Teaching Long Vowel Patterns

When you teach English as a New Language, it is standard practice to begin by teaching long vowel words. Why? Because multilingual learners have know the vowel names/sounds A, E, I, O, and U from learning the alphabet. Usually, they are unfamiliar with short vowel sounds that native English speakers know. The anchor chart above teaches and reinforces the long vowel patterns with essential English words.

There are four common patterns for forming long vowel words in English:
  • Silent E words have one internal long vowel that says its name, followed by a consonant, and a Silent "E" at the end of the word. "Tape, rice, stove, and cube" are examples of Silent E words. Some programs called these Magic E or Bossy E words.
  • Vowel Team words also form long vowel words. Examples of vowel team words include "train, peas, light, boat, and fruit".
  • Long Vowel plus two consonants words such as "find, child, old, and most". 
  • Open Vowel words have a vowel at the end of an open syllable create a long vowel sound. "I, me, and go" are open syllable words.

Remember that the concept of a vowel may be totally foreign to non-native English speakers. If the student is from a glyph language like Chinese, they do not write vowels. Likewise, if they are from a Semitic language like Arabic or Hebrew, they write words with consonants only, leaving out the vowels. Many languages throughout the world are taught without vowels. This is important because vowels are integral to English pronunciation, spelling, and reading.

When teaching vowels, begin by identifying the five classic vowels: A, E, I, O, and U. In addition, teach that "Y and W" sometimes function as vowels. Both "i" and "y" are used to form long i words. One vowel sound or beat makes one syllable. Every syllable in English must have a vowel sound. Vowels and letter patterns determine both the sound and meaning of words in English. 

Silent E Words.  Start with the Silent E pattern first. This pattern is also called Bossy E or Magic E. The internal vowel is long (says its name) and the final e is silent.

One method for teaching Silent E words is to draw a circle around (or underline) both vowels and then draw an arrow from the silent e to the interior vowel. This demonstrates that the final e makes the interior vowel long. Another method is to circle (or underline) the two vowels and draw a line through the silent e, indicating it has no sound. Either method is very effective.

If student have previously learned short vowel words, it is good to  contrast  these words with their long vowel relatives. 

can + e = cane

pet + e = Pete

pin + e = pine

hop + e = hope

us + e = use

One of the first words to teach is "name" because it is used almost every day in school. By using these methods, English learners will quickly learn to recognize and read silent e words. 

All multilingual teachers should be aware that Silent E performs several functions for a variety of reasons.

    • After "c" - face, rice, price
    • After "g" - page, bridge, change
    • -CLE Syllables - table, circle, purple
    • After "v" - love, give, have
    • After "i and u"  - pie, tie, glue , clue
    • After "s" (not plural) - house, rise, nurse
    • Archaic spellings (are, done, and come)

Vowel Team Words. Next, teach vowel teams words. One can use the saying, "When two vowels go walking the first does the talking" or "The first vowel speaks while the second one listens."

A Vowel Teams - ai, ay, ei, ey, eigh, ea

E Vowel Teams - ea, ee, ey, ei, ie

I Vowel Teams - igh, ie, ye

O Vowel Teams - oa, ow, oe

U Vowel Teams - oo, ew, ou, ui, ue, eu

Visually marking the vowels helps to make this rule clear. Circle (or underline) both vowels to identify them and draw an arrow from the second vowel to the first indicating saying its name, or draw a line through the second one showing it is silent.

Vowel teams can be taught in any order, but focus on one long vowel group until it is learned. Some multilingual learners grasp this concept quickly and can apply this rule immediately to all vowel team words.

Irregular Vowel Teams. Regular vowel teams always begin with the long vowel, However, many of the most high-frequency words contain irregular vowel teams which have retained their historic spelling. They do not follow not follow the classic pattern and do not represent today's pronunciation. These words should be taught after the regular vowel teams. 

A Vowel Teams - ei, ey, eigh, ea

E Vowel Teams - ie

I Vowel Teams -  ye

U Vowel Teams - oo, ew, ou, eu

Long Vowel + Two Consonants. Many high-frequency words are formed with a  long vowel followed by two consonants. The majority of these are long i and long o words and can be taught in groups. Others can be taught when they are encountered. The formation of a long vowel in this way is an old English rule.

Long i + 2 Consonants - child, find, sign, climb

Long o + 2 Consonants - old, most, roll, told, both

Most teachers introduce open syllables when they teach the types of syllables. The chart above gives both one- and two-syllable examples. Many beginning words have open syllable that are helpful for teaching.

Open Syllable A - table, April, baby

Open Syllable E - these, here, scene

Open Syllable I - Friday, quiet, spider

Open Syllable O - hello, over, open

Open Syllable U - June, rule, use

Exception. Although teaching long vowels first is the generally accepted practice in ESL, in some parts of the world the ABCs are taught as sounds. In this instance, vowels names are taught using their short vowel sounds. These multilingual learners pronounce A as short a, and E as short e. In this case, it is better to teach short vowels with closed syllables first.

Students from European languages often have first language interference. These language groups pronounce "a, e, and i" differently because of the Great English Vowel Shift. Sometimes it is easier to teach long vowels to avoid this interference.

One final word, many multilingual English learners learn to read without learning any vowels at all. They learn by reading whole words and then begin to generalize rules from their observations. These students often have extensive linguistic knowledge need English word patterns to be reviewed rather than taught. It is always important to observe your students and their learning style. If you teach according to your student's learning mode they will progress faster.


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