As promised, this is the second part of our Guide to Teaching Phonics! For those who missed the first one, do take a look here.
In this shorter piece, we wanted to highlight two additional phonics rules to add to your repertoire.
1) Y as a vowel We all know the English vowels as “A, E, I, O, U”, but did you know that “Y” can act as a vowel too? Think of one-syllable words with no vowels but that end with a “y”, like “my”, “try”, “shy”. What sound is “y” making in these words ? (yes, a long /i/ sound.) Here’s a really cute video from Alphablocks that tells a story of how Y wants to be like a vowel and how it eventually gets to play that role at the end of one-syllable words. In two (or longer) syllable words which have another vowel , Y often makes the long “e” sound at the end, like in “curry”, “silly”, “happy”. Y can also appear with “a” at the end of words like “day”, “say”, “may”, or together with “e” in words like “donkey” and “hey”. In these words, “a-y” and “e-y” are coming together as vowel digraphs - which we will tell you more about below!
2) Long Vowel Sounds - When do they appear?
From our previous blog (Guide to Teaching Phonics - Part 1), we shared about how vowels (A-E-I-O-U) have at least two sounds - a short sound (eg. “a” is making its short sound in “cat”) and a long sound where they “say their names”. Here we want to focus on the long vowel sounds - when are such long sounds made?
The long vowel sound of e, o, i are made, when there is only one such vowel in a one-syllable word and it appears at the end: we, he, she, go, so, no (except “to”!), hi
When it’s a Magic e/Silent e word (see our first blog), where the word ends with a vowel-consonant-e eg. cake, cute..
When two vowels come together (eg. -ee- or -ai-), including “y” acting as a vowel. These are known as vowel digraphs and the sound they make is called a diphthong. Often they make the long sound of the first vowel in the pair, so a simple ditty that may be taught to children is “when two vowels go a-walking, the first one does the talking (and says its name!)”. However there are many cases when this “rule” doesn’t apply so we have prepared a table below summarizing the vowel digraphs that make each long vowel sound, as well as the exceptions. Unfortunately, as you can see from the table below, English is a rather messy language!
Quick Tips for Teaching Vowel Digraphs
When teaching children the vowel digraphs, it will be best to teach one vowel digraph at a time. Start with the digraphs that make largely one sound first (eg. -ai- , -ay, -ee-, -oo-) and show the child many examples of words with the vowel digraph making the target sound. Read these words together, then give the children new words with the same digraph and have them try to read these words themselves. Lastly explain any exceptions (eg. -ai- in words like hair, curtain). For digraphs that make more than one sound (eg. -ey), teach the higher frequency sound first (eg. the long /e/ sound in "key") before teaching the lower frequency one (eg. the long /a/ sound in "hey").
We hope this has been helpful for you. If you are interested in teaching these second level phonics rules to your children/students, do consider our Literacy 3 workbook, which covers long/short vowels, magic e, y as a vowel and (a rule we didn’t share here), r-controlled vowels and long vowel patterns.