How to use Orthography to get the Most out of Phonics for Spelling

What is Orthography?

‘The conventional spelling system of a language.’

‘The study of spelling and how letters combine to represent sounds and form words.’

(Oxford English Dictionary)

High quality SSP ensuring children have a solid foundational knowledge of GPCs

The first way we use orthography is when teaching pupils phonics in KS1.

We advocate the use of a systematic synthetic phonics programme which will cover all of the grapheme-phoneme correspondences.

There are 44 phonemes in the English language (the smallest units of sounds we use to create words)

There are around 250 graphemes (the way we write these small units of sound)

In their phonics teaching, pupils learn that different graphemes are used for the same sound. They have to learn features such as ‘best fit rules’ to learn where certain graphemes are used within a word to aid their spelling. E.g ‘ie’ and ‘y’ making the /i/ sound, would never come at the beginning of a word.


The majority of GPCs will be taught through the statutory systematic synthetic phonics programme.

In Phonics Shed we cover them by the end of Chapter 4b whilst adding and consolidating them in Chapter 4c and beyond.

This should not be seen as the ‘completion’ of your phonics scheme. When pupils go to KS2 they are often taken from using skills they have been taught in phonics to aid spelling, to simply being told how to spell something using letter names for example. We need to ensure that the transition from phonics to KS2 spelling is considered and teachers have existing phonics knowledge to help these pupils.

Spelling Lists

Spelling Shed lists in Stage 3 (Year 3)

Lists are generally organised around grapheme/phoneme patterns.

You can see that both of these lists have the ‘ou’ digraph but they make different sounds

Picking out spelling patterns and using different approaches to breaking up the words – such as looking at the amount of syllables, beginnings and endings of words also .

Orthographic Mapping

Orthographic mapping is a method of breaking up (mapping) a word so that we can look at different sections of the word. This can help to identify different GPCs, spelling patterns or origin of a certain part of the word. Popular ways to do this are in syllables, or splitting separate sounds by using ‘sound buttons’ or Elkonin boxes.

Positional Best Fit

Another way to map a word, when thinking about how to spell it or learn the spelling is to study the positional best fit rules for different GPCs. If we look at the different graphemes for the long /ee/ sound below some of the graphemes are most likely only found in a certain position in a word.

At the beginning of words:

e_e, ee and ea but never ie.

ey and y are not found at the beginning of words.

In the middle of words:

e_e, ee and ie are all used.  ie as in chief is less common.

ey and y are not commonly used in the middle of words.

At the end of words:

ie is used in words like pixie and brownie but less common.

ey and y are most commonly used at the end of words.  E.g. trolley, chimney, story, salty.

story vs storey – There is often no discernible reason why ‘story’ and ‘storey’ are spelled differently, however, this can sometimes be explained through etymology or morphology.

The first two syllables are very simple.  We can focus on the sounds in the 3rd syllable.  /Ch/ spelled with a ‘t’ and /ur/ spelled ‘eur’
This is often cited as a reason for not teaching phonics.  It does however, actually prove phonics teaching is necessary.

GHOTI cannot = fish. 

‘gh’ is never /f/ at the beginning of a word.  Only at the end.  ‘o’ only makes an /i/ sound in ‘women’ and ‘ti’ only makes a /sh/ when put with ‘on’ in words like station.  These are all rules we teach our children in phonics and spelling lessons before they reach about 7 or 8 years old.

Use Your Spelling Voice!

This is not a posh voice. It is not fixed.  It is a way of saying the words in order to give the children the best chance of spelling them correctly.  It is a scaffold and should not be permanent – used whilst children are learning to spell a word.  If children need to say GEO/GRAFF/EE whilst spelling it then that is fine, but we should be aiming for them to remove the scaffolding.

Our NEW Spelling Shed scheme

Our new spelling shed scheme is available to view and access sample lessons with a free trial. Sign up here:

We have based our scheme around morphology, etymology and orthography to help give more strategies to KS2 pupils to learn more complex spellings.