“Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O!” Or is that “e – i – e – i – o”? Long sounds or short sounds? Vowels can be so confusing–especially the long vowel sounds!
One of the difficulties with “long vowel sounds” is that in English we have a variety of ways to “spell” those sounds. For example, the “long a” sound may be made with the “magic e” at the end of the word (as in “make”), with “two vowels walking; the first one doing the talking and says its name and the second is silent” (as in “mail” or “Donna Mae”), with “eigh” (as in “weight, eight”), with “ay” (as in “pay, say”), and if you’re a good Canadian … “eh!”
If your child is struggling with these differences, here are some tips you can try:
Create a chart with rows of the different combinations for a particular vowel. For example, create a chart with the “long a” combinations as above (magic e, ai, ae, eight, ay), Then as your child reads and spots “long a” words, he can put them in the correct columns. Soon he will be easily seeing the patterns, and in future readings will recognize when he needs to sound “long a.”
Make rhyming word lists of all the words you can think of that have a particular vowel sound and spelling. As an example, for “long i” as in “igh”: bright, fight, light, might, night, plight, right, sight, slight, tight. (You’ll need to make separate lists for other words that also rhyme with these, but are spelled with “eigh”: height, sleight; or with “magic e”: bite, kite, mite, quite, rite, site, trite, white).
Create interesting phrases or sentences that the child is likely to remember: “I saw lightning at night a mile in height.”). Underline the part of the word that makes the long vowel sound, and stress the “long vowel sound” as each word is said aloud.
Illustrate “magic e” word changes: Is your child having trouble with the “magic/silent e” rule for long vowels? Children love to write and illustrate the changes that occur when an “e” is added to the end of a simple word. If it is written as an “addition equation” they like it even better! First, write the “equation” with words; then under the words draw little sketches to illustrate the “before” and “after” words (and also again use the plus and equal sign). Be sure to have your child read the equation aloud, so she also “hears” the difference between the short and long vowel sounds.
– pin + e = pine
– kit + e = kite
– tap + e = tape
– cub + e = cube
– mop + e = mope (make a sad face emoticon)
– cap + e = cape
(If you’d like a print-out of these kinds of illustrations, here is a PDF: magic-e )
Your child may get really enthusiastic about this and start adding “magic e” to other words which don’t have “magic e” equivalents. For example, “cab + e = cabe.” This is alright–it simply shows that your child is understanding the “rule.” Use this “teachable moment” to have her read the equation aloud, then ask her, “Is ‘cabe’ a real word?” She’ll probably realize it isn’t, and you can discuss how the equation works for many words but not for all words–but congratulate her for understanding the vowel sound change that “magic e” makes.
Another thing that can happen is that she may write, for example, “ran + e = rane.” This is a great chance to explain that there are other ways to make the “long vowel” sound — such as using “ai” for “rain” — the “two vowels walking” rule. You can show her other examples of this (train, drain, afraid, hair, etc.).
Homonyms: One other thing that can happen is that your child comes up with a “homonym” word. For example, she may do “pan + e = pane.” Ask, “What does ‘pane’ mean?” If she says it means something hurts, you have another “teachable moment” in which you can explain that sometimes there are words that sound the same, but have different meanings and are spelled differently. You can show her that the “ai” in “pain” refers to something that hurts, while the “magic e” in “pane” refers to a “window pane.” Both have the “long a” sound but have different spellings and different meanings!
Summary of long vowel combinations:
If you would like a print-out of long-vowel combinations with sample words for each combination, click here: long-vowels
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.