English orthographic system was fixed between the 8th and 9th centuries. However, the phonological system appeared between 18th and 19th and the written one between the 14th and 15th. Hence, there isn’t an univocal system of orthographic reference for all the different sounds, such as in Spanish.
The linguistic properties of the orthographic system can be studied from two points of view: Graphetics and Graphology (which recognises the notion of grapheme).
In the orthographic system we also have to deal with the punctuation system and its functions and the types of writing systems (phonological system and non phonological system).
1. English Spelling
In English, there are some orthographic codes that we need to follow and to know. These codes have to do with: capital letters, formation of plurals (-y; -ch, -sh, -s, -x, -z, -o; -f, -fe; mutated plurals; vestiges of OE weak plurals; nouns which do not admit any plural feature; strange cases), foreign words, compounds, doubling of consonants, the suffix -ly, change from -y into -i, enumerators, weights and measures, –e in final position of a word, the suffix -ful and -ise or -ize in final position.
At the same time, as teachers, we have to know the diachronic study of English, as it changed from an inflected (synthetic) language into an analytical one, through the different periods: Old English, Middle English and Modern English. Because of this evolution in the English language, its alphabet of 27 graphemes has to cope with a sound system of nearly 40 phonemes.
From a synchronic point of view, we have to mention that there is one single spelling and punctuation system with two minor subsystems: the British and the American.
2. Sound-Spelling Correspondences
In here, we should let our students know that one letter can have different pronunciations or even be silent, and there is no consistent rule for this. This happens to all vowels and <Y>. In the case of consonants we find c, ch, g, ng, th and x.
The same can happen to morphemes like -ADE, -AGE, -ATE, -ED, (E)S, -FUL, -MENT, -RE. And regarding silent letters, we can find B, C, G, H, K, L, N, P, R, S, T, W. Of course, examples of each of the situations, must be provided.
3. Teaching Visual Writing Skills
Students must cope and develop several aspects when they are learning to write properly in English: grammatical, stylistic, rhetorical, organisational, and graphic or visual skills. At the same time, teachers have to have in mind that the curriculum stresses the importance of receptive skills over productive skills and the oral over the written medium.
Likewise, when teaching the writing code, we have to start by an oral presentation if we are presenting a new written item, and a visual backup will be needed. And of course, we have to remember that our goal is attitudinal.
Furthermore, we have to be able to encourage the students to write and to express themselves in the foreign language. Clarity and organisation will be asked in their short compositions.
4. Spelling in Writing Activities (Didactic Proposals for the Written Code)
To improve children’s visual writing skills, spelling, and so on, it is very useful to use game such as: the hanged man, crosswords, word creation, riddles, word bingo, guess the mistake, etc.
If we want competent Primary Education students in grammatical competence, orthography has to be a priority in their learning. Teachers have to be able to propose contextualised activities, so they can feel motivated about it. And we can not forget that writing should always be preceded by oral activities.