Tag Archives: CVC

My child is almost four. She wants to learn to read. Where do I begin? Or does it matter?

It matters, according to research. You should start with teaching her “the code,” that is, the connection between the sounds of the English language and the letter symbols we use to mean those sounds. Here’s how. (Look for more information on all these ideas in previously published blogs at comicphonics.com.)

  • children moving letter tilesFirst, make sure she can pronounce all 42 sounds of English. Listen to how she pronounces everyday words and make sure she is saying the sounds correctly. Help her with pronunciation.
  • Then connect sounds with letter symbols, a few at a time. Start with the beginning sounds of a few key words such as the child’s name, m for mom, d for dad, b for baby. Help her to hear those sounds in the beginnings of other words. For example, if you are pouring her milk, ask her what sound milk begins with. Then show her an “m” and explain that is how we show that sound.
  • Beginning sounds are always the easiest to hear, so focus on them.
  • Help her to write the initial of her name and a few other meaningful letters.
  • child on floor reading picture bookSince each vowel has many sounds, teach her to associate each vowel with a word and an image that begins with a “short” vowel sound such as apple, egg, igloo, octopus and umbrella. Later, she can compare the vowel sounds in new words to those vowel sounds.
  • In speaking, start putting letter sounds together to form one-syllable short-vowel (CVC) words she knows, like “cat” and “dog.” When she can hear how words are formed (phonics) by combining sounds, use letter tiles to show her what the combining of sounds in words looks like using letter symbols.
  • When you are reading stories to her, point out words she might be able to decipher, and help her to sound them out.
  • When she knows most of her sound – letter matches, she is ready to start reading books which use one-syllable, short-vowel words. Unfortunately, few good ones exist. We at comicphonics.com have written five humorous books for new readers. (See the links to the right of this blog.) Your librarian can point out where other books are shelved, but many labeled “first” readers contain difficult words. Margaret Hillert has written some good beginning books, and so has Dr. Seuss. Good illustrations can help the child figure out the meanings of difficult words, but she will probably need your help as she begins.

Figuring out the code of written English is how a child begins to learn to read. There are lots of commercial methods to do this, but the best I have found is the Explode the Code series. Children find its combination of goofy pictures and sequenced phonics instruction fun.

Later you can focus on other aspects of reading including fluency and comprehension. But the place to begin is demystifying the code by connecting the sounds of our speech to individual letters and pairs of letters, and then combining them to form words.

Is it necessary to teach “r” words like “car” and “or” separately or should I include them with short vowel, CVC words?

Although children will pick up r-controlled words as they learn to read, it is a good idea to have a separate lesson on them since they are neither short nor long vowel words, and since “ir,” “er” and “ur” sound the same.

Just like it helps to have a reference word for short vowel words, it is a good idea to teach reference words for r-controlled words. I suggest you use nouns whose image is obvious to a child, such as

ar car, jar or star
or fork, stork or sword
er Bert (from Sesame Street) or fern
ir bird or skirt
ur church or turtle

pictures of R-controlled words to use for memory

When you begin to teach r-controlled words, choose words whose spelling follows the rules, such as

far bar fir her
purr slur stir for
nor sir sort start

Don’t choose “store,” “floor” or “boar,” or other words whose spelling varies. Start with one syllable words, and then move on to two syllable CVC-CVR words with twin consonants such as

better bitter butter differ
hammer dinner ladder matter
offer pepper rubber zipper

Continue with two syllable CVC-CVR words whose middle consonants are not identical such as

timber under lantern fender
lobster master silver winter
lumber member butler monster

Then put the r-controlled syllable at the beginning of the word, using words such as

carpet organ carbon hermit
perfect serpent verdict perhaps
perfume person Vermont artist

At this point the student should be able to add consonants after the r-controlled syllable to create flirt, squirted and discard.

If your child has already learned CVC-CVC words, adding r-controlled words should be easy for the child. Even so, take small steps, and when he is ready, move on. As for “store,” “floor” and “boar,” you can tell your child that there are some variations in the spelling of r-controlled words. Rather than confuse the child at this point, when you are reading together, point out alternate spellings as you come upon them. –Mrs. K

How to use spelling tests to reinforce CVC words

Years ago, I would cut  pictures of CVC words from various sources, paste them on index cards, sort them by vowel sound.  Then I would use them as spelling tests for beginning readers. (Now Mrs. A draws the pictures, including those below.)  This low-tech approach still works great with beginning readers and spellers.

Six drawings of short A CVC words

These drawings are samples of a packet of 12 pages of CVC drawings that can be downloaded for a small fee.  Click on the pictures for more information.  

Why use pictures for the spelling test instead of just dictating the words?

  • When the child is in charge of the pile of pictures, she can spell at her own pace, jotting down words she knows quickly and slowing down for words she is unsure of or for words she writes incorrectly and needs to repair.
  • Young children are people in motion, so the more parts of their bodies they can use to learn, the better. Taking off the rubber band, shuffling the cards, flipping them into a second pile as they are used and rubber-banding them again are fun.  Making learning fun is so important for children of any age, but especially for preschoolers.
  • Some children delight in erasing and will write a word incorrectly just so they can erase it. Spelling is a new experience for them, but it can take time, time when a tutor or mother might grow impatient. But since the child is working independently, the process can take as long as the child wants.
  • While the child is working independently, I can observe where she might need more help or prepare the next lesson, a better use of my time than dictating.
  • ESL students who might be shy about moving at a slow pace gain privacy by controlling the time it takes to complete the test.

One time I gave a preK student a short A test which he finished with pride—his first spelling test! When he found out I had more cards—more tests—he begged me to let him take the cards home and use them for the next week.  His mother later told me that  he took the spelling tests every day. What an eager learner!

Teaching CVC words ending in double consonants

When a child is learning to read, the child is learning to spell as well. Since most one-syllable, short vowel words (CVC) have three letters, all of which are pronounced, these words are usually easy for the child to spell. If you use letter tiles or cards with individual letters written on them, reinforce spelling as you and the child move the tiles around to form new words. At this stage, merging reading and spelling is easy.CVCC twin consonants

Another set of words are almost as easy to learn to spell. These are words which end with the double consonants of l, s, and f and z. If you take the time to point out to the child the double final consonants in these words, the child will learn to spell them easily. Be sure to tell the child that these double consonants are pronounced as a single sound. What are some common CVC word families with double ending consonants?

  • –ell: bell, dell, fell, hell, sell, smell, spell, tell, well, yell
  • –ill: bill, dill, fill, hill, kill, mill, pill, sill, still, till, will
  • –oll: doll
  • –ull: dull, gull, hull, mull, skull
  • –ass: ass, bass, class, glass, grass, pass
  • –ess: bless, dress, less, mess
  • –iss: bliss, criss, hiss, kiss, miss
  • –oss: boss, cross, floss, loss, moss, toss
  • –uss: fuss, muss
  • –aff: staff
  • –eff: Jeff
  • –iff: cliff, miff, sniff, stiff, tiff,
  • –off: off, scoff
  • –uff: bluff, buff, cuff, fluff, gruff, huff, muff, puff, scruff, scuff, snuff, stuff
  • –azz: jazz, razz
  • –iz: fizz, frizz
  • –uz: buzz, fuzz

It is important to point out to the child that even though most of the time l, s, f and z are doubled at the end of short words, sometimes these letters are not doubled. So as not to confuse the child, list just a few exceptions to this doubling rule (pal, gas, bus, yes, us, and plus), using words that the child is likely to encounter.

Also point out that a few common words that don’t end in l, s, f and z double the final consonant even though most other words do not. Add, odd, egg, inn, and mitt are some examples that the child might read and use. When the child understands the concept of syllables, you can explain that this rule of doubling the l, s, f and z usually applies to one syllable words only. Many times children try to write “until” as “untill” (proving they have internalized the rule), so it is worth pointing out the correct spelling when the child is ready to learn two-syllable, short vowel words. –Mrs. K


One example of how to teach a four-year-old to read

For several weeks I have been tutoring a four-year-old, teaching her to read.

  • I started with letter tiles, placing one before her at a time and asking her what sound each letter represented. She knew many of them, but not all of them.  As I expected, she couldn’t sound out “e” and “i” and was vague on “u” too.  The consonants “d,” “j,” “q,” “x,” “y” and “z” also were mysteries.
  • On a paper I had written all the sounds associated with individual letters, and as she said them properly, I crossed them out, to know which letters we needed to focus on.
  • Reading tutor with 4-year-oldSince she was confident about “o” and “a,” I used those letters to form CVC words, real and imaginary, spelling them phonetically. With the letter “a” I sandwiched two consonants, one on either side, separating the tiles and then moving them closer and closer until they looked like a word.  All the time I was pronouncing the sounds, such as “c” “a” and “t.”
  • Since the hardest letter sounds for beginning readers to hear are the middle sounds in CVC words, I kept using the same vowel sound, the letter “a,” for one half-hour lesson. I put a “t” after the “a” and kept it there for several minutes, exchanging one beginning consonant for another as she read the words.
  • My little student caught on quickly that the sound in the middle and at the end of the word didn’t change, so all she had to focus on was the beginning sound. When we encountered one of her difficult letter sounds, I would say it and then she would.
  • At our next lesson, I repeated much of the first lesson, asking her to pronounce the sound for each letter tile. This time she sounded the “q” consistently correct, so I crossed out that letter sound on my list.
  • I made CVC words using the letter “o.” Some words were real; some were nonsense words or real words spelled phonetically.  What she showed me was that she knows the sounds of various letters.
  • The next week I used both “a” and “o” words. This was more difficult because my student needed to keep track of two sounds in CVC words.
  • This past week I used “u” as the vowel. At first, my student would forget the sound “u” represents, but by the end of the lesson, she was remembering it.

Because the lesson lasts just 30 minutes, this student hangs in there, but by the end of a half hour she is losing interest.  I compliment her work often, telling her, “You didn’t know that letter last week, and now you do!” or “You figured out that word all by yourself.”  Sometimes she acts out a word or tells me what it means, and I compliment her on that too.

These early lessons focus on letter sounds and how combining sounds gives us words.  It might seem boring to an adult, but brain research shows that there are no built-in pathways in our brains for reading, the way there are for movement and speech.  A novice reader, like my student, must activate much more of her brain to read “cat” than an experienced reader like me.  Over years of reading, my brain has built shortcuts to figuring out words that this child’s brain hasn’t done yet.

At our next lesson, we will do more CVC words using “u” as the vowel, and then exchange the “u” for “a” and “o.”  We will focus on letter sounds my student is still learning.  Her progress may seem slow, but it is steady.

First anniversary

A little over a year ago, Mrs. K and I sat at my dining room table and made plans for a blog and a series of books for early readers. A month ago, December, 17, marked the first year anniversary of our blog. During the past year:

  • We have received more than 10,000 views of our website.
  • Two topics have tied for the most read blogs:
    • how not to mix up b and d, and
    • the meaning of CVC.
  • The third most-read blog was about teaching vowel sounds.
  • Many other well-read blogs concern methods of teaching reading and information about our book apps and funny pages.
  • More than half the views come from U.S. readers.
  • Yet viewers from the U.K, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, India, New Zealand and South Korea also read our blog often.
  • Viewers come from every continent except Antarctica.
Countries of comicphonics.com blog viewers of the past year

Click on the chart to enlarge it.

This information is useful in planning blogs for 2014. We thank you, our readers, for reading our blog, for leaving comments and for making suggestions for future blogs. Our goal is to continue to provide useful information for teaching little children how to read.

Are you running into problems teaching your child to read? Have you come across a new book that your child loves to read? Have you found web sites or apps that your child uses to learn to read? Let us know so we can pass along information to your fellow parents and teachers.

— Mrs. A

More tips to help a child read bigger words

  • The same rule that applies to CVC/CVC words applies to CVC/CVCE words; that is, to words of two syllables which have (usually) a short vowel in the first syllable, two consonants in the middle of the word, and a long vowel in the second syllable controlled by a silent “e” at the end of the word.  The syllables split between the middle two consonants unless there is a blend, in which case the syllables split before or after the blend.
  • To teach these words, it might be easier to find some compound words that form this way, such as “tadpole,” “backbone” and “pancake.”  Make a list and let the child circle the two separate words which form the compound word.  Then ask the child to put the separate words together to form a new word.  Some words you might use are
    Two words that together make one word
  • When these words are mastered, move on to CVC/CVCE words which are not compound words such as “membrane,” “umpire” and “pollute.”  The same rule applies as above.  Have the child divide the word between the syllables.  If the child has trouble deciding where to divide, remind her that usually one syllable ends and another one begins between the two middle consonants.  Help her to identify blends that need to stay together in the same syllable.  Some words you might use are
    two syllables divided by middle consonants
  • When your child understands the pattern, you might explain that some bigger words follow the same pattern.  Introduce three syllable words with the CVC/CVC/CVCE pattern, such as “illustrate,” “vaccinate” and “indispose.” But if the child is struggling to understand the previous CVC/CVCE words, hold off on three syllable words.  Some words you might us are
    Introduce three syllable words.

Our blog will continue to teach multisyllabic words in the near future.  Let us know if you find this information useful or if you have particular problems teaching your child reading.  We will investigate for you and offer the best advice we can find.  –Mrs. K and Mrs. A

My granddaughter can read small words, but she stumbles over bigger words when we read together. How can I help her?

Here are some tips to help with bigger words:

  • If you are reading for sheer enjoyment, anticipate the words she might not know and say them quickly, so she can keep reading and not lose her thought.  Don’t worry that she might not be learning new word attack skills in your reading session; she is learning other aspects of reading such as fluency and comprehension which are often hard to learn when she stops to consider every new word.  Also, if she is tired or ornery, this kind of reading lesson gets her to read without causing frustration.grandparent reading with grandchild.
  • But if you are reading with your granddaughter to help her decipher words, and if she is in a receptive mood, you might cover parts of the word (usually syllables) and then uncover them, so she can join them together.  For example, if the word is “continent,” cover the “tinent” part with your thumb and let her say “con.”  Then cover the “con” and the “ent” parts and let her read “tin.”  If she mispronounces “tin,” pronounce it correctly.  Then cover all but the “ent” and let her figure out those four letters.  If she can put it together, fine, but if not, you do it while covering and exposing parts of the word as you say it.  Then move on to another word.  The goal should be to teach her a method of figuring out words, not mastering every word you encounter in a particular lesson.
  • If you own the book, and don’t mind marking it, you could highlight every word she can read correctly.  She will see that the number of words she can read far outnumbers the few she can’t.  You might ask her what she notices about the words that are not highlighted.  She might say, “They are long,” or “They have lots of letters.”  Tell her there are ways to figure out those words just like there are ways to figure out three-letter words, and you will work with her on those long words.
  • A good place to begin is with compound words.  They can be easy to decipher if the child looks for small words inside big words.  Try some with her such as “pancake,” “popcorn” and “forget.”  Make a list of such words and let her be the detective, discovering the small words inside the large words.  Have her circle each of the small words and then pronounce them together.  Some words you might use are:compound words are small words inside big words
  • Some longer words have pronunciation rules that are easy for a child to remember.  For example, if a six- or seven-letter word has double consonants in the middle (biggest, kitten, flabby), that means the word usually has two parts, or syllables, and the first syllable ends between the “twin” letters.  (Use the word “syllable” since this is a term your granddaughter will need to learn anyway.)  Phonics books sometimes refer to these words as VC/CV or CVC/CVC words since they generally have short vowel sounds in both syllables.  You could practice a handful of those words, writing them on notebook paper for your granddaughter to pronounce.  Choose words whose letters follow the rules of phonics so she is not confused.  Have her draw a line between the double consonants and then pronounce each syllable.  Some words you might use are:"twin" letter words have double consonants in the middle.
  • Some other six- or seven-letter words have one vowel near the beginning, another vowel near the end, and two or three consonants in the middle.  These are a variation on VC/CV or CVC/CVC words with twin conconants.  Show her words like “contest,” “nutmeg” and “insect.”  Explain that the words have two syllables, and that the first syllable ends between the two consonants.  Have her draw a line between the middle consonants and then pronounce each syllable.  Some words you might use are:two syllable words with vowels in the first and last syllable

Our blog will have more on how to teach multisyllabic words in the near future.  Let us know if you find this information useful or if you have particular problems teaching your child reading.  We will investigate for you and offer the best advice we can find.  –Mrs. K and Mrs. A

How do I teach CVC words that end in –ck and words that end in –ook without confusing my son?

When a child is learning to read, and is at the short vowel, one-syllable, consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) word stage, the child often encounters words from the word family –ook (book and look, for example) or words that end with –ck (sock and truck, for example).  Strictly speaking, these word don’t follow the CVC rule for pronunciation, so they should be taught separately, starting with the –ck family words.

CVC words that end in _ch and _ook.

To enlarge, click on the picture.

Usually there is no problem reading CVC -ck words once the child understands that –ck is a single sound.  But reading, pronouncing and spelling the –ook words can be a problem.  How can you help your child?

"I know that word, Mom," says the child lookinFirst, wait until your child is comfortable with CVC –ck words (see list above) to explain this difference.   Teach the CVC words that end in –ck first and make sure the child understands how to read, pronounce and spell those words.  Then introduce –ook family words.

  • Point out to your child that the –ook sound is not the same as the short –ock or short –uck sound.  Say the sounds aloud so the child can hear the difference, and ask the child to say the sounds too.  Don’t show letters at this point since it is the sound that guides the child as to which letters to use.  The child needs to be able to hear the difference.
  • If you have pictures of words that end in –ock (clock, dock, flock, knock,), in -uck (buck, puck, suck, tuck, truck) and –ook (book, cook, crook, hook, rook) you could create a set of flash cards for the child to sort by sound.  As the child sorts, ask the child to pronounce the word to be sure she is hearing the word correctly.
  • Tell your child that after a word with the –ook sound, just a “k” is used, as in book and look, two words the child might already know as sight words.  You could create a set of flash cards with the –ook family words on them and use them as sight words if that helps.
  • If you have letter tiles, practice moving them to show –ook family words and ask the child to read them after your example.
  • When the child seems comfortable with the difference in sound, practice moving tiles to show the difference in spelling.  For example, construct l-o-ck, and under it construct l-oo-k.  Say each word and ask the child to tell what he notices.  Do the same with other word pairs such as cr-o-ck and cr-oo-k; h-o-ck and h-oo-k; r-o-ck and r-oo-k; and t-o-ck and t-oo-k.
  • Practice moving tiles so that just one word—lock—appears.  Ask the child to pronounce it.  Take out the -ck and put in –ook and ask the child to pronounce the new word.  Keep moving tiles around until the child grasps the correct pronunciation of each word.
  • When you are reading –ck and –ook words, reinforce the spelling.

At this point the child usually hasn’t learned how to read long vowel sounds, so there is no need to add to confusion by introducing words like bake and smoke now.

My child is struggling to learn short vowel sounds. What can I do?

As a temporary help, you could create word lists or flash cards using color-coded letters for the vowels.

Colors for vowel soundsIn Tutoring is Caring, Montessori teacher Aline D. Wolf suggests printing the letter representing the vowel sound in a particular color to help the child remember the sound.  She suggests using colors whose name has the letter sound that the child is trying to say.  So for example, short e words would be written with red e’s.  Since vowels are the most difficult sounds for the child to master, the color would alert the child that the colored letter is a vowel, and the color would also give the child a clue as to the letter’s pronunciation.

The colors Wolf suggests are

  • Red for the short e sound since red’s vowel sound is short e.
  • Rust for the short u sound since rust’s vowel sound is short u.
  • Silver for the short i sound since silver’s vowel sound is short i.
  • Tan for the short a sound since tan’s vowel sound is short a.
  • Olive for the short o sound since olive’s vowel sound is short o.
  • Black for all consonants.

Wolf says it is important that the child recognize the colors using their specific names.  If a child sees olive and says green, then the clue that the sound of “ol” gives would be lost.  She recommends beginning with “e” and then “u” because they are easier.

Wolf wrote her suggestions in 1981, before personal computers, so today we have other options.  Using a computer, it is easy to duplicate these colored letters in words, just as using crayons or colored pencils makes it easy by hand.

Another suggestion she makes is to use broken lines for silent letters, a signal to the student that the letter is necessary but it is not pronounced.  This is easy to do if you are handwriting the letters, but I could not find a broken letter type face on my computer.  However, the computer offers other options such as outlined letters or highlighted letters, either of which could indicate silent letters.

With her lists of color-coded words, Wolf puts a drawing of a word that begins with that letter at the top of the list as an extra reminder of the letter sound.  So for short e, there is a drawing of an elephant; for u, an umbrella; for i, an igloo; for a, an alligator; and for o, an olive.

Cautioning that color-coding is a crutch, Wolf says it should be used as long as necessary, but that gradually the child should be weaned from the colors.  For children who don’t need the extra boost that colored letters give, they should not be used at all.

How to wean a child?  Wolf suggests that the child could match color coded words with the same words printed in black.  Or the child could match words printed in black with objects around the house or at school such as milk, pan and egg.  The child could also match words with pictures.