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A Guide for Teaching Long and Short Vowels: Discovering the Diversity in Vowel Sounds

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Someone playing with vowel letters

Get the long and short of it when teaching vowels!

Mastering the distinction between long and short vowel sounds can be challenging for young learners, particularly because vowel sounds are usually first introduced with the presumption of being short. However, the long versions of vowels often appear quite early on in reading and spelling exercises, making it crucial to establish an understanding of both.

So, how do we effectively teach these vowel sounds? Here are some essential steps to help students decode and spell both short and long vowels:

Vowel Basics

Letters Making Multiple Sounds Begin by highlighting that vowels – A, E, I, O, and U – can generate a variety of sounds. While they predominantly produce their default short sounds, it's crucial to know they can make other sounds as well. This understanding of the alphabet's multifaceted sound system lays the foundation for more complex spelling patterns later on.

The Role of Short Vowels

The cover of the Short Vowels Reading Passages from Sherbert Learning

After discussing the varying sounds a vowel can produce, start with teaching short vowels, as they map easily onto words. It's vital for learners to have a firm grasp of short vowel sounds before moving on to long vowels. To reinforce short vowel sounds, consider resources like flash cards, cut and paste activities, and reading passages. For thorough practice, consider the Short Vowel Stories resource available in my store.

Distinguishing Between Long and Short Vowels

Short Vowel - Passages to teach and revise short vowel sounds by Sherbert Learning

When students are comfortable with short vowel sounds, introduce long vowels. Begin by reinforcing the phonological awareness of long versus short sounds. Remember, long vowels say their name, so have students repeat these sounds aloud! Word sorts, wherein students sort words based on vowel sounds, are a great way to reinforce this. Get a free Long and Short vowel sort here.

Introducing Bossy E / Split Digraph

Once students can discern the difference in sounds, introduce spelling patterns that determine whether a vowel sound will be long or short. Start with the Bossy E / Split Digraph spelling pattern, which is the most developmentally appropriate and accessible.

Progressing to Long Vowel Patterns

Long Vowel Passages - a resource to teach long vowel sounds from Sherbert Learning

Beyond Bossy E, the spelling patterns for long versus short vowel sounds can become more complex. The sequence for introducing these patterns will depend on the students' age and grasp of the concepts.

I've developed a variety of resources to aid in teaching 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. In addition to teaching vowel sounds, the resources also include comprehension questions to ensure students understand that reading is done in context and with purpose. The passages are concise, engaging, and occasionally quirky to maintain student interest.

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