Reading experts agree that CVC words—two consonants sandwiching a short or closed vowel—should be taught first to children who are just beginning to read. The reason has to do with logic. Almost all CVC words pronounce sounds in the expected way, that is, with a one-to-one correspondence between the sound and the letter representing the sound. The few words which are exceptions to the rules—words like “was” and “gym”—are not taught yet.
Experts also agree that one-syllable CVC words containing blends in which each letter is sounded should be taught next. Words with blends at the beginning, words like “spot” and “drum,” should be taught before words with blends at the end, words like “bend” and “lump,” because beginning sounds are easier to master than ending sounds.
Teaching reading in this order is important because most beginning readers are four to six years old, and their sense of logic does not allow for exceptions. All red lights mean stop, no exceptions. Every time Dad says “no,” that means no, no exceptions. One plus one equals two every time, no exceptions. Every “z” is pronounced “z,” no exceptions.
The problem for teachers is that after children learn CVC words, what kinds of words should they learn next?
- Two syllable words containing two CVC segments (CVCCVC) such as “rabbit” and “Justin”?
- CVCe one-syllable words containing a silent e at the end such as “make” and “kite”?
- CVVC one-syllable words containing double vowels such as “Jean” and “boat”?
There is no correct approach after teaching CVC words. Teaching two-syllable CVCCVC words maintains the logic of one sound per letter, but two syllables are harder to learn than one. All those letters can look intimidating to a tiny child.
CVCe words require that the last letter not be sounded, which breaks the rule of one sound per letter. If lots of silent letters were not pronounced, this would wreak havoc in a child’s mind. But since the same letter—“e”—is not sounded, this maintains a one-to-one logical relationship that is easy to remember.
The hard part of CVCe words is that the silent e changes the sound of the vowel to a long or open vowel sound. Previously children needed to know five vowel sounds; to learn CVCe words they need to know ten. (Actually, they need to know eleven if both sounds of u are taught. In “mule” the u sounds like “yu” and in “tune” the “u” sounds like “u.”)
One child I taught could not make the transition from CVC to CVCe words even after several months of work. She could remember how to pronounce either CVC or CVCe words, but when I mixed them, she could not go back and forth sounding the words correctly.
Learning CVVC words containing double vowels is readily grasped if the double vowels are identical, as they are when the vowels are “ee” as in “seen” and “deed.” Usually when the vowels are different, as in “mean” and “read,” the second vowel is silent but its presence means the first vowel is pronounced like a long or open vowel. The new reader needs to remember two ideas: that the second vowel is not pronounced, and that the first vowel is not pronounced like a CVC vowel. For some children this is difficult even if exceptions are not mentioned.
What to teach after CVC words? The choice is yours, but each option comes with its difficulties for children. I usually teach the silent e words next. I have tried printing words with a shadowy “e” which helps children to remember not to say the “e.” But when I take away the shadowy letter “e,” it is like starting over. What I thought would be a short cut way to learn turns out to be a dead end detour.
One thing I have learned: Integrating whatever you teach next with CVC words can take a long time.