Ĭ and ĕ are the two hardest vowel sounds to distinguish. Here is how I suggest you work with children to differentiate these sounds. Mix the ĭ CVC words with the previously learned ă, ŏ, and ŭ CVC words. Then mix the ĕ CVC words with the previously learned words, not including the ĭ words. Lastly mix only the ĭ CVC words with the ĕ CVC words. Repeat these steps indefinitely until your child can read the majority of ĭ and ĕ CVC words correctly. Learning the ĭ and ĕ CVC words can take longer than the other three letter sounds combined.
Sample ĕ words
Sample ĭ words
Problem: Distinguishing between nearly identical sounds and words
Short ĕ and short ĭ are difficult sounds to distinguish for most beginning readers. When I teach these sounds, I rely on two game-like activities.
For one of the activities, I gather the pictures of words which start with ĕ and ĭ, or which use them in the CVC pattern. I put these Ee and Ii cards in front of the child and we practice saying those letter sounds. Then the child sorts the deck of cards I have created, putting cards under one of the two letter sounds. We say the word aloud to reinforce the letter sound.
For another activity, I have created BINGO-like cards of ĕ and ĭ words. I limit each BINGO card to nine words. More words can seem overwhelming. I say one of the words and the child finds and covers it, using a marker. To extend this activity, the child and I exchange places. The child says the words and I find the correct spelling.