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How to Teach Vowels


Working with Vowels

It should come as no surprise that vowels are one of the most critical skills for our students to master in reading! Every syllable in every word has a vowel sound. Being able to find and identify vowels is critical to being able to decode and comprehend a wide variety of words! But, as students get older, vowels become more complicated than simply knowing a, e, i, o, and u. Today, I am sharing all about how to teach vowel teams, diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels. If any of those terms have you a little confused, keep reading!

Vowel Teams vs. Diphthongs

Vowel teams are a type of digraph, but made up of all vowels. Two vowels are used together to make a single sound in a word. Ee, ai, ie, and oa are all examples of vowel teams. You can not distinguish one vowel sound from the other in vowel teams. They come together to make one, usually long, vowel sounds!

Diphthongs are similar to vowel teams, but with a little bit of a distinction. Diphthongs are made of two vowels or letters that act as vowels, but they do not make one, seamless sound. Instead, diphthongs are also known as ‘gliding vowels’. In the word ‘chair’, for example, your mouth begins by making the long a sound but glides slightly into the i sound before hitting the final consonant. Diphthongs are easily confused with vowel teams, and there is some overlap between the two terms!

R-Controlled Vowels

R-controlled vowels pair a vowel with the letter r. In an r-controlled vowel sound, you can not distinguish the vowel from the r sound. Fur, her, and birch are all examples of r-controlled words. Each one has a different vowel, but with the added r, it’s impossible to know which vowel is being used without seeing the word!

Teaching Vowels

Students will come across all three skills throughout their school years. As you are teaching the differences between each type of pattern, I recommend following these steps!

diphthong anchor chart 2

Clearly Define Each Skill

Begin by clearly defining each skill for your students. Create anchor charts that explain what each vowel skill is, examples, and how it is similar to and different from other vowel patterns.

vowels sort 2

Sort Words

Create charts with all three skills as headers. Display word cards and ask students to decide which category the word belongs in. This activity helps your students more deeply understand the differences between all of the vowel-based patterns!

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Phonics Passages

Seeing the skills in context is a great way to teach a new concept! Phonics passages provide students several opportunities to practice a skill authentically in their reading. As you introduce new sounds, use passages that focus on one sound at a time. Throughout your unit, or as you want to spiral review, use passages that mix several sounds together.

As in all reading tasks, comprehension is key! After reading and practicing the skill, be sure your students are also understanding what they read. My phonics passages include two quick comprehension checks at the end of every story. These passages give you the opportunity to assess a student’s success with each pattern, while also gauging comprehension and fluency at the same time!

You can grab my phonics passages for each of these skills at the links below:

Vowel Teams Passages

Diphthongs Passages

R-Controlled Vowel Passages

Bundle of all Phonics Passages

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Aylin Claahsen

Providing resources and support to engage all readers.

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Hi, I'm Aylin!

I’m so happy you’re here! I’m a certified reading specialist who loves talking all things literacy. I have a huge passion for providing resources and support to engage all readers!


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