by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady
The 5 vowels make up just 19% of the letters of the alphabet, but have 38 different spellings (for the short and long sounds). The vowels are much like the “glue” that hold words together. The 21 consonants, on the other hand, make up 81% of the letters of the alphabet, and have 54 different spellings (not including the digraphs). Here again is a 44 Phoneme chart 44Phonemes to illustrate this (from Orchestrating Success in Reading by Dawn Reithaug, 2002.) Stay tuned for other resources and FREEBIES.
Some other interesting vowel and consonant trivia:
- “A vowel is a sound that is produced with no obstructions. The air simply floats through your mouth and has very little interaction with your teeth, your lips, or other structures. On the other hand, a consonant has some degree of air obstruction.” (Dr. Molly Ness, Linuistic expert). So now is everyone trying that out like I did? It’s true! Producing vowel sounds require little or no lip / tongue movement. Whereas most consonants require specific lip and tongue placement.
- Each syllable is made up of one vowel sound. This is how we count and divide multi-syllabic words (one vowel sound per syllable).
- While most single consonants only make one sound, there are a few exceptions such as: c = /s/ or /k/; g = /g/ or /j/; y = /y/ or /long e/ or /long i/; s = /s/ or /z/; x = /ks/ or /z/ . This reveals the letters c and x don’t have their own unique sound.
Then there is this interesting information about how we say the consonant letter names vs. the sound the letter makes — no wonder kids get confused! Here’s a previous blog post going into more detail on this fantastic research. I think it’s a must read for all elementary teachers: Alphabet Letter and Sounds Research (Cindy’s Blog)
Letter names starting with short vowel sound when pronounced:
- f = /ef/
- l = /el/
- m = /em/
- n = /en/
- s = /es/
- x = /eks/
- r = /ar/ — not exactly a short vowel sound, but close
Letter names with long a sound when pronounced:
- j = /jay/
- k = /kay/
Letter names with long e sound when pronounced:
- b = /bee/
- c = /see/
- d = /dee/
- g = /jee/
- p = /pee/
- t = /tee/
- v = /vee/
- z = /zee/
Letter names with pronunciatons not using their letter sound:
- h = /aych/ — the letter sound is pronounced /h-h-h/
- q = /kue/ — the letter sound is /kwuh/
- w = /double u/ — the letter sound is pronounced /wuh/
- y = /why/ — the letter sound is pronounced /yuh/
The article on Alphabet Research I referenced above has some excellent instructional guidelines for introducing and teaching the letter sounds. If you are a “letter of the week” teacher, this may shed some light on what newer research has revealed.
Here are some good strategies for vowel and consonant instruction in the classroom. Please share some of yours that aren’t on my list!!
- Check out Kate Garner’s “Secret Stories.” https://www.katiegarner.com/ She has a fantastic approach to help students notice what their mouth is doing when saying a sound and links it to fun phrases and actions.
- POST an alphabet chart in the classroom which includes pictures, big enough to be seen across the room. A good thing to look for is one that has 2 pictures for the vowels, or has the vowels in a different color. To me, this is a MUST in pre-K, KG and first grade classrooms. A poster close to your group teaching station is also highly recommended for easy, quick reference.
- Here’s a desk alphabet chart that is handy for use at your small group station. FREE alphabet chart from TPT (Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten)
- Learn letter formation steps that can be repeated. Here’s an idea from Pinterest: Lower case letter formation rhymes and Uppercase rhymes for letter formation
- Provide lots of alphabet books in the reading center for individual reading time.
- Learn the sign language finger spelling for letters of the alphabet. Here’s a link: ASL Finger Spelling Charts
- Match upper and lower case letters.
- Match pictures (beginning sounds) with letters.
- Do picture sorts with 2-3 letters/sounds at a time.
- Use object sorting tubs.
- If working on 2 sounds at a time, give children those 2 letters on cards or with letter tiles. Teacher says the word or shows a picture and the students must descriminate between the two to hold up (all students engaged).
- In shared or guided writing, have children supply the beginning consonant or vowel sound instead of the teacher writing. Example: If writing the sentence We will go to the library today, the teacher could get students to help with spelling parts of the words (the w, l, t and perhaps the e, i, o in we, will, and go).
- Look for particular vowels and consonants in short poems (see Phonics Part 1 for resources).
- Make alphabet books. These could be individual or a class big book which can be viewed over and over again during center time.
- Refer to one of my favorite bloggers / TPT authors for young children (This Reading Mama): https://thisreadingmama.com/teaching-letter-sounds/
- Making letters with play-dough or in an art related activity should always be connected with pictures and sound practice so students can connect the sound to the letter.
Finally, using knowledge of beginning letters along with picture cues can help a child read easy texts and verify the correct word was used. Here are two examples:
- Look at the ______. If a child only looks at the picture, it might be read as “Look at the rabbit.” But asking the child to confirm by looking at the first letter should reveal the word can not be rabbit because the word shown begins with the letter b.
- I can see my _______. If a child only looks at the picture, it might be read as “I can see my coat.” But asking the child to confirm by looking at the first letter, and prompting the child like this: “What else could that word be that begins with the /j/ sound?” If the child does read the word jacket correctly, the teacher could ask the child, “How did you know that word wasn’t coat?” This would enable to you to determine if the child was using first letter clues, or just guessing.