Monday, June 4, 2012


A, E, I, O, U (and sometimes Y)... these are vowels. You probably already knew this, but do you know the sounds that they make? Vowel sounds are one of the earliest phonics lessons that are taught to children, along with the sounds of consonants. Vowels are tricky, though, because they can make different sounds, and when paired together they can make so many more!

Here are the basic rules...

Long Vowel Sounds sound like their name, like in the word make. A common spelling pattern for long vowels is CVCe (consonant/vowel/consonant/e), like in the word bike

Short Vowel Sounds are as follows...

  • /a/, apple
  • /e/, elephant
  • /i/, igloo
  • /o/, octopus
  • /u/, up
CVC is the most common spelling pattern for short vowels, like in the words cat and bag

A lot of native born southerners, like myself, have difficulty enunciating the short e and short i sounds. It has taken me several years to correct this, and I still occasionally find myself slipping up. Say the words pen and pin. If you pronounce them exactly the same way, then you have the same problem! Start monitoring yourself now, so your child doesn't pick up on this bad speech habit. I can't tell you how many students I worked with that had a problem with this. They seriously couldn't hear the different between short e and short i, which impacted their ability to sound out and spell some words. 

The English language would be easy if every word followed these simple rules, but of course they don't. There are vowel pairs that make long vowel sounds, like -ea-, -ei-, and -ai- (meat, weigh, and tail). Then there are vowel pairs that make whole new sounds, which are called vowel digraphs (-oo-, -ou-, -ui-, etc., like in poop, sound, and suit). Even some of these vowel digraphs can make different sounds. For example, -oo- sounds differently in book than it does in the word poop. Then there are vowel diphthongs, which is a vowel and consonant together that make a single vowel sound (like -ow- and -igh- in the words cow and sigh). Oh wait, there's more... modified vowels, like -ar- that just sounds like /r/ (star). It's no wonder that reading is so difficult for some children!

Here's what you need to do with your preschooler...
  1. Make sure you are modeling proper pronunciation of words.
  2. Teach him his short and long vowel sounds. The long sounds are easy because they just sounds like the letter name.
  3. Begin working with the CVC short vowel sound pattern. Words like cat, hat, fan, can, bag, and tag should be among the first words that he can read, because he can sound them out phonically. 
  4. Do some picture card sorts. For example, put the picture of a bag in the short vowel sounds pile and the picture of a cage in the long vowel sounds pile. Even if your kid can read, don't put the words with the picture for this activity. My little stinker figured out that he could just put all the words with the e at the end in the same pile. A great observation, but I wanted him listening to the sounds! I will eventually put the words with the picture when I'm ready for him to learn how to start spelling these words, or if we are working on sight words. 
  5. Play word games in the car. You say a word, he tells you the vowel sound. You say a word, he tells you if the vowel sound is short or long. 
Any other ideas you have for practicing this concept? Leave it in the comments section! 

Side note: I feel like there is a poop joke to made in there somewhere. Like, do you read a book when you poop, or only at school? Hey, that's a good sentence to memorize to remember the sounds of -oo-! 

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