7 Tips for Helping Your Student Master Short Vowel Sounds
Those Tricky Short I and Short E Sounds!
While every student is different, probably the most difficult distinction for many struggling readers is between the short e and short I sound. It is useful to note that some children similarly struggle with short i and a. The same general tips apply.
1. Divide and Conquer: Try not to teach these two phonemes back to back. In fact, it is often best to separate the introduction of short vowel sounds that weren’t previously mastered by several review lessons or lessons covering other concepts. By separating the introduction of these easily confusable sounds, students are able to gain proficiency with one before muddying the waters with a 2nd sound.
3. Key words Matter: It is very important with any short vowel sound to use a key word that is easily distinguishable and in which the targeted sound is easily heard and identified. Often these are NOT the words that appear on commercially designed alphabet strips, flash cards and phonics materials. This is particularly important when dealing with students with regional accents. Short I is easily heard with the key word itch or itchy. Avoid words like igloo (often pronounced “eegloo”) or words in which the vowel sound is in the medial position like pig. For the short e sound, edge or Ed works very well as a key word. Avoid words like egg (often pronounced “ay-g”) or elephant (the e can be very tricky to separate from the l sound). I have found it helpful to make use of materials that used elephant by renaming him “Ed the Elephant”.
4. Pronunciation Matters: It is very important to make sure that the teacher, volunteers and any helpers are pronouncing the vowel sounds correctly. In addition to making sure the child can hear the difference, make sure the child is also saying the sounds correctly. This will prove very important when the time comes for spelling words with short vowel I and e. When initially learning short vowel sounds, avoid words ending in n and m as they can somewhat distort the short vowel sound. Later in the learning sequence, begin to include words ending in n and m as well. Articulate the word very clearly for writing. It is important to be aware of how your regional accent or the accent of your student may have an impact on pronunciation and make distinguishing between these two sounds more difficult.
7. Practice Makes Permanent: Short vowel sounds are, perhaps more than any other skill, not a teach-it and forget-it matter. Extensive targeted practice, occasional reteaching , and lots and lots of review and reminders are necessary. Utilizing multiple strategies such as a mirror, using strong key words to remind students of correct vowel sounds, and playing review games are all winning strategies. Fly swatter games (students slap the right word or picture based on the targeted sound or using a double sided fly swatter), board games, card games such as Uno or Go Fish that ask students to identify the letter, match the sound, read or spell words are all excellent practice.
Mastering these foundational basic skills is essential to the continuing development of a child’s reading and writing skills. I have noticed that often times, older students that struggle with reading and writing are lacking proficiency in phonemic awareness skills and short vowel sounds, but are able to hide it due to their visual memory or other strengths. For older students, it is important to take into consideration their large sight vocabulary of CVC words. Utilizing nonsense words (or single syllables from longer words) with these same strategies can insure that this crucial skill is mastered.
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