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Mastering Vowel Teams: An All-inclusive Guide for Teaching Vowel Digraphs

Updated: Jul 7, 2023


Teaching vowel teams, ideas and inspiration from Sherbert Learning.

Teaching vowel teams, also known as vowel digraphs, can be challenging due to the numerous definitions, rules, and strategies involved. However, it's crucial for language learning. Let's demystify this and provide you with the vital information you need to instruct your students on vowel teams effectively!


What is a Vowel Team?

A vowel team comprises two vowels working together to produce a sound. Typically, the first vowel "speaks" its sound when the two vowels are adjacent, like in "toe," "each," "boat," "blue," and "juice." Although this is a general rule, there are exceptions like "duet," "break," and "boil."


Common Vowel Teams: The most frequently seen vowel teams include:

  • ie

  • ai

  • ay

  • ue

  • ui

  • oa

  • ow

  • oe

  • ea

  • ee

  • ey


Teaching Strategies for Vowel Teams:


Teach the General Rule

Start by explicitly teaching the rule - when two vowels are walking, the first one does the talking. This rule gives students a foundation to build upon when encountering vowel team patterns, boosting their confidence in decoding words.


Discuss Split Digraphs

Introduce the concept of split digraphs, also known as 'Bossy E' or 'Silent E.' In a split digraph, the sound splits between the vowel (a, e, i, o, or u) and the final 'e,' resulting in a long vowel sound, like in "stage," where 'a' and 'e' are split by a consonant, transforming 'a' into a long vowel.


Explore Irregular Vowel Teams

Some vowel teams don't adhere to the general rule. Once the students grasp the general rule and split digraphs, you can explicitly teach these irregular vowel teams, which produce distinctive sounds. Here are a few examples:

Letters

Sound

Example

EA

Short E

head, bread

EI

Long A

leigh, neigh

IE

Long E

brief, sheidl

It is important to point out that the combination of the letters “e” and “a” produce both a long and short e sound, as noted below:

  • Short e – e.g., dead, head, lead, spread & thread

  • Long e – e.g., bead, lead, knead & plead.


Follow a Spelling/Phonics Sequence

It's advisable to refer to the phonics/spelling scope and sequence of your school or district. Each spelling or phonics methodology has variations in the instruction order of spelling patterns.


Vowel team resources!

I know with 100% certainty that kids need exposure, exposure, EXPOSURE to these spelling patterns and need them in a meaningful context.


That is why I created this Vowel Teams to first and foremost support myself in exploring vowel teams with my students. I wanted something focused and easy for students to get that exposure and to start our conversations about how these vowel teams / digraphs operate and what they needed to know.


The pack includes a story for each vowel team. Students must find the focus vowel team and record them on the supporting activity page. Each story and activity is designed to support students ability to read and spell the team in a fun, context-rich and engaging way.


A range of the reading passages included in the Vowel Team Reading Passages resource from Sherbert Learning

Included in the resource is the following common vowel teams:

The cover for the Vowel Teams Reading Passages resource from Sherbert Learning
  • ie

  • ai

  • ay

  • ue

  • ui

  • oa

  • ow

  • oe

  • ea

  • ee

  • ey


For a FREE resource to support teaching Vowel Teams / Digraphs, exclusive to this blog, check out this Revision Board game to support your spelling unit.


A sample of the Vowel Team Board Games from Sherbert Learning

Vowel Team Revision FREEBIE
.pdf
Download PDF • 15KB

How to play:

  • Roll dice and move your token along the path.

  • When a player lands on a word they must read it aloud and then find that vowel team in the middle grid. They then put a counter on their word in the grid. Each player should use different colored counters.

  • If you land on a smiley face, you may roll again. If you land on a sad face, you lose a turn.

  • Players take it in turns playing until all words in the middle grid are taken.

  • Winner is the player with the most counters on words at the end.


The cover of the Vowel Teams Board Games a resource from Sherbert Learning

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