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Category Archives: silent “e” words
You can teach your child to read. Start with a phonics assessment.
Are you are planning to teach your child how to read this summer, either starting at the beginning or filling in the gaps? If so, where do you start? I suggest you give your child a pretest to see what reading skills your child has learned well, and what ones he has not yet grasped. The words on this pretest are more or less divided into four kinds of words in this order: 1. Short (closed) vowel, one-syllable words. These include one- and two-letter words, words beginning or ending with blends and digraphs (black, church) words which end in twin consonants (fell, jazz), words which end in “ck,” and words to which an “s” can be added to make plural words or certain verbs (maps, runs). 2. Long (open) vowel, one-syllable words. These include words ending with silent “e,” words with double vowels which have only one vowel pronounced (goes, pear), and certain letter combinations (ild, old). They also include words with “oi,” “oy,” “ow” and “ou” letters. 3. Two– and three-syllable words which follow the above rules (catnip, deplete) and two- and three-syllable words which don’t follow the above rules but which follow a pattern (light, yield). These words include words with certain suffixes (le, ies) and words with a single consonant between two vowels (robin, motel). 4. Exceptions. These include words with silent letters (gnaw, lamb), words from other languages (debris, cello), and words which fit no pattern (business). Ask your child to read the words in the pretest below. Each row across tests a particular phonics skill. If you child hesitates at all, that is the place to begin teaching him or her phonics. I will talk more about how to teach these four groups of phonics skills in my next blog. Phonics assessment bad, hem, fit, don, pug, am, if, lass, jazz lock, Mick, bills, cliffs, mitts, catnip, Batman grand, stent, frisk, stomp, stuck chuck, shun, them, branch, brush, tenth star, fern, birds, fork, purr, actor, doctor, victor muffin, kitten, collect, pepper, gallon complex, helmet, falcon, napkin, after tantrum, muskrat, constant, fulcrum, ostrich skate, bike, Jude, mole, dare, shore, tire, pure need, cheer, aim, hair, bay, pie, boat, oar, Joe, low, soul fruit, few, child, blind, fold, colt, roll, light, high earn, worm, rook, pool fault, claw, all, chalk, Walt boil, so, pound, down comet, dragon, liver, salad, denim total, ever, student, basic, demon, vital apron, elude, Ethan, Owen, ideal, usurp inside, nearly, absent, unicorn, degrade, tripod advance, offense, fence gripped, planned, melted, batted, handed sweeping, boiling, thinning, flopping, biking, dating rapper, saddest, finer, bluest, funnier, silliest easily, busily, massive, active, arrive, wives keys, monkeys, armies, carried action, section, musician, racial, crucial, nuptials brittle, pickle, carbon, dormer parcel, decent, gem, urge, badge lose, sugar, nature, sure graph, Phil, then, moth bomb, thumb, gnat, gnome, high, sign whip, whirl, echo, ghoul, knee, knob could, calf, folk, hustle, listen, wrist alone, bread, bear, chief, young, squaw, swan, waltz, word decision, exposure, gigantic, polarize, occupant, quarantine If you want to help your child learn to read, one of the best things you can do is not to let him guess. Most words can be deciphered if the student has a phonics background. Also, don’t let your child depend on pictures for meaning once the child starts to read. Most adult reading material is not accompanied by graphics. Students must learn to gain meaning from the text alone. If you have decided to help your child read this summer, good for you. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to help your child read better. Years of research show that the best way to teach reading is to start with letter sounds (phonemes) and then to combine those letter sounds into words (phonics). If you do this in a systematic way, such as following the four-part sequence I describe above, your child will learn to read.
Two games make phonics fun for beginning readers
With young students, games are the easiest way to maintain interest and learn at the same time. I’d like to suggest two games to teach beginning reading (CVC words). Neither game is new, but both attract youngsters, from my experience.
One game is BLAH BLAH BLAH Word Game, Level 1000. This game consists of three sets of playing cards, color coded according to level. Each card consists of one word printed in the middle, and individual letters of that word printed in the corners. A player needs to match one letter on a card in his hand to one letter on the face-up word in the middle of the table (hat and tug, for example).
This game has three levels: CVC words; CVC words with blends; and words with long vowels (oa, ai, ee, oo, etc.). It does not include words ending with silent e at the 1000 level. When a player matches a letter, he must place his card over the face-up word already played and read the word aloud. The next player must match one of the letters on the just matched card. However, other cards (skip a turn, take four cards, change order) allow a player without a match to play. The first player to play all his cards wins.
I have played this game with an about-to-start kindergartener, who sounds out each word as he plays. He uses the “joker” cards strategically to stop a player from winning or to enact revenge on a player who interferes with his goals. But it could be used with a child learning his letters but not yet able to read words.
The only drawback I have found is the size of the cards. For little hands, regular-sized playing cards are too big to fan. Too bad the deck isn’t smaller-sized.
The other game my almost kindergartener and I like is Zingo! Each player receives a BINGO-like card with six words printed on it. However, one of the letters of each word is missing as in “_ig” or “c_t.” A player must take letter tiles distributed from a machine-like device and use them, one at a time, to create words by covering the blank spaces on his card. Consonants are black and vowels are red. The first player to cover his card wins.
This game offers two levels, one on each side of the BINGO card: CVC words and CVC words with blends. The machine-like device which distributes the tiles is attractive to little hands, and can easily distract a youngster from the purpose of the game. This game is harder than the previous game since it requires the child to read several incomplete words at each turn and to try to figure out where placing a tile makes sense. For beginner readers, this requires help.
I like to use games like this at the end of a lesson to extend the lesson time. Little kids have short attention spans, so ending a lesson with games like these continues the learning.
Four stages in learning to read
The saying goes, in kindergarten through third grade, a child learns to read (think phonics); in third and later grades, a child reads to learn (think comprehension).*
But practically, what does this mean?
By the end of kindergarten:
- Students can recognize almost all letters, upper and lower case.
- Some students can state the sound represented by an individual consonant letter, and they can recognize closed (short) vowel sounds.
- Some students can read consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words.
- Most students cannot yet read open (long) vowel patterns such as oa and ight.
- Many students rely on first and last letters in words to sound words out.
- Students rely on pictures to help figure out words.
By the end of first grade:
- Students can decode one-syllable CVC words, including those with blends.
- Students can decode one-syllable words ending in a silent e.
- Students can read one-syllable open (long) vowel words like he and my.
- Students can read one-syllable r-controlled words like star and dirt.
- Students can read some one-syllable words with two-vowels like bee and boot.
- Many students need to sound out common one-syllable words rather than recognizing them as sight words.
- Students depend less on pictures and context clues to decipher words.
By the end of second grade:
- Increasingly, students are able to decode two- and three-syllable words if those words follow rules of phonics.
- Students can decode words by separating familiar suffixes and prefixes to find root words and then reassembling the parts.
- Students recognize common letter patterns.
By the end of third grade:
- Students have mastered decoding of words using phonics, including many multi-syllabic words.
- Students recognize most common words by sight.
- Students recognize word families and can use that knowledge to decipher new words.
This breakdown covers word recognition. But there is another part of learning to read, namely, language comprehension. We will discuss that in the next blog.
*Researcher Jeanne Chall (1983) first coined this idea.
See researchers Linnea Ehri (1991, 2005) and Spear-Swerling (2015) for more indepth discussion of reading stages.
Add “Alphablocks” to your strategies for teaching phonics
If your beginning reader is enamored with all things technology, let me highly recommend a colorful animated series which teaches basic phonics.
Alphablocks is a step-by-step reading program created by British literacy experts and award-winning web designers. The “stars” consist of 26 colorful letter blocks with distinctive faces who jump, twirl, sing, and dance to form words like “hen” and “tub.”
The series is divided into five levels. Level 1 teaches young viewers to recognize sounds associated with the most commonly used letters, creating short-vowel, one-syllable words. Level 2 introduces the rest of the alphabet. Level 3 teaches about “letter teams” or digraphs. Level 4 teaches blends. Level 5 introduces long vowels formed with “Magic E.”
Segments last about four or five minutes. The innocent letter blocks find themselves in silly situations as they hunt for other letter blocks to help them form words.
I watched with my five-year-old grandson who read aloud the words as they formed onscreen. Even his three-year-old brother was engaged. At one point I said, “Now I wonder what letter that is?” as a letter skipped across the TV screen. “L,” shouted the three-year-old. He was right.
We watched on Netflix, but Alphablocks is also available through YouTube, and apps can be downloaded free. A companion series on numbers is also available for preschoolers and primary grade students.
For more information, go to https://wwwlearningblocks.tv.
What to do when a child says “It hurts” as he reads
I was talking to my friend about her summer visit with her grandson who is about to start first grade. Together the two of them were reading a beginner reader. The boy was reading the three- and four-letter words well.
But when he came to a longer word, he would look up with sad, sad eyes and say, “It hurts!”
“What hurts?” his grandmother would ask.
“That word hurts. It’s too big,” he would say.
It would be a funny story if the pain the boy felt were not real. I have seen this with other children too.
In particular I have seen children squirm when we first attempt CVCe words after mastering CVC words. That silent e at the end of words seems like an impossible hurdle: so intimidating that children would rather stop learning than face it.
I’ve seen the fear, too, when children are learning how to read two-syllable words. When there are twin consonants, as in “little” or “yellow,” and I tell them to split the word between the identical consonants, there is no problem. But when we attempt to read syllables in words with different consonants between two vowels such as “Wilson” or “random,” the children freak.
Their fear is real.
One time I moved from CVC to CVCe words with a girl who had had no previous phonics learning. She could read most CVC words easily, so I spent only a few lessons reviewing them before moving on to CVCe words. She looked at those words as if they were spitting fire. She stopped speaking, shook her head, crossed her arms in front of her and pushed back her chair. We had reached the limit of her understanding, and she feared what lay ahead.
If this happens to you, I suggest
Figure out where the student’s learning boundary is. What has the student learned fairly confidently, and what next step brings on fear.
Begin each lesson with a review of what the student already knows. Compliment the student. Make students believe in their abilities.
Introduce the next concept slowly, incrementally. For example, if you are introducing CVCe words, start with only one vowel such as a. Don’t try to teach all five vowels in the same lesson.
Show the child similar words with and without the silent e, such as “cap” and “cape,” and “tap” and “tape.” Or “mit” and “mitten,” and “kit” and “kitten.” Since replacing first consonants is easier than replacing second consonants, stick to the same second consonant for the first lesson. Keep as much of the words the same as you can so there are fewer variables.
If at the next lesson the student seems to have forgotten the previous lesson, accept that and start again. Some children move quickly through phonics, and others move slowly, or stall at learning certain skills.
If the child learns slowly, advance slowly. There is no right or wrong length of time to learn phonics skills. What you are teaching the child is a life-long skill, so if it takes five months to conquer CVCe, so what? Over a lifetime of 80-plus years, isn’t it better to learn to read well than to forever “hurt” when you see hard words?
Which to teach after CVC words—double syllables, double vowels or silent e’s?
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.
Teaching silent E
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.