Teach your child to read words containing vowel combinations
Remember the old rhyme “i before e, except after c, or when followed by g as in neighbor or weigh?” Vowel combinations can be tricky not only in spelling but in reading, too. The tips below will help you teach your child to read vowel combinations at home.
When you think about it, the main difficulty with how to read words is in the vowels. Vowels and all of their sounds can make life difficult. Interesting, but difficult.
Vowels have so many rules surrounding them. There are vowel teams, variant vowels, “bossy” r vowels.
And these words aren’t really what you would call “rule breakers.” These words actually follow rules like the “i before e” rule above.
I have seen something strange
In my classroom teaching I have seen something very strange. I watched and listened as some children quietly read aloud test questions and answers as they took a reading test. These children could barely read or pronounce the words correctly as they read them aloud. In fact, their reading sounded like gibberish.
But, these children were able to choose the correct test answer 50% of the time. Somehow, the combination of seeing the letters and words, having been taught the rules and practicing them over and over, and reading aloud enabled the children to grasp the meaning of the test questions and anwer choices. My conclusion was this: the brain is a mysterious place.
Learning to read vowel combinations is an important step in reading
Everything you have taught your child in the previous steps of this series comes together here. Recognition of letter/sound patterns in words and general awareness of detail will be really important. Practice by reading out loud is key.
The main reading goal at this point is for your child to be able to teach themselves by using the tools you have given them. You have given them letters and their sounds. They have learned to pay attention to detail like what a lowercase b looks like vs a lowercase d. If your child has not yet developed this skill, with practice and brain development, they will.
Children with dyslexia can learn these vowel combinations
If your child has dyslexia, remind them to stop and examine letters and words that are tricky. They will learn to seek out the possibilities of what a word might be by saying the word possibilities out loud.
So, even if your child can’t look at the word and determine what it is, they can say the possibilities of what it might be. Then they can then make a choice based on what their ears are hearing. And they may be wrong. That is ok.
As your child works on their reading, more and more often they will be right. And as their development catches up with what they have been assigned to do, they will find success.
Specifically teach vowel combinations and their sounds
Rules overwhelm. They can overwhelm both you and your child. But these words and their letter combinations and sounds do need to be specifically taught.
If you think your child will just pick up these words through reading, you may discover that they don’t. You may have to reintroduce these vowel combination words time after time.
But, I am not going to belabor these words and their rules. Some of these words are commonly used and some are not. Spend your time on words that are commonly used.
Think about what types of words your child will most often be reading at this point. For example, words like “toy” and “boy” will pop up a lot in sentences and stories. So you will want to teach the oy vowel combination.
And as long as you are teaching the oy combination, you should teach its sound twin, the oi vowel combination. Words like “soil” and “boil” may pop up too, however not quite as often.
First, hammer home all vowel sounds
Very young children, children around kindergarten age, are very good at rote memorization. It is as if their developing brains need it.
Young readers can learn to identify vowel letter sound combinations. This will help them with their later reading as they learn to read words with vowel teams and variant vowels.
There are many, many ways to teach these concepts. I want to follow the bare bones approach. You can take it from there.
First, hammer home all of the sounds that vowel letters make. At this point you want to teach your child the varying sounds of the vowels.
Tips for teaching vowel teams, variant vowels, and r-controlled vowel words
- Begin each lesson by having your child say all the sounds of the letters. I use flashcards so we can really move through them. And then I can easily switch the order of which letters are coming at them when.
- Teach your child to say all of sounds of each vowel. This just becomes engrained in them, and you, too!
- After your child has mastered all of the sounds for each letter, you can move on to the combination vowel sounds.
- First, teach the vowel combinations called “vowel teams.” Vowel teams are two vowels that are together right next to each other but make one sound. The rule that goes with this is: “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking and says its name.”
Vowel Teams are vowel combinations like: ai, ay, ea, ee, oa, ie (as in pie or lie). Follow the rule: “when two vowels go a walking, the first one does the talking, and says its name.”
- I use a sound board to introduce every new type of phonics pattern. My students are familiar with sound boxes and boards. To find out about them see my posts here and here.
- I write or place magnetic letters for the vowel combination in the middle box of the sound board and demonstrate how it sounds and have my students say it several times. Then I add in the other letters around it to make words and have the students blend each part together to say the words. Be sure to practice with many examples.
- Only introduce one vowel combination a day. Be sure to include many examples and time to practice reading the vowels and words aloud. End each lesson with practice, both reading aloud and writing. Try to build sentences with these words and have your child read them so they can put their skills to work.
- Next, teach the vowel combinations sometimes called “variant vowels.” These are vowels that combine with other vowels or even consonants to make particular sounds. There are many combinations.
Variant Vowel words have vowel combinations in them like: ow, ou, oo (as in hook and hoot), oy, oi, ue, aw, igh, y, ie (as in brief). These vowel combinations do not follow the vowel teams rule. These vowel sounds can vary by word and even context. For exampe the word “bow” can be a bow and arrow or a bow on a present OR a bow to an audience. These are the trickiest vowel combinations and must be directly taught to your child. They should be practiced in context of a sentences, stories, or reading passages.
- Finally, teach the vowels that may change their sound when next to the letter r. These are called “bossy r” words or “r-controlled” vowels. I have found that most of my students have a fairly easy time with these.
R-controlled vowels are found in words like: sport, dark, fur, term, dirt. This concept should be directly taught to your child but it is hard to cover all words.
Use the Internet for resources for teaching vowel combinations at home
- Use the Internet to find lists of all of these types of words. Pinterest is especially good for this purpose. Then come up with your own lists with your child and work from those.
- Find sentences, stories, and reading passages that focus on these words and have your child read them aloud. As they are reading they should identify all of the target vowel combinations they can find.
- Again, use the Internet to find sentences or reading passages that contain the targeted vowel combinations. Print these off and laminate them or slide them in a page protector sleeve. That way you can use them several times and your child can mark them up with dry erase markers
- Play “highlighter detective.” Your child can highlight all of the target vowel combinations on the page after reading the story. I often have them then write the words they find on a white board and read them out loud to me.
- One online source I have found for good reading passages that contain targeted letter sound and vowel combinations is The Literacy Nest. This site also offers a word list builder tool. The site Teachers Pay Teachers is also always a great online source. Most people know about that one, but just in case!
- Move slowly through all of these types of vowel combinations and words. Or at least move at a pace that is comfortable for your child. It may take many weeks for some children to grasp these concepts and be able to demonstrate that they can read these words with some fluency.
Check out some of my other posts for more tips on teaching your child to read at home
For some tips on what to do to get your child ready to learn to read, check out Steps 1 & 2 of my series 10 most important simple steps to teach your child to read Steps 1 & 2.
If you would like to learn more about using a sound board to teach your child to identify the sounds that make up words, check out Step 3 of my series.
Step 4 in the series teaches parents how to make a sound board and how to introduce letters to go along with the sounds in words.
Awareness of the world around them helps children when they are learning to read. Learn some ways to increase your child’s level of awareness in Step 5 of my series.
Next, learn all about how to teach your child to read simple 3 letter words in Step 6.
Learn how to help your child read and retain sight words in Step 7.
Teach your child to read short vowel letter sound combinations called blends and digraphs in Step 8 of my series in Step 8.
And in Step 9 learn how to teach your child to read long vowel sound words by using the Silent E.