As I mentioned in blog two, it is best to start with your child on short vowel sounds, which are the standard vowel sounds you hear in the middle of each of the following words:
cat bed pig sock cup
These short vowel sounds are predictable, and in all CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words the vowel in the middle (known as the medial vowel) makes this standard sound.
Your child will quickly encounter other words that do not follow the CVC pattern, and the first one I will describe is vowel pairs. This is a pair of vowels that blend together to make one vowel sound, such as feet, rain, or leaf.
The following vowel pairs join together to make one sound: ai, au, ea, ee, ei, ie, oa, eo, oi, oo, ou, and ui, as represented in words like green, sea, hair, coat, clean, rain, and peach (source). The simple rhyme that you can use to help children understand how these two vowels go together is, “When two vowels go walking, the first does the talking.” This means that when they come across one of these vowel pairs, the first letter in the vowel pair “does the talking,” or “says its own name.” This means that the first letter in the vowel pair will use its long vowel sound: such as the way the letter a sounds in cake or the letter o sounds in bone. When the letter makes its long sound we can say it’s “saying its own name.”
Unfortunately, this rule does not hold true all of the time, just as I’ve said before. These same pairs of vowels also exist in many words that don’t follow the rule, including good, about, earth, bear, noise, author, and friend (source). Your child will need to learn these outlier vowel pair rules as they come across them in their reading, and these exceptions are great examples of words to use in your sight word activities.
One exception your child will frequently come into contact with is when a word ends in -ing. The -ing will never join with the vowel before it to make one vowel sound: doing, being, seeing, etc. are all words in which the -ing maintains its own sound. The best way to approach this is to have your child learn -ing as its own “chunk” or think of it as its own word family. That way they will know to keep the -ing separate and see it as one piece, so they don’t try to blend it with the rest of the word.
The next major rule that your child needs to learn is how to recognize Magic E. You may have been taught to think of it as “silent E,” but this makes the child think that the e has no role in the structure of the word. In fact, the e has a very important job: it tells the vowel in the word to say its own name. Think about the word cake: without the e, the a would be making its short sound (like in cat), but the e tells a to make its long sound, or say its own name. A good way to practice this strategy with your child is to use foam or tile letters to write out these words, adding and removing the e at the end and showing them how the medial vowel sound changes from its long to its short sound. In the word kite, the e tells the i to make its long sound and say its own name, otherwise it would just be kit. As you come across words in your reading, hold your finger over the e at the end and have your child decode and blend the word without the e, so that the vowel makes its short sound. Then show them that the e at the end is telling the medial vowel to say its own name, so they can blend the word again with the long vowel sound instead.
It is important for your child to get used to words with both short and long vowel sounds. A good way to help them recognize the difference between words with short vowel sounds and words with long vowel sounds is to do a sort. Find or draw pictures of items with short vowel sounds and then those with long vowel sounds (make sure you are using words with one syllable only) and have them say the words out loud as they sort them into two piles (long and short). Then do this again with the written words rather than the pictures. This may actually be easier for them because all CVC words would be in the short pile, but it will help them recognize patterns in spelling between different kinds of long vowels. The words in the long vowel pile will represent both words with vowel pairs and words that utilize Magic E. The more they come across these different patterns, the faster their fluency will become as they read.