Long Vowel Patterns

(Arranged according to frequency of use)

A
E
I
O
U
a
e
i
o
u
a_e
ee
i_e
o_e
u_e
ai
ea
igh
oa
ue
ay
-y
-y
ow
ew
eigh
e_e
ie
ou
eu
ei
ie
y_e
oe
 
ey
ei
   
ea
e
     

When children start to write sentences and little stories, they often want to know how to spell words correctly. These early writers often use their letter name knowledge as a basis for their spelling. One way to help them deal with temporary (inventive) spellings is to tell them to simply draw a straight line over a vowel to indicate that it represents its long sound. To help them move beyond this stage, I always find it helpful to post a list of long vowel spellings in the classroom. For example, when a child asks how to spell a particular word such as make, the teacher can quickly say, "Try the second spelling for long a," and the child is led to a_e.

It may come as a bit of a surprise to some of us that the most common spelling for each of the long vowel sounds is the singular use of the letter. This occurs quite consistently at the ends of open syllables as in a-pron, pa-per, e-vil, be-ing, i-ron, bi-fold, o-pen, to-tal, u-nit, and bu-gle, words in which the accent falls on that syllable. It also occurs at the ends of single-syllable words be, he, we, go, no, so, etc. The vce pattern is the second most common spelling of long vowels a, i, o, u, but pronunciation varies greatly in words with the e_e pattern.

The ee pattern is very consistent in pronunciation. The most common exception in the United States is the word been which is pronounced with the long e sound in most countries associated with the United Kingdom. The ai and oa patterns are also very consistent and can be taught as generalities for long vowel spellings with noted exceptions such as said and broad.

The ea spelling is probably one of the most errant with many different pronunciations as bead, bread, earth, heart, ocean, bear, and great. It can also create two syllables as in area and idea.

Most of the patterns in the first three rows can be taught as generalities, each with a few exceptions. In row four, ay and ew are also quite consistent. Most of the other vowel spellings vary in pronunciation. A few a_e, i_e, and o_e words have variations in pronunciation. Among these are words that have v after the vowel (have, give, dove, etc.). For these, we can teach children about "Tippy v" who can't stand up unless there is an e to hold it up.

Many of the long vowel patterns in the lower rows may also be used to represent other sounds. However, most of these have many exemplars or families of words which can be taught as units. One example of this is that a final y in a word will generally represent the long i in single-syllable words and in polysyllabic words it represents a sound akin to long e or short i (bunny, happy) depending on linguistic preferences.

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