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How to Teach Phonics to Big Kids and Adults: Silent Final e

Students find the silent final e to be a frustrating component of  our English sound-spelling system. In particular, second-language learners struggle with both pronunciations and spellings of silent final words. However, this tricky sound-spelling actually helps more than it confuses.

We have those late Middle English folks from Chaucer’s Day (before the Great Vowel Shift beginning about 1350 A.D.) to blame and thank for the silent final e. Some of you must have read the old version of his Canterbury’s Tales in high school or college. In the book, words such as care were pronounced as two syllables (kā/ruh), rather than one. The final was added on to signal an object, not a subject noun, and a plural, not a singular noun. The English kept the spelling, but dropped the suffix syllable sound.

Kids often ask, “Why do we have to learn it, when we don’t have to say it?” Following are eight decent responses:

  1. The silent final says so, and she’s the boss. After all, silence speaks louder than words. If a word pronunciation is confusing, the silent final steps up to be the “bossy final e” to make the other letters make sounds which make sense to us. 
  2. The silent final helps us divide words into syllables and makes pronunciation easier. Remember that every syllable must have a vowel. If we didn’t have the the silent final e, how could we pronounce a word such as stapl?  Sta/ple is much simpler.
  3. The silent final signals that a word ending in an is not a plural. For example, “I hope she has sense enough not to break her promise” lets us know that it’s just one sense and just one promise, not more than oneAfter all, “”I hope she has sens enough not to break her promis” might be confusing.
  4. The silent final e usually signals a preceding long vowel sound. For example, hide and note (long vowel sounds) keep readers from reading hid and not (short vowel sounds). Even most of the vowel digraphs (another result of the Great Vowel Shift) are long vowel sounds signaled by the silent final e, for example leave and owe. Yes, it’s true there are exceptions, which we have to memorize as “outlaw words.” Many of these sight words were common Middle English words that the Brits refused to change, such as love, give, and have.
  5. The silent final signals soft /c/ and /g/ sounds, such as prince and huge.
  6. The silent final is used to show the difference in homophones, such as in or and ore.
  7. The silent final e prevents i, u, and v from being the last letter in a word. For example, we would rather read about people who lie about their true love, rather than about people who li about their tru lov.
  8. The silent final makes the /th/ a voiced sound, such as with clothe, breathe, bathe, and teethe. Check out my article on “How to Teach the Voiced and Unvoiced ‘th'” if this confuses you.

Some students find the silent final to be hard to spell when adding on suffixes. This silent final song might help!

     Memory Rap (Play the audio file HERE.)

    Drop the final e when adding on an ending if it starts with a vowel up front.

            Keep the final e when adding on an ending if it starts with a consonant.

            Also keep the e when you hear soft “c” or “g”

            Before “able” or “o-u-s”

            Mostly keep the e when the ending is “v-e”,

            “e-e”, or even “o-e”.

The first step is to determine what is missing from the your students’ knowledge of the silent final e phonics patterns. Teachers have used my reading assessments for years to pinpoint phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words deficits. For the purposes of this article, the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment pinpoints which silent final e sound-spellings students have not yet mastered.

Silent Final e Phonics

Silent Final e Instructional Sequence

The second step is to follow a research-tested instructional scope and sequence. Most all explicit, systematic phonics programs begin with short vowels and layer on consonant sounds and consonant blends. Next, phonics programs begin with the long vowel sound-spellings or teach the silent final e sound-spellings. Following are the instructional sequence from the author’s reading intervention program and the silent final e animal sound-spelling cards used to introduce the names, sounds, and spellings.

The third step is to group students who have demonstrated that they have not yet achieved mastery with the silent final sound-spellings. Teachers use a variety of small group formats. Literacy centers have become a popular option to provide remedial instruction within some centers (stations), while offering grade-level and/or accelerated instruction in other centers.

The fourth step is to set aside the necessary time to teach the silent final sound-spellings. Initial instruction takes longer; however, remedial instruction can be accomplished quite quickly, because gap-filling builds upon some degree of prior knowledge, albeit a shaky foundation. Typically, five 20-minute workshops will facilitate mastery as indicated by formative assessments.

Silent Final e Phonics

Silent Final e Sound-Spellings

The fifth step is to provide effective instruction and practice for the silent final  sound-spellings and to use a formative assessment to determine mastery. Teachers need to have back-up lessons in case the student does not master the silent final e on the formative assessment. A solid foundation will allow students to learn additional reading skills.

Teachers who would like to use my silent final phonics lessons and formative assessment are welcome to download this workshop from my Teaching Reading Strategies program:

Get the Silent Final e Phonics Lessons FREE Resource:

Teaching Reading Strategies Reading Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Tier I and II Response to Intervention groups. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, 102 remedial spelling worksheets, expository comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages (same text) with word counts and timing charts recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 reading and spelling game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice,and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and special education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum.  Plus the video training modules teach you everything you need implement the program successfully. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Elizabeth Lewis

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