Orthographic Mapping Explained

Science of Reading

the reading brainOrthographic mapping is the cognitive process that enables us to establish a solid connection between spoken language and written words. It involves the ability to recognize and link the sounds (phonemes) of words to their corresponding written symbols (graphemes) with accuracy and efficiency. As a crucial component of reading development, successful orthographic mapping allows individuals to effortlessly decode and comprehend written language. When this mapping process is well-established, readers can recognize words quickly and accurately, enhancing their overall reading fluency and comprehension. Essentially, orthographic mapping lays the foundation for proficient reading skills by enabling a seamless transition between spoken and written language.


When children are first learning to read, they are painstakingly working on building the phonological route in the brain, which is the foundation for decoding and word recognition skills. The phonological route involves the ability to break down words into their individual sounds, blend sounds together, and manipulate sounds within words. It requires children to develop phonemic awareness, which is the understanding that words are made up of distinct sounds, known as phonemes. At this early stage of reading development, children are like detectives, analyzing the sounds they hear in spoken language and connecting them to written symbols. They rely heavily on their phonological skills to decode and pronounce words accurately. As they progress, their phonological route becomes more automatic, enabling them to read with greater fluency and efficiency. It is crucial for educators to provide explicit and systematic instruction in phonological awareness and phonics to support children in building a strong phonological route, as it serves as the gateway to reading fluency and comprehension.


cognitive loadOnce the phonological route is strengthened and becomes more automatic, the brain’s letterbox begins to grow, and a new neural pathway called the lexical route emerges. The lexical route involves the direct recognition of whole words as units. As children’s reading proficiency improves, they start to develop a mental bank of familiar words that they can quickly recognize and retrieve from their long-term memory. This lexical route allows for rapid and effortless word identification, leading to increased reading fluency. Additionally, the lexical route plays a crucial role in expanding vocabulary and developing reading comprehension skills. Children can extract meaning from familiar words without having to spend excessive cognitive effort on decoding, enabling them to focus more on understanding the overall message of the text.


By nurturing both the phonological route and the lexical route, educators can support students in becoming proficient and confident readers who can effortlessly navigate written language with fluency, accuracy, and comprehension.