Category Archives: CVC words

The younger the student, the shorter the reading lesson

Many four-year-olds can learn to read, but their lessons must be short and involve games and manipulatives to keep them engaged.

That’s what I have learned from many years of teaching little kids to read.  After about ten minutes, many little ones lose interest or become distracted.  Then it is time to stop or to move on to a different approach.

For example, last week I worked with a four-year-old girl who is learning to associate sounds with letters and to form her first CVC words.  The lesson was supposed to last 45 minutes, but after 30 minutes, she could no longer sit still.  Here is what we did in that half hour:

  • We began using letter tiles which she loves to touch. She would pull one of the 26 letters I had presorted and tell me the sound associated with that letter.  She knew all but two, “v” and “y,” so we set aside those two and every few minutes we reviewed them.
  • Next, we reviewed last week’s lesson, making CVC words with tiles the vowel “a,” words like “cat,” “man” and “bad.” For five minutes she participated, moving some of the letters herself, but then she noticed my necklace and wanted to wear it.  I let her, but from her attention was diverted.  After another few minutes we moved on.
  • I had created BINGO cards using CVC words, so her next task was to identify the word I said from among the nine words on her card. This worked for a few minutes, but then she became distracted by the BINGO markers themselves—pieces of plastic I had cut out—and she started making patterns with them.  Enough of that.
  • We returned to making words with the tiles to no avail. I cut the lesson short, grateful that she had worked for a half hour.

With a five-year-old last week, the situation was much the same.

child playing card memory game

  • I corrected the few pages of phonics homework she had done while she dumped a container of letter tiles and put them in ABC order, chatting all the time.
  • She told me the sounds associated with each letter, reminding me that “k” and “c” make the same sound. She gets mixed up with “g” and “j,” so we set them aside to review as the lesson progressed.  I pulled letters to make words with beginning blends, such as “smell” and “stun.”  She said the words but in a few minutes, she lost interest.
  • We moved on to a workbook in which she read tiny sentences using CVC and CCVC words.
  • Finally I dictated a few words with blends in them and she wrote them.
  • A half hour passed, the scheduled time for her lesson.  Now she got her reward:  time to build houses out of the letter tiles.

For all elementary school aged children I plan several parts to each lesson, but for the youngest, I need one activity for each seven to ten minutes to keep them engaged.

Teaching vocabulary

If kids get low grades on reading comprehension, number one on my checklist is vocabulary. If kids don’t understand the words they read, how can they possibly understand the sentences containing those words?

But how to solve this problem?

CVC means consonant-vowel-consonant, and refers to one syllable, short vowel words beginning with a consonant.

For ELL students lacking basic English words, I make flash cards: a picture on one side and the word or words used to identify that picture on the other side. A picture of a child pitching a baseball might use the words “pitch.” “toss,” or “throw.”

I start with pictures of CVC words: “cat,” hat”, and “bat,” for example. Picturing nouns is easy. Picturing verbs like “sat” and “win” is harder, and often I need to demonstrate the actions.

With my students I use the Explode the Code phonics series, so I picture vocabulary words in the order in which the student encounters the words in the series. To these I add a few sight (Dolch) words so that we can make sentences, such as “A cat is not a dog.”

What I have discovered is that students can identify the pictures with just a bit of study, but they cannot use the words in sentences. When they see the word “pitch” they can move their arms in  pitching motions, but they cannot make a sentence using the word “pitch.”

Even for students learning advanced vocabulary words, like in the Wordly Wise series, this is true. They can define a word using a synonym but they have trouble using the word in a meaningful sentence.  (For many students using this series in school, their teachers do not assign the part of the lesson in which students write the new words in sentences, a big mistake.)

When I review already learned vocabulary words, I ask for synonyms, but also for usage. “It is a cat” works for beginning ELL learners. But “It is a catapult” does not work for older ELL students or for English-speaking students.

Another method to increase ELL learners’ vocabulary is to use picture word books meant for preschoolers. Because I want to use the vocabulary my students study to teach them reading, I prefer to begin with CVC words even though a word like “pizza” might be more frequently heard.

This Kid Can’t Read

Before you can help students to read, you need to know why they can’t read. An umbrella statement like, “This kid can’t read” is too broad to be helpful. You need to be more specific in identifying the problem. For example,

• Does she know how to read maps, charts, graphs and political cartoons?

• Can she decode CVC, CVCe and other one-syllable words?

• Can she segment and pronounce two-, three-, and four-syllable words?

• Does she struggle so much with decoding English sounds that she cannot take in meaning?

• Is her English vocabulary limited?

• Does she recognize prefixes, suffixes and root words?

• Does she apply punctuation when she reads?

• Does she read in a monotone without inflection or expression?

• Does she monitor her understanding as she reads, rereading whenever she realizes she doesn’t understand?

• Does she know how to use context clues?

• Can she predict what will happen next as she reads?

• Does she make inferences?

• Can she identify the main idea in a reading passage?

• Can she summarize a passage, paraphrasing?

• Can she distinguish between important details and less important details?

• Can she detect author bias?

• Does she know how to think deeply?

• Does she believe she can read?

Reading problems can be divided into dozens of smaller, specific problems. And those smaller problems can be tackled—and usually solved—by a skilled teacher using appropriate strategies.

How to teach a child to read with little cost

If you are attempting to teach your child to read, and you go to Amazon or your local book store and find literally hundreds of instruction books, dozens of video games, and all kinds of apps and CDs, and boxes of flash cards, where do you begin?  Is all that “stuff” really necessary?

I suggest a method which includes spending time with your child but not much money.

Start with the sounds of English. There are about 42 in most parts of the US.  Say the sounds aloud, one at a time.  Let your child listen and repeat the sounds aloud.  If he can’t say one or two of the sounds, work on those sounds for a few minutes each day until he can hear and repeat all the sounds.  (Supplies you will need:  a list of the 42 sounds, available free on this website and online.)

Next, explain that we associate letters with those sounds.  Start with consonants and teach the child to match each sound with a letter.  Move on to vowels and explain that some sounds share the same letter.  (At this point, don’t try to teach digraphs or exceptions.)  Say a particular sound and ask your child what letter goes with that sound.  Show a handful of letters to choose from and add more options as the child gains accuracy.  (Supplies you will need:  a set of the ABC’s on cards, on letter tiles or written by hand on index cards.)

Once the child can associate sounds with letters accurately, form CVC (consonant—vowel—consonant) words, such as “c a t.” From years of experience I have found that letter tiles work best at this.  (I use Scrabble game tiles, but there are other kinds.)  Set the three letters an inch apart.  Say the letter sounds one by one.  Move the letter tiles together slowly and then more rapidly, saying the letter sounds so that they eventually slur together.  Help the child learn that when we put letter sounds together, we form words.  (Supplies you will need:  lists of CVC words available free online.)

At this point, your child can read many of the words in some books, such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and  Hop on Pop.   Encourage the child to read the words she can and you read the other words.  If you own the books and don’t mind marking them, you can underline the words your child knows as she reads–a visible proof to the child that she can read.  (Supplies you will need:  a few early reading books available free online or for less than a dollar each at most resale stores.)

CVCC twin consonantsNext you need a plan to sequence the teaching of various types of words.   You can find plenty online.  Most plans start with two- or three-letter short vowel words like “cat” and “ax.”  Then they move on to blends, first at the beginnings of short vowel words (“blot”) and when those are understood, at the ends of such words (“blotch.”)  Adding “s” to form plurals is considered such a blend.  Then teach digraphs and sight (Dolch) words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of sight or Dolch words available free online.)

Some authorities suggest teaching two- and three-syllable short vowel words at this point, such as “catnip” and “tunnel.” Others suggest tackling one-syllable long vowel words beginning with words ending with a silent “e” such as “bake” and “tune” and then moving on to other long vowel combinations such as “ee” and “oa.”  There is no right or wrong sequence.  It is important to keep reviewing words the student already learned and mixing them up while you are teaching new kinds of words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free online.)

boy choosing right root for a prefixAt this point, you might teach prefixes and suffixes, or words which don’t follow rules such as two-syllable words with one consonant between the two vowels. Does the consonant go with the first syllable (“robin”) or with the second syllable (“robust”)?  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free  online.)

Three- and four-syllable words follow the same rules as one- and two-syllable words, but the problem is where to put the inflection so that they are pronounced correctly.  Help the child pronounce such words all possible ways until she hears the correct way.  You and your child might read books you own or library books, and when you come to long words, stop, and figure them out together.  (Supplies you will need:  Picture books, and lists of multi-syllable words available free online.)

By now your child is reading.  She might need help occasionally pronouncing a particular word, or more likely, understanding the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  But learning the sounds of English (phonemes) and linking those sounds to form words (phonics) is largely done.

When a word has a single consonant between two vowels, which syllable does the consonant go with?

When a two-syllable word has a single consonant in the middle of two vowels, which syllable does the consonant go with?

Usually the consonant goes with the second syllable.  This forms a first syllable with a long vowel and a second syllable that is either CVC or CVCe. The first syllable which ends with a long vowel is called an open syllable. Some examples include:red headed girl in easy chair reading, legs up

  • minus
  • tulip
  • pupil
  • motel
  • basic
  • humid
  • rotate
  • unite

Sometimes these words  have a one-syllable, stand-alone word as the first syllable.  Or they have a prefix as the first syllable. Helping students to recognize this tiny word or prefix can help them to pronounce the word correctly. Some words like this include:

  • beside
  • rerun
  • protest
  • defend
  • trisect
  • bypass
  • nomad
  • hotel

Some students get mixed up if the first syllable is a single vowel. They want to put the middle consonant with the first syllable instead of with the second.  If this happens, ask the child to pronounce the word both ways. Usually one way will make sense and one won’t unless the child is not familiar with the word. Some words like this include:

  • omit
  • item
  • unit
  • ozone
  • even
  • evil
  • amen

I recommend teaching children words with a single consonant between syllables after they have learned words with two middle consonants.  The latter are easier to learn because children more easily spot the CVC + CVC pattern.

One warning:  Many words beginning with the letter “a” follow the letter pattern just mentioned, but the “a” is not pronounced as a long vowel.  “Alive,” “along,” “awake,” “atone” and “apart” and dozens of other “a” words pronounce the “a” as “uh.”  Save them for a separate lesson.

How to divide words into syllables—start with words having double consonants between two short vowels

Figuring out how to pronounce words with two or more separated vowels can be a problem. However, there are guidelines which often help.

boy reading book If a word has two consonants of the same letter in the middle of the word, the split into syllables happens between the two consonants. These words are easy to segment and to pronounce. Words like this include

  • happen
  • little
  • mitten
  • ribbon
  • puddle
  • peddler
  • attic
  • minnow
  • biggest

girl on floor readginIf a word has two different middle consonants preceded by and followed by short vowels, the split into syllables usually happens between the two consonants. Usually the vowel sound to the left of the double consonants is short because the first syllable creates a CVC “word,” and the syllable after the split is short for the same reason. Words like this include

  • Hagrid
  • often
  • piston
  • Wilson
  • walnut
  • mascot
  • dentist
  • impish
  • whiplash

Seated young boy is playing a portable video game..Sometimes in the middle of a two-syllable word are three consonants composed of a consonant and a blend or a blend and a consonant.  The three consonants are preceded and followed by a single vowel. The split into syllables happens before or after the blend, in such a way as to keep the blend together. Usually these words contain short vowels before and after the split. Words like this include

  • chinchilla
  • tundra
  • umbrella
  • ashes
  • pumpkin
  • sandbox
  • liftoff
  • pigskin
  • distress

All of these two-syllable words have certain features in common which make pronunciation easy:

  • they have either two consonants or one consonant and a blend in the middle of the word,
  • and they have a single vowel preceding and following the middle consonants.
  • The first vowel is a short vowel, and usually the second vowel is short also if it is followed by a single consonant or a blend.

But what if there is only one consonant between two vowels? Does the consonant go with the first vowel or the second? It depends.  We’ll talk about that soon.

My third grader skips over long words when she reads aloud. When I ask her to pronounce them, sometimes she can if she segments them, but many times she can’t. How can I help her?

Lots of children do this, thinking they can gain enough meaning from the rest of the words. And sometimes they can. But usually this is a sign of a struggling reader.

Your daughter needs to learn strategies to figure out new words.

fingers covering parts of word, then revealing themWhen she reads aloud to you and encounters a word she skips, stop her and cover parts of the word to help her figure it out in small chunks. For example, in a word like “imitate,” cover over all but the “im” part. Ask her to pronounce “im.” Then ask her what a short i sounds like. Show her the “i” in the middle of the word and ask her to put those sounds together. Then show her the “tate” which should be easy to pronounce. Now reveal the word bit by bit as the child says it. You say it too to be sure she hears it pronounced correctly.

But she still might not know what the word means. Help her to understand it. Use it in a couple of sentences. My experience working with children is that many times they can remember the meaning of words, but they cannot use them properly in sentences. Ask her to create her own sentence using the word.

I would make a list of words she has learned this way, and later in the day or the next day, go back to them. Ask her to read the words and tell you what they mean. Return to these words from time to time to reinforce them.

I would also try to find ways to use the words in your everyday conversations with your daughter.

Perhaps your daughter needs more phonics education. You could quickly go over CVC rules of adding suffixes. You could instruct her about prefixes and what they mean and rules for adding them to root words.

Letting your child slide over long, unfamiliar words sets up a bad habit. Eventually, when she gets into middle school classes, she’ll encounter such words routinely and will need strategies to figure them out. Talk to her teacher about the situation. Perhaps there is a reading specialist in your school who could come to her classroom from time to time and help the students decode longer words.

And I will provide more information about how to decode longer words in upcoming blogs. Keep tuned.