Phonics instruction guides vary as to when to teach silent “e.” Some suggest teaching it before teaching digraphs starting or ending one-syllable, short-vowel words. Others suggest teaching silent “e” after teaching digraphs.
My best advice is that it depends on the student. I have spent months teaching CVC words to a student, and thinking she had “mastered” that concept, started teaching silent “e.” But when we reviewed CVC words at the end of the lesson, she pronounced all the CVC words as if they were silent “e” words.
Yet I have taught another student who understood the silent “e” concept by the end of our first lesson on that concept. She could accurately go back and forth from CVC words to silent “e” words. Some students recognize silent “e” patterns in a single lesson. Some students take months.
I use letter tiles to write a CVC word like “cat” and beside it to write the silent “e” word “cate.” I explain that the “e” is needed for spelling and to signal that the previous vowel is pronounced like its name. I start with “a” vowel word pairs: ban, bane; fat, fate; hat; hate; mad, made, etc. If the child catches on, I move on to other vowels. But if the child cannot go quickly back and forth from CVC words to CVCe words, I slow down and focus on one vowel, and one or two consonants after that vowel, such as “t” and “d” as in mat, mate; Nat, Nate; mad, made, and bad, bade.
As always with young children, I try to break up a half hour lesson with game-like activities to keep them motivated. Even the quickest to catch on prefer to learn using games.
Should you take care to use only real words? I use non-words all the time, but after the student has pronounced a non-word correctly, I mention that there is no such word. This offers more pair combinations, especially for the vowels “e” and “u” for which there are not many silent “e” words.