, a student must first be able to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words and understand that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of sounds.  This oral language skill is the foundation for reading and spelling. 

For example, if you ask a child, “What word is made with the sounds, /d/ /o/ /g/,” the expected reply is, “DOG!” This involves the task of phoneme (sound) blending, the precursor to decoding (reading). If the student can’t blend the sounds, then we can’t expect them to look at the letters “d-o-g,” connect a sound to each letter and then blend those sounds together.

Working in the other direction, if you ask a student to identify the sounds in the word “cat,” he should reply, “/c/ /a/ /t/.” This involves the Phonemic Awareness skill of segmenting, a precursor to encoding (spelling). Here again, if the student can’t segment the sounds, we can’t expect them to spell the word cat, which involves segmenting, then selecting the correct letter to represent each sound. 

The Sonday System addresses this by providing students with opportunities to refine and strengthen their Phonemic Awareness skills in the lesson. In Sonday System 1, students engage in a ball toss activity to strengthen phoneme isolation skills. Lessons also include “Touch Spell,” a method for physically segmenting sounds, before writing a word.

We think about building a strong reader the same way we think about building a house: it all starts with a solid foundation. Phonemic Awareness is the foundation for reading and spelling. 

Next: Keeping Students Engaged

More information about the Sonday System, its Orton Gillingham lesson plans, its cost-effective teacher training requirements and its simple, multisensory reading intervention strategies for students with dyslexia can be found at

1 (Yopp, 1992).