Mat or mate? Early readers frequently misread words, and more often than not their confusion is rooted in the vowels. An “s” always says sssss, but the vowels are not consistent. How to help? I try to get my kids to think about a vowel’s sound as soon as they look at the word. When they stumble, I repeat a catch phrase, ” Is the “a” short or long? How do you know?” Even if they read the word correctly, I will bring them back to my question. “Good job figuring out that word. Now, can you tell me, is the ‘a’ long or short?” Regardless of whether they give the correct answer, I then ask “how do you know?” Getting them to the how was critical, because it showed they understood the rule and could decipher on their own. If they got the wrong answer but the correct rule, I asked again if it was long or short.
That’s great, you say, but what is the rule on short and long vowels? Generally, a vowel is short. There are two main exceptions (we are talking English, so there are lots of exceptions, but I’m trying to beginners at the moment): when there is an “e” within eyesight, or when another vowel is right next to the vowel in question.
The Magic E! If an “e” follows one consonant from the vowel, then the vowel is long. The words don’t matter – understanding the idea does: the “a” in “ate” is long because the “e” is within eyesight (one letter away). “Atte” is not a long “a”, because the e is too far away to use its magic (e.g., matte). So when I ask why a vowel is long, I want to hear, “Because of the ‘e’!” Why is it short? “Because there is no ‘e’!”
Vowel partners! When vowels are partners (diphthongs), they usually sound like the long version of the first vowel. “Ai” is pronounced as a long ‘a’. “Ee” is pronounced as a long “e”. You get the idea. As I said, not always true, but usually true.
I hope this helps you and your little reader help decipher more words together!