Spoiler alert: Teaching vowels in the traditional order A, E, I, O, and U can actually be confusing to new readers. Several of the sounds are so similar that learning them back-to-back is a real struggle. For instance, new readers’ brains strain to hear the difference between the short A in BAD and the short E in BED. They’re practically identical to an untrained ear!
But the great news is that when you teach those same five vowels in a slightly different way, they’ll stick for kids faster and easier than ever before.
So, what’s the BEST order to teach vowels? Here’s the scoop…
You know how we help students memorize the vowel letters with the simple rhyme “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y”?
And then there’s the catchy song:
(Sung to the BINGO tune.)
There are some special letters and vowels are their name-o:
A, E, I, O, U
A, E, I, O, U
A, E, I, O, U
And sometimes Y.
While memorizing the list of vowels in that order is fine, actually teaching vowels in that order can be overwhelming for new readers because these vowel pairs sound and feel very similar:
- Short A and E
- Short I and E
- Short O and U
You can actually see the similarities for yourself when you say each pair of vowel sounds in the mirror!
But with just a simple little reshuffling, we can take away much of the confusion for students by separating similar sounding vowels so their brains can focus in on the differences that make each vowel sound unique.
The best order I’ve found for teaching vowel sounds is:
- Short A
- Short O
- Short E
- Short U
- Short I
And since research has shown us that learning to read is a largely auditory skill, it’s important for students to be able to hear the differences between letter sounds.
Doing that can be as simple as giving students a handheld mirror, picking a vowel sound to focus on, and asking five specific questions about it:
- What are your lips doing?
- What are your teeth doing?
- What is your tongue doing?
- What is your voicebox doing?
- How is your air flowing?
As you talk through the answers to each question together, you’ll be helping students lay down the brain pathways they need to correctly identify the vowel sounds when they read and spell later.
Slowing down to study each sound will actually help you speed up students’ learning!
But wait! What about when Y is a vowel?
We can’t forget Y.
There are three special rules we can teach students to help them know when Y is considered a vowel:
- It’s the only vowel in the word. (sky, cry, my)
- It’s at the end of a syllable. (cy-cyle)
- It’s in the middle of a syllable. (ty-pi-cal)
Teaching students predictable spelling rules like these ones help them connect the dots they need to become successful readers more quickly.
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This is just the tip of the iceberg to helping students learn to read. Get all of my favorite brain-friendly strategies and teaching tricks inside my book, The Science of Reading in Action, right here.