Teaching Long A Words


Long A words are formed in four different ways: the Silent E pattern, vowel teams beginning with A (AI, AY), vowel teams beginning with E (EIGH, EI, EY, EA), and open syllables. Typically students are taught the Silent E pattern first, followed by vowel teams and open syllables.

First Language Interference. Some English learners may struggle with the pronunciation of long a. In many languages, the letter A is always pronounced as /ah/.

Those students from many European languages pronounce the letter E as long A. This can cause some confusion and frustration.

Silent E Pattern

The Silent E pattern makes the internal A say the long A sound (says its name) while the final E is silent. This pattern is also called VCe pattern. This stands for Vowel, Consonant, and Silent E. Many high-frequency words use this pattern.

It is best to teach Silent E words in patterns, shown below. Use words that your students know to keep the focus on decoding. Unknown words distract from decoding because English learners want to learn their meaning. Students may need to be reminded that CE says the /s/ sound and GE says the /j/ sound. 'Have' and 'are' have retained their historical spellings, and must be memorized. 

  • ATE: ate, date,  late, state, hate
  • AME: name, came, game, same, fame
  • AKE: make, take, bake, lake
  • APE: ape, tape, grapes
  • AVE: gave, wave, save, cave
  • ACE: place, face, ace, race
  • AGE: age, page, stage, wage
  • Exceptions: have, are

Vowel Teams 

Next, students learn vowel teams beginning with A. The AI vowel team can be in the beginning or middle of a syllable/word. It is never at the end of a word. However, the AY vowel team is always at the end of a word or syllable. These vowel teams are used to form many words. Teaching these with patterns is very effective. An exception is 'said' which is pronounced with the short e sound /sed/.

  • AIN:  main, rain, train, pain, drain
  • AID: paid, maid, laid, braid
  • AIL: mail, nail, rail, tail, sail, jail
  • AIR: air, chair, hair, pair, stairs
  • AIT: wait, bait, trait
  • AY: day, play, stay, tray, may, gray

Vowel teams beginning with E are rare today, however, some  everyday words have retained this historic spelling. The letter E was pronounced as long A before the Great Vowel Shift.

The EIGH vowel team can be found in the beginning, middle or end of a word. EI and EA vowel teams are always in the middle of a word or syllable. EA  is the least common way to spell long A. The EY vowel team is always at the end of a word/syllable. There are only 10 commonly known words spelled with the EY: they, hey, grey, prey, obey, convey, purvey, survey, whey, and abeyance. 

  • EIGHeight, weight, neighbor
  • EI: their, veil, vein, reign
  • EYhey, they, obey
  • EA: great, break, bear, pear

Open Syllables

The last way to spell the long A sound is with an open syllable.  Students must know how to identify syllable types and how to divide multi-syllable words before reading these words.

  • Open Syllable: ba-by, pa-per, ta-ble, sta-tion, na-tion

The article 'a' is technically an open syllable and is sometimes pronounced with the long A sound for emphasis. Normally an unstressed A is pronounced as a shwa.

There is a final caution about open syllables with A. Many high-frequency words that begin with an open syllable A are pronounced with a schwa sound because they are unstressed. (For spelling purposes, teachers often say a initial open syllable A as a long A.) Likewise, many words that end with an open syllable A are also pronounced with a schwa sound. 

  • Initial A: away, around, about, above
  • Final A: area, idea, cafeteria, sofa

Long A words are easy to learn when broken down into manageable groups. Many are high-frequency words that even students with a limited vocabulary will know.

Happy Teaching

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