Posts Tagged ‘vowel teams’

Syllable Transformers

Every teacher and parent has heard about transformers: the movies, the action characters, etc. If you’re a parent of a younger child, you know all about Bumblebee.

Since the dawn of the Transformers in 1984, the spunky little Autobot called Bumblebee has been a fan favorite. Why? He was the underdog. He was small, and he was one of the weaker Transformers, but his heart was huge and he showed great bravery on the battlefield. As a result, he was an admired and gentle friend not only to humans, but to his peers as well. And it didn’t hurt that his alternate mode was a cute little yellow Volkswagen Beetle. He now has at least six other transformations!

What if we could apply that same transformer concept to beginning reading and reading intervention? We can with Syllable Transformers.

FREE Unit on Syllable Transformers

Syllable Transformers

As a reading specialist working with struggling older readers in the 1990s, I had the pleasure of learning from the late Dr. John Sheffelbine from California State University at Sacramento. John was a self-described “phonicator” and created the BPST (Basic Phonics Skills Test) in its various iterations and the Scholastic Phonics Readers. One powerful set of lessons that John developed dealt with open and closed syllables. An open syllable is one which ends in a long vowel e.g. bay; a closed syllable ends in a consonant and the vowel is short e.g. bat.

John hypothesized that the best way to learn these open and closed syllable rules was to practice them together: to see how the vowel sound transforms from one syllable pattern to another. Additionally, because educators were transitioning from the whole language philosophy to a phonics-based approach, many students over-relied on sight words and syllables, rather than upon applying sound-symbol correspondences. The instructional implications were clear that practice in real syllable patterns would not solve the problem for these “look and say” syllable guessers. The answer was to use nonsense syllables. Brilliant!

I tried John’s “Syllable Transformations” and they worked wonders. However, I could see the power of expanding John’s idea to other syllable patterns. I also tweaked his approach to make the methodology a bit more “user-friendly” and “technologically-savvy” (I typed them up and displayed them on a machine we used to call the overhead projector.)

Years later I developed my own comprehensive reading intervention program (promo below), and I included Syllable Transformers as part of the weeks 9–13 instruction in both the half-year intensive and full-year program implementation. Teachers and students love this fast-paced whole-class response activity. I’m sending all of these lessons to your email inbox with the FREE download at the end of this article.

Week 9: Open and Closed Syllables

A vowel at the end of a syllable (CV) usually has a long vowel sound. This pattern is called an open syllable. The syllable following begins with a consonant. Example: below.

A vowel before a syllable-ending consonant (VC) is usually short. This pattern is called a closed syllable. The syllable following begins with a consonant. Example: bas-ket.

Weeks 10–11: Silent Final e Syllable Rule

The silent final e makes the vowel before a long sound, if only one consonant sound is between the two (VCe). For example, lately.

Weeks 12–13: Vowel Teams Syllable Rule

Usually keep vowel teams together in the same syllable. For example, beau-ty.

Syllable Worksheets and Derivative Worksheets: Following the Syllable Transformers, we continue learning the more complicated syllable patterns with real word blending.

Check out this quick video on how to teach Syllable Transformers: Syllable Transformers

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards and speech articulation songs. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Assessment-based Instruction provides diagnostically-based “second chance” instructional resources. The program includes 13 comprehensive assessments and matching instructional resources to fill in the yet-to-be-mastered gaps in phonemic awareness, alphabetic awareness, phonics, fluency (with YouTube modeled readings), Heart Words and Phonics Games, spelling patterns, grammar, usage, and mechanics, syllabication and morphology, executive function shills. Second Half of the Year Program (25 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program BUNDLE  includes all 3 program components for the comprehensive, state-of-the-art (and science) grades 4-adult full-year program. Scripted, easy-to-teach, no prep, no need for time-consuming (albeit valuable) LETRS training or O-G certification… Learn as you teach and get results NOW for your students. Print to speech with plenty of speech to print instructional components.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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Vowel Team Spelling Games

Alternatives to Words Their Way

The Problem with Words Their Way

Developing spellers often struggle in the “Within Word” stage of spelling development. The key challenge for spellers within this spelling stage involves the vowel sound-spellings. The vowel combinations are especially challenging. Both vowel digraphs (two vowel spellings producing one sound), such as “aw” as in hawk, and vowel diphthongs (two or more vowel spellings producing more than one sound, such as “ow” as in towel, are frequently called vowel teams.

The following three spelling games will help your developing spellers both recognize and practice these vowel team spellings. First, learn which vowel sound-spellings that your students don’t know with an effective diagnostic spelling assessment. The games should not be played until the vowel team spelling pattern has been introduced with plenty of examples. Students should also have some practice in spelling the vowel team spelling pattern in the context of dictations and sentence writing before play because the games are designed as reinforcement and practice. The games will help your remedial readers discriminate among similar vowel sound-spelling patterns. Oh, by the way… the games are fun!

Word Jumbles

-Overview/Object of the Game

Each vowel team sound-spelling pattern has a multi-syllabic word jumble. The jumble is a word that includes the vowel sound-spelling with all the letters re-arranged. The object of the game is to make as many words as possible out of the word jumble and then to try and guess the entire word.


Write out the unscrambled word on one side of a 3 X 5 card and the jumbled word on the other. All students need to play is a sheet of binder paper and a pencil.

Divide your spellers up into small groups of three or four students, clustered around a desk or table. The students must be seated, in order to write.


Place the card on the desk or table, jumbled side facing up. Give a three minute time limit for students to write down as many words as they can find within the word jumble. Instruct the players to turn over the card.

Students take turns sharing their list, spelling each out loud. Award ten points for the whole unscrambled word, if spelled correctly. Additionally, add on one point for each correctly spelled word and  two points for a word that no one else in the group finds. Students total their points to see who is the winner.

For example, for the “_ay” vowel team long a spelling, the word payment has the word jumble, APETNYM. The jumble includes these words:

ape              ten            tap       yet       map     man     pay      pat       many   mane    meant  tape

Word Jumble List

Sound-Spelling   Word              Word Jumble

Long a Sound

“a__e”                         carefully          yluflarec

“ai__”                          straining          ginianrts

“__ay”                         betrayal           tylaaebr

“ei”                               freighter          hefrgiret

Long e Sound

“__ee”                         meetings          mtsgniee

“ea”                            teachers           srehcaet

“__y”                           leisurely           ylurelies

“i__e”                          tambourine      neuriboamt

“[c]ei”                          ceiling              ginclie

Long i Sound

“i__e”                          provided          dideprvo

“__igh”                        frightened       tndeehgirf

“__y”                           beautify           fyiauetb

“__ie”                          untied              teunde

Long o Sound

“o__e”                         hopeful            plefuoh

“__oe”                         mistletoe         stelimeot

“oa__”                         groaned           anodegr

“ow”                            ownership        phisernow

Long u Sound

“u”                               musical            csualim

“u__e”                         usefulness       uefessflns

“__ew”                        curfew             furcwe

“_ue”                           fueling             inufegn

oo as in food Sound

“oo”                             toothache        eooatthch

“u”                               cruising            rciuisgn

“u__e”                         attitude            tttiadeu

“__ew”                        unscrewed       dweenuscr

“_ue”                           barbecued        ecduberab

oo as in foot Sound

“oo”                             understood      ouorsdtden

“__u__”                       sugarless          ragulsses

oy Sound

“oi__”                          poisonous        oponsiuos

“__oy”                         enjoyment       nemtnojey

aw Sound

“aw”                            awesome         ewaosme

“au”                             auditorium       tduaoiumir

“al”                              almost              malsto

“all”                             smallest           lamsselt

ow Sound

“__ow”                        downtown       wnownotd

“ou__”                         doubtful          tbduoluf

ur Sound

“er”                              partnership     ntphrapresi

“ir”                              birthday           hdyabitr

“ur”                             urgency           nygceur

ar Sound

“ar”                              calendar          leacnrda

or Sound

“or”                             thunderstorm   rmostdrenuht

The next two spelling games help your students review a targetted vowel sound-spelling pattern, alongside other spelling patterns. Both The Quick Picks Game and Vowel Concentration are small group games that use the Spelling Sort Cards.

The Quick Picks Game

-Overview/Object of the Game

This spelling game is designed to help your students review a targetted vowel team spelling pattern, alongside other spelling patterns. The object of the game is to pick up the most number of cards that have words that use the designated vowel team spelling.


Click the link to download these Spelling Sort Cards from the Pennington Publishing website. These cards are formatted to cut into individual cards for word sort games. Simply run off the pages on tag board and laminate for each group.


Divide your spellers up into two groups, clustered around two desks or tables, and spread out some, or all, of the vowel team spelling cards that you have already introduced (the same set to each group). Have the two groups spread out their cards spelling side up and then race to pick up the cards that have words that use the designated vowel team spelling.

For example, pass out the long a and long e cards. Then, announce “Find  ‘a__e’ cards.” After picking up all of the “a__e” cards, tell students to take turns, saying each of their words and their spellings. The speller from each group with the most word cards that match the vowel team spelling that you announced is the winner.

Vowel Team Concentration

-Overview/Object of the Game

This spelling game is designed to help your students review  targetted vowel team spelling patterns. The object of the game is to pick up the most two-word matches  of the same vowel team spelling.


Click the link to download these Spelling Sort Cards from the Pennington Publishing website. These cards are formatted to cut into individual cards for word sort games. Simply run off the pages on tag board and laminate two sets for each group of students.


Pass out some, or all, of the vowel team spelling cards that you have already introduced from one set of the laminated cards face up.  Pass out some, or all, of the second set of vowel team spelling cards face down. Have the students spread them out, being careful not to turn any over.

Students take turns turning over two cards at a time to find a vowel sound-spelling match. For instance, the boat card would match the oak card. If the student finds a match, he or she picks up the cards and gets another turn. The winner is the student who collects the most cards.

A Model Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4-8

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Preview the Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING AMERICAN ENGLISH AND CANDADIAN ENGLISH SPELLING PROGRAMS. Check out these grades 4-8 programs HERE. Administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with audio file and recording matrix. It has 102 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:


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