Posts Tagged ‘how to teach long vowels’

Long Vowels for Big Kids

FREE Long Vowel Lessons

Long Vowel Lessons with Formative Assessment and Phonics Cards

When we are talking about long vowels we often say what we don’t mean. The problem is that when we say that English has five main vowels: a, e, i, o, and u, we are often referring to the alphabetic symbols, not the sounds which they represent. We do the same with consonants, by the way.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines vowel in this way:  “A speech sound produced by humans when the breath flows out through the mouth without being blocked by the teeth, tongue, or lips.” The secondary definition of vowel is a letter which symbolizes the sound.

By the way, I checked four other dictionaries and they say the same thing. The key phrase for the primary definition is “speech sound.” We reading specialists and speech therapists refer to speech sounds as phonemes. Experts disagree on the number of phonemes, but 43 is a decent number. Yes, the other dictionaries refer to vowels as letters in their secondary definitions.

Here’s the problem. We confuse beginning and remedial readers by using the primary (speech sounds) and secondary (letters) definitions interchangeably. Listen to some of our students’ justifiable confusions (Okay, I added on a bit to make the points):

“You said, ‘Every syllable has only one vowel sound, but now you’re telling us that /ow/ as in cow has two sounds. How many syllables is downtown? Or what about poison? Are you just making this up as you go along?

“Is this silent final thing a vowel? So does the word breathe have three vowels? If a vowel has a sound, how can a vowel not have a sound? Are we in some parallel universe and I didn’t notice?”

“You said that ‘a long vowel says its name.’ What about the word tune or duty? Don’t those vowels say /oo/? And you said that can be a long vowel. But it doesn’t say it’s name in dying or baby. Did you go to school for this?

“You told us that ‘When two vowels go walking, the first one usually does the talking. If is a vowel and is a vowel, then shouldn’t I be putting peanut butter on my br/ē/d? Of is that another one of your ‘Outlaw Words’? Or how bread and bead are one syllable, but cre/ate are two? What have you been smokin’?”

“Didn’t you say that the blank after the consonant digraph /wh/ means that a vowel has to go in there? What about the color white? Is a vowel? Is a vowel? Why is “i_e” called a vowel sound-spelling, when it’s got two vowels. This phonics stuff is whacked.”

“Now that we’ve learned that a, e, i, o, and are vowels, you brought up the ‘sometimes y’… Are there any other consonants that can also be vowels?… What? ‘W Vowels and Y, L, H, M, R, and N While We’re At It‘? Can’t we just go back to memorizing everything as sight words? Next thing you’re going to tell me is that my peanut butter can be jelly and my jelly can be peanut butter on my sandwich, or that we can never starve in the desert because of all the sand-which-es there.” There’s always a jokester in a response to intervention class, I’ve found.

How can we avoid this confusion? Let’s try to be consistent in using only the primary definition of a vowel, i.e. the speech sound. Teach students that the alphabetic code is a bunch of symbols which we call letters. The letters represent sounds, just like the different stars on our flag represent the 50 different states. The stars are symbols… not the real things. We wouldn’t say the stars are the states. That would be dumb. We also wouldn’t say that the alphabet letters are the sounds. That would be dumb. The different letters represent, or mean, the different sounds.

With this understanding, students can readily accept that a combination of alphabetic letters (digraphs, diphthongs, and blends) represent one or more speech sounds. For example, I suggest saying, “The word bead has a vowel digraph… one vowel sound spelled with two letters,” not bead has two vowels. Similarly say, “The word point has a diphthong… two connected vowel sounds.” Don’t shy away from using the academic language. Your kids can handle it and it makes you look smart. By the way, I try and stay away from the general term vowel teams because we teach students that a team is singular as a collective noun, but use what works for you and your students.

The Long Vowels

The Long Vowels

Long Vowels

How to Teach Long Vowels

Introductory Definition: Like the five short vowels, the five long vowels are different sounds. Mostly, their sounds are the same as the names of the alphabet letters a, e, i, o, and u.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: ape, eagle, ibex, okapi, and mule each use these different sounds. The long vowel sounds are written in red on the cards with slashes (/) before and after to remind us that the long vowel is a sound, not a letter.

Unlike the short vowels, each of the long vowels has more than one spelling. The most common spellings are listed below the names of the cards. A blank means that a consonant must go in there. A consonant is a different sound than a vowel and can be spelled with one or more letters.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching long vowels to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the long vowel spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the long vowel cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. As an MA reading specialist with experience teaching grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and community college remedial reading classes, the one thing I’ve learned is that with intervention students, you’ve got to approach instruction from different angles. As an aside, although this article is all about explicit, systematic phonics instruction, my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention also provides resources for instruction using rimes (word families), sight words, sight syllables, syllabication… anything that works. The different phonics angle is assessment-based instruction. Older students are motivated to learn what they don’t know. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the long vowels through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the Long Vowel Phonics Lessons and Phonics Cards FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.


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