Teaching sounds spelled in a variety of ways

grrrGrrrr! One of the frustrating aspects of English spelling is that similar or same sounds can be spelled in a variety of ways. On the other hand, the same spelling combination can make different sounds! This post will provide some teaching hints to help children with these spelling issues.


For sounds that are made in different ways, such as the “rrrr” sound, write the main sound in the middle of the paper (for example, rrrr). Then divide the page into halves, thirds, or however many sections you need. For the “rrrr” sound, you would need sections for rer, ir, and even or and ar (though those two can sound a bit different). Within each section, write a list of words that have the rrrr sound, and are spelled with the specific spelling combination.

Vowel sounds:

You can do the same with vowel sounds. For example, write an “a” in the middle of the sheet, in a square. Then divide the sheet into as many parts as you want to work on–“short a” words, and “long a” words with “ai“, with “silent/magic e“, with “eigh“, and with “ay“.


Spellings with alternate sounds:

Keep in mind that some chunks, blends, and digraphs have alternate sounds. You will also need to teach these alternate sounds, and again, the easiest way is to teach a group of words that have that same sound. Some examples:
– “ow” as in “cow” (cow, bow, how, crown, frown)
– “ow” as in “blow” (blow, crow, slow, snow, grow)
– “oy” as in “toy” and “oi” as in “boil”
– “ew” as in “blew” and “ue” as in “blue”
– “ow” as in “cow” and “ou” as in “thou” … and “ough” as in “plough”!

– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-ed“: lifted, hunted, landed
– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-t“: jumped, walked, asked
– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-d“: happened, cared, soared

That tricky end-of-word “y”:

– “y” at the end of words when pronounced as “i“: sky, by, my, fly, cry, try, sly (note that these words are usually short single-syllable words)
– “y” at the end of words when pronounced as “e“: happy, marry, bunny (note that these are usually two syllables, and have a double consonant in the middle where the syllable break happens)

And then there are those multiple pronunciations of sounds like “ough”:

though and thorough … cough and trough … through  and slough … tough and rough and, yes, that’s enough!

What other tricky sound spellings can you think of? Add them in the comments! Thanks!

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

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