Updated: Jul 7
The Long and Short of it: What Are Long Vowels, How Do You Teach Them & More
What Are Long Vowels?
Long vowels are vowels that sound like their respective names. For instance, the 'a' in 'acorn' is a long vowel because it pronounces its name. The term 'long' describes the extended duration of the sound, which is longer compared to its 'short' counterpart, such as the 'a' in 'apple.'
What makes a vowel long or short?
The pronunciation makes a vowel long or short. It is most helpful to say the sound aloud, to hear if its a long or short. If you are saying the vowels name, it is a long vowel. It is a short vowel if you are saying the vowels sharp sound.
Why Are Long Vowels Important?
Understanding long vowels is crucial for reading and spelling proficiency. Differentiating between short and long vowels is a fundamental skill in applying decoding and spelling rules. Various spelling patterns yield long vowels, and a proficient reader and writer should be adept at identifying and using these patterns.
What are the long vowels?
Long A sound like cake
Long E sound like me
Long I sound like ice
Long O sound like boat
Long U sound like unicorn
How to Teach Long Vowels?
Teaching vowel sounds can be a daunting task, especially since students are initially introduced to short vowels. Nevertheless, long vowels quickly come into play when students begin reading and spelling. Here are some strategies to help students understand and use long vowels:
A First Step - Letters sometimes make more than one sound
Firstly, when you are first exploring the vowels, it is vitally important that you acknowledge that A, E, I, O and U all make their default short sounds but that they can make many other sounds. In fact, the idea that letters can make a range of sounds is fundamental to learning about the whole alphabet and then when you move into more complex spelling patterns.
Once you've had those discussions, then teaching short vowels is the best way to start. Short vowels map more easily on to words. Make sure your students or child has mastered their short vowels before you move on to anything further. This might sound easy, but some students struggle to learn the vowel sounds as their letter name does not denote the sound it makes. So practice, practice, practice!
There are many resources around to explore short vowel sounds, including flash cards, cut and paste activities and reading passages. To really consolidate this skill, check out the Short Vowel Stories resource on my store where students can truly master the skill, one vowel at a time.
Long Versus Short Vowels - Phonological awareness first!
Once short vowels have been mastered, now it's time to move on to long vowels. Don't start by getting deep into the spelling patterns. Start by developing phonological awareness of the long versus short sounds, that is student's ability to hear the difference between the sounds. Long vowels say their own name, so make students say these sounds aloud over and over!
Another excellent way to support your students in exploring Long and Short vowels is using word sorts. Students are provided with a list of words and must sort them by long or short vowel sounds. I love using word sorts in general for revision and there is nothing like watching your students stare at words while sounding them out, completely focused on the sounds they are hearing.
Find a free Long and Short vowel sort here.
Introducing Bossy E / Split Digraph
Once your students have mastered the difference between short and long sounds, now you can start exploring the spelling patterns. And the most developmentally appropriate and accessible pattern is looking into the Bossy E / Split Digraph spelling pattern.
Exploring Long Vowel Patterns
After the Bossy E stage, spelling patterns determining long versus short vowel sounds become more complex. The sequence of introducing these patterns will depend on the students' age and understanding. Here are some examples:
a (acorn) a-e (bake) ai (snail) ay (bay) ei (weigh)
e (ego) e-e (these) ea (eat) ee (bee) y (any)
i (find) i-e (ice) y (spy) igh (night) ie (tried)
o (robot) o-e (stone) oa (oak) ow (below) oe (oboe)
u (unicorn) u-e (cube) ue (due)
Resources for Revision and Practice
I've developed numerous resources to support the exploration of vowel sounds, long and short vowels, and vowel teams. These resources provide repeated practice for students to identify and differentiate between long and short vowel sounds.
Each vowel comes with a passage, which requires students to find the long and short sounds and record them on supporting activity pages. Comprehension questions are also included to highlight the importance of reading in context and with meaning. Stories are the most effective way to provide a meaningful context for practice, and these passages offer just that. The passages are short, fun, and often a little quirky to ensure students are engaged.