Reading Room – April 2023


This month we will be discussing orthography: what orthography is, how does it affect decoding and encoding, and strategies to teach it.

Or-thog-ra-phy – We can see that the word has four syllables. How many morphemes does this word have? If we check on Etmyonline (one of our favorite apps) we see that orthography has two morphemes: ortho – graphy both of which come from the Greek: Orthos – meaning “correct” and graphein meaning “to write”.
“Orthography is the art of writing words with proper letters according to standard usage”, as defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary. When we study orthography, we study the conventional spelling or words – for example – when do I use ck, c, or k to spell the /k/ sound? How do I add suffixes to unchanging and changing base words?

That’s why we study the spelling rules and letter/sound rules that govern the encoding of English. Orthography also includes English norms of not only spelling but of capitalization, hyphenation, word breaks, emphasis and punctuation.
Spelling in English can be complex because English also uses Latin, Greek, Spanish, and even French and German orthography, in some cases. However, do not despair because English is actually about 88% predictable! There are many conventions on which we can rely.

Remember to teach orthography/spelling as part of your Structured Literacy lesson using multisensory techniques, explicit and clear instruction and teach concepts incrementally until they are mastered. Research clearly shows that teaching encoding in conjunction with decoding greatly supports and improves both. One can think of decoding as seeing the symbols (letters) and attaching the sounds and encoding as the opposite – hearing the sounds and attaching the letters.

Some General Spelling Rules:

  • Teach your students the six syllable types of English – knowing these patterns will help your students with spelling the words – tap, tape (closed syllable to vowel consonant e syllable type)
  • Q is always followed by U – squeak, quick
  • S never follows X – boxes, taxes
  • Every syllable includes at least one vowel
  • I before E except after C (most of the time)
  • Use -ck directly after a short vowel for the ending /k/ sound
  • End 1-syllable words with double F’s and L’s & S’s & sometimes Z (Bonus Letter Rule, Floss Rule)
  • No word in English ends in V – shelve, give
  • No word in English ends in J (use DGE or G followed E) – fudge, plunge

Adding Suffixes to words:

Keep in mind that there are vowel suffixes and consonant suffixes.
Here are some common vowel suffixes – es, ing, ed, ive, able, en, er, est, ish, or, y
Here are some common consonant suffixes – s, ful, less, ly, ment, ness, ty
Often consonant suffixes can just be added to unchanging base words – shop – shops, hope – hopes. It becomes a bit tricky when adding vowel suffixes to these same words.
If we add the suffix ing to hope, we have hoping. We had to drop the e to add the vowel suffix. If we add that same suffix to shop we have to double the last consonant and we have shopping.
Rule: When adding a vowel suffix to a Vowel Consonant E syllable, drop the E and add the vowel suffix. (safe – safer)

Rule: When adding a vowel suffix to a 1:1:1 word, closed or r-controlled ( one syllable, one vowel, one consonant), double the last consonant. (thin – thinner)

Rule: The letter a often says /aw/ when followed by the letter l (all) and also if the letter w precedes it (water).

Adding suffixes to words ending in y:

Words ending in y have their own set of rules.  When you add a suffix that starts with e (such as -ed, -er, or -est) to a word that ends in y, the y usually changes to an i.

Cry – cried, crier

Dry – dried, drier

Baby – babies

Family – families

The y doesn’t change for the suffix ing.

Cry – crying

Dry – drying

If the word has two consonants before the y change the y to i.

Sloppy – sloppily

Happy – happily, happier




For questions, please contact:

Chris Fox –, Jessica Powell – 

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