Guest Author - Marie Rippel
Learning to read is like a progressive climb; your students will base what they learn off of what they have already learned, and in vowel team syllables, this is certainly the case. If your students are comfortable with the first three syllable structures (closed syllables, open syllables, and vowel-consonant-e syllables), it is time to introduce them to vowel team syllables.
In vowel team syllables, there are two vowels that are side by side. Together, they can create a new sound. An example of this would be the word bread, where the e and the a work together to produce the short e sound.
Other vowel team examples include oi, oy, ey, oa, oo, ou, ui, and ai. Examples of one syllable words which contain vowel teams: boil, coat, fruit, head, out and rain. Multisyllabic words that use vowel teams include author, cartoon, around, explain, remain, payment and ideal.
Don't rely on the old adage, "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." This is an unreliable tool to teach kids as it is not always true; for example, look the words head and bread. In fact, this adage is wrong more often than it is correct! Make sure that your students are aware that while word like goat or bead take on the first vowel's sound, words like sauce and book do not.
As an alternative to the unreliable "when two vowels go walking" rule, introduce them to phonograms. Phonograms are letters and letter combinations that make one sound. (Sh is a phonogram, and says the sound /sh/ at the beginning of words. Oi is a phonogram which says /oy/ in the middle of words.
Some of the phonograms have several different sounds, depending upon the word in which it is found. Take the vowel team ea; it can say /E/, /e/ or /A/. The first sound, long e, is the most common sound of ea, while the last sound, long a, is the least common. When he comes across an unfamiliar word, the student who knows the sounds of the phonograms can be taught to try the first sound, first. In the word leap, for instance, the reader who doesn’t already know the word can test out the /E/ sound. This is the correct choice. In the word bread, the beginning reader tests out the second sound, and finds that he can sound out this word.
Knowledge of the phonograms is a great way to help learners narrow down the choices that they have when trying to decipher a certain word. With this tool under your students’ belts, they’ll be further along on the road to reading independently. Understanding vowel team syllables is an integral part to understanding the written language.