Teaching vowels doesn’t end with A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y. Vowels can represent different sounds and spelling combinations. Students need to learn vowel teams to enhance their phonics skills and build reading fluency.
There are lots of vowel combinations:
- oa as in boat
- ee as in teeth
- ea as in peak or head or break
- ai as in mail
- ay as in hay
- ie as in pie or piece
- ue as in blue
- oo as in book or soon
- ou as in you or loud
- ow as in cow or show
- oy as in toy
- oi as in avoid
- au as in pause
- aw as in yawn
Many vowel combinations represent the long sound of the lead letter. When people teach, “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” That refers to vowel teams that make the sound of the lead letter. This “rule” isn’t always helpful, as many vowel team words don’t follow that pattern.
Still, when teaching vowel teams, you can start with the more common sound represented by the vowel combination.
It can also be useful to teach certain vowel teams together. For example, OI and OY represent the same sound as in coin and boy. Similarly, OU and OW both show up with the same sound in vowel team words like cloud and brown.
A few tips for teaching vowel combinations:
- Start with long vowel sounds. Teach the different ways of representing long A, for example.
- Then move on to diphthongs like ou (hound), ow (crown), oi (oil), and oy (boy).
- Address less common patterns, such as words with ea representing the long A sound (like in steak), after teaching the more common pattern.
- Provide lots of practice. Students will likely be able to read words before they consistently spell them correctly.
4 effective strategies for teaching vowel teams
Take a look at the list below for practice ideas for teaching vowel combinations.
Multisensory approaches to teaching vowel combinations
Try kinesthetic activities for practicing vowel combinations by:
- Having students say and trace vowel team words on a worksheet or in rice or sand
- Having students try sky writing, holding their arm outstretched and writing the word in the air with their first two fingers.
- Have students form the letters with clay on play dough mats.
Use visual aids and manipulatives to reinforce vowel combinations. If you use magnetic letters, it’s helpful to use sets that include vowel teams as one piece. Use posters for different vowel teams.
Word work activities for vowel teams
Word posters and word sorts are a great way to explore and practice vowel combinations. Posters provide a reminder about vowel team words. Word sorts give students practice sorting words by spelling pattern.
Get FREE word posters and word cards to use in word sorts with OI and OY:
As I said, you’ll want to provide lots of practice for vowel teams. Having a mix of activities at hand helps. Try:
- Fluency boards
- Writing sentences with the vowel teams for the target sound.
- Word of the week to get students to engage with vowel team words in different ways
- Choose the correct spelling to complete the word
- Games like 4 in a row or tic tac toe
- Vowel Combination Cootie Catchers
Get done for you worksheets and games for phoneme /oy/.
Get done for you worksheets and games for phoneme /ow/.
Practice vowel teams with phonics writing prompts
When students put words to use in writing, they reinforce new words and spelling patterns, like vowel combinations, in context. Phonics writing prompts give students writing practice in a variety of formats — while using words they need to practice, in this case words with specific vowel teams.
For example, to practice phoneme /ow/, students could design a comic strip about a clown, using words like clown, frowning, loud, joust, and crowd. Other options might be to write a diary entry, a recipe, or instructions for a game. Each phonics writing prompt gives a word bank of OW or OU words to include.
Incorporate technology to practice vowel teams
Using technology is another way to engage students in phonics practice. I recommend mixing digital activities with pencil and paper and kinesthetic activities. It’s to give students repeated practice while keeping it fresh and helping students find ways that work best for them to learn the material.
For example, you can use a digital version of phonics writing prompts and get the same benefits of using vowel team words in context. Take a look at this set of phonics writing prompts for phoneme /oy/. It comes in both print and digital versions, so you choose the best version for each student or activity.
You can also mix and match print and digital activities for /ow/ sound words using OW and OU. Provide additional vowel combination practice with activities such as:
- Vocabulary Self-Rating – use a points system to record understanding of each word.
- Sketchnotes – define words using pictures, words, symbols, arrows, emojis, speech bubbles, and sketches.
- Parts of Speech – sort the words into the correct boxes.
- Vocabulary Matrix – read clues and answer the question in the box.
- Which Verb? – match the verbs with the pictures and pick one to write a sentence.
- Which Adverb? – write an adverb for the picture and a sentence about the image using the verb and adverb.
- Character Slinky – look at the image and then select words to describe the person.
- Vocabulary Game – go around the board by filling in missing graphemes or writing sentences.
You’ll find these and more in the print and digital collection Engaging /ow/ Sound Words Vocabulary Activities.
The more practice options for practicing vowel combinations, the better!