It’s All About The Vowels

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Vowels tend to be the most complicated and mysterious letters. Yet decoding, spelling, syllabication, and pronunciation are all dependent on the vowels in a word.  In order to crack the code of the English language, vowels must be taught intensely and to mastery.

To help students internalize their importance, we say vowels are royal, and we give them a crown. Don’t underestimate the power of tuning into the vowels!

Students should first master the short vowel sounds. Then, introduce the long vowel patterns by following a systematic scope and sequence.

Vowel Commandments:

1- Every syllable (and therefore every word) MUST have a vowel.

2- Students need to master the short and long sounds for each vowel.

3- Students need to understand what makes a vowel either short or long in a particular syllable or word. Teaching closed and open syllable types, magic e, r-controlled vowels, vowel teams, and final stable syllables explicitly is a must.

4- The most common vowel sound in English is the schwa. Teach students about this “lazy” vowel sound. Letting them in on this secret will help them decode and encode. You can then stop avoiding hundreds of words!

Vowel Intensives

In Orton Gillingham, Vowel Intensives is the ideas that vowels need to be taught intensely! Vowels determine the pronunciation, spelling, and syllable division in a word.  Teaching vowels to mastery is a must.  Here are a few favorite ways to intensely teach vowels:

1) Teach the articulation of each vowel sound.

•Give each student a mirror and show them how the sound is produced in the mouth.

•Creating a Sound Wall instead of letter wall will reinforce the concept of sound and articulation. The Vowel Valley is a coined term used to describe a sound wall of vowels that show mouth positions for articulation. Tools 4 Reading has amazing sound wall resources. You can check it out here.

2) Total Physical Response

Teach a motion to match each short vowel sound. This will create muscle memory and long-term learning.

•ă – hand motions like you are biting an apple

•ĕ – finger points to the edge of opposite pinky or table

•ĭ – act like you are itching your nose

•ŏ – say “aaaahhhh” like you do for a doctor while tracing an o around your mouth

•ŭ – say “ugh!” and act like you were hit in the stomach by a ball

3)  Key Word-Picture Explicit Teaching (E.T.) cards

•Providing a picture and keyword will help anchor sound-symbol correspondence. Practice these often! This is a scaffold that is later released. Then, transfer to just the letter card when mastery is achieved. Say, “a says /ă/ like apple. These cards are also available for vowel teams.

4) Vowel Tents

•Fold colored index cards in half. Write each letter on both sides. Have students listen to letter sounds, syllables and words and hold up the vowel responsible for making that sound.

•Teachers says,“ag.” Students hold up letter a card and says, “a says /ă/” This can also be done with all the long vowels. Teacher says, “ice.” Students say, “i says /i/.

5)  Long vs. Short

Once a student learns short and long sound of each vowel, practice discriminating which sound is heard in syllables and words. Students hold up short card with short symbol or long card with long symbol.

•Sort picture cards according to their vowel sounds

•Go on vowel sound scavenger hunts. Choose one vowel sound (ē). Set a timer for 2 minutes and see how many items can be found containing that sound.

•Highlight the vowels in a set of words or syllables. Have students read just the vowel sounds.

6) Crowns! Vowels are royal!

•Buy or make small crowns. Have students read or write a word and place a crown over the vowel. This gives a visual cue that every syllable has a vowel. You can see a quick demo lesson here. We love these inexpensive, glittery crowns from Amazon. We don’t get a kickback, just sharing what we love!

If all else fails, get a tattoo that says, “It’s always about the vowels!” Or, have a friend/class participant save you from that and make you a t-shirt!! 🙂

How else do you teach vowels intensely?

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