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A Handy Guide to Long Vowel Sounds

When you teach reading and spelling, it’s a good idea to have a general overview of long vowel sounds. Let’s dive in!

A long vowel is a vowel that is pronounced the same as its name. For example, the word emu starts with the long E sound.

Seems pretty simple, right? But did you know that long vowel sounds can be spelled four different ways and that each way follows a specific spelling pattern?

The overview that follows will help you see the big picture about long vowel sounds as you teach reading and spelling. Read on to discover these useful patterns!

Four Ways to Form Long Vowel Sounds

A vowel at the end of a syllable can be long.
In the word we, as in We love emus, the vowel E is at the end of the syllable and says long E. In these words, the vowel at the end of a syllable is long: hero, hi, music.


Silent E can make the previous vowel long.
In the word cute, as in Emus are cute, the long U sound is formed by adding Silent E at the end of the word. Here are more words in which Silent E makes the previous vowel long: tape, shine, code.


Vowel teams can make long vowel sounds.
Vowel teams are two vowels that work together to make one sound. For example, in the word eat, as in Emus eat seeds, vowel team EA says long E. These words have vowel teams that make a long vowel sound: mail, sheep, soap.


I or O can be long when they come before two consonants.
In the word stroll, as in The emu went for a stroll, the letter O comes before two consonants and says its long vowel sound. In these words, I or O are long before two consonants: kind, gold, child.

So there you go—the four basic patterns for spelling long vowel sounds!

Let’s Dive in a Little Deeper

The chart below illustrates the most common ways to spell the long vowel sounds.

Click to Download a Printable Chart!

Seeing these spellings all gathered in one place is enlightening for those of us who are already proficient readers and spellers. But I would only recommend using the chart for reference, or with an older student who has already mastered most of these phonograms. I would not recommend overwhelming a beginning student by teaching these spellings all at once. Instead, teach these basic patterns to students incrementally, one at a time.

Activities to Teach Long Vowel Sounds

Are you interested in seeing how we teach the four long vowel patterns in All About Reading and All About Spelling? Here is a sampling for you to download and enjoy!

Cute emu holding a preview of Be a Hero

Download “Be a Hero” Activity
(Vowel at the end of a syllable)

Cute emu holding a preview of Find Gold

Download “Find Gold” Activity
(I and O are long before two consonants)

The Bottom Line for Teaching Long Vowel Sounds

When it comes to teaching long vowel sounds, here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • Long vowel sounds can be spelled four different ways, each following a specific pattern.
  • Teach these basic patterns to students incrementally, one at a time.
  • Keep it fun! Use a wide variety of interesting activities to help your student learn the four patterns for forming long vowel sounds.

All About Reading and All About Spelling walk you and your student through all the steps needed to help your student learn to read and spell. The programs are multisensory, motivating, and complete with everything you need. And if you ever need a helping hand, we’re here for you.

What’s your take on teaching the long vowel sounds? Do you have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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vanny

says:

good job robin!

vanny

says:

this helps alot! now i can do work correctly!! :)

Dodos

says:

Thank you naminaminga the word she said

Hottensiah

says:

Great activities. Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome! Glad you like them.

Mary Ann Lopez

says:

Good job

Nnamani Ify

says:

Good job,well done

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Nnamani!

Chitra

says:

Excellent explanation. Very Helpful. Thanks a ton. Expecting more like this

Alysia Newsom

says:

Great chart, thanks! My son doesn’t have a problem reading long vowels, but spelling them is very hard for him. We are on AAS step 9 (name game syllable with silent e). We have been on this step for a week now. He is 9 yo and knows the rules and key cards well, but he just has trouble applying them. He struggles with silent e (v-c-E), he also struggles with /k/ even though he knows the rules like the back of his hand. Any suggested practice for this?
Thanks in advance.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Alysia,
Try reviewing these concepts daily by having him teach it to you using the tiles. For example, ask him to build the word “cane”. Then ask him why he spelled it the way he did. Try to get him to take about it, but if he doesn’t hit all these points than ask him. Why does it have a silent E? What would happen if he left off the silent E? Why did he use a C to spell the /k/ sound? Why did he not use a K?

Do this for a couple of words at the beginning of each spelling lesson time. In time he will probably start to hit all, if not most, of the points without prompting. This will help to get him to think through why words are spelled the way they are and this sort of him teaching you will help students to take information from what they know to what they use.

Whenever he misspells a word he has covered in All About Spelling, it should be reviewed and discussed like this at the beginning of the next lesson. Our How to Handle Spelling Mistakes blog post has more details about how to handle spelling errors.

It would be helpful to have more details about what his struggles look like. You mention he is struggling with silent E, but how? Is he spelling can when he should write cane? Ask him to read what he wrote. In fact, he should always read what he wrote to be sure he spelled it correctly and he should check it before you do. If he finds his own error and corrects it before you see it, it’s like the error didn’t happen at all!

Let me know if this helps or not or if you need additional ideas.

Emily

says:

Hi!
How do you help students differentiate between long vowel spelling patterns and when to use them? I’m teaching reading intervention at my school and my students are usually learning more complex spellings for vowels in-class (ow, etc.) but when I pull my students out of class, we’re going back and re-learning foundational concepts. One of my students is having an extremely hard time knowing when to use which spelling. I often see him writing “ow” instead of “o_e” (town instead of tone), and other such confusions. I see how it makes sense in his mind, but am unsure how to help him.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Emily,
English has approximately 250 ways to spell about 45 sounds. This means there are many ways to spell most sounds, so this sort of things comes up again and again.

Consider working on just one way to spell a sound at a time. For example, start with the vowel-consonant-E pattern. Have the child spell lots of words using that pattern over a couple of weeks. In addition, have the child read lists of words that use that pattern. This way he will become very familiar with words that use that pattern.

Only then will you introduce the next way to spell that sound (although in the meantime you could work on other sound patterns). You will focus on the new pattern for a week or two, and then one day pull out words with both patterns and discuss them both. Then have him spell a mix of words, maybe even using dictation sentences.

Do let your student know that OW only says the long O sound at the end of words. When OW is in the middle of a word, like in town, it says it’s more common sound, /ow/. OW can say /ow/ at the end of a word too (like in vow), but it is more commonly long O at the end of a word.

I hope this helps some. It is an easy thing for students to get confused about.

Christina-Maria Kiskini

says:

Hello to everyone! I’m an ESL teacher in Greece and recently I’m trying to learn phonics and the spelling rules. In our books we use the global system, which means we dont teach phonics at all apart from the very basic. So yesterday I was studying the long vowels and I thought about the words store, snore, love. Why don’t they follow the rule?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Christina-Marie.

First, love doesn’t have a long vowel sound but it does follow the rules. Silent E actually has 7 different jobs and making the vowel before say its long sound is only one of them. In the word love, the job of the silent E is to keep V from being the final letter in the word because English words don’t end in I, J, U, or V (the word “you” the exception to this rule). Check out our Silent E: Teaching Kids the Whole Truth blog post for more information about the jobs of silent E.

As for store and snore, this is a matter of accents. For most English speakers, these words have long O sounds. However, R is a tricky letter because it’s hard to say without certain vowel sounds before or after it. For example, many people tend to say a quickened version of “mō-er” for the word “more.” They will start the sound with their mouth in the same shape as long O and then quickly change into the /er/ sound.

Most children do fine being taught these words with long O sounds and when they sound them out will naturally shift to how they normally pronounce the words. However, if your students struggle with that, you can teach it as they pronounce it. Let them know that R is a tricky letter that sometimes causes vowels to do what we don’t expect them to do.

I hope this helps, but please let me know if you have further questions or need more information.

Brenda Bundrage

says:

Should the long vowel sounds be taught in isolation are all at once by the spelling rules? The reason I ask is because of the phonics program we are using in the school district where I am a teacher. This program teaches the long vowel sounds in isolation, like this week we are focusing on long e and the spelling patterns for it (ee, ea, e, and e_e). Then latter, in 2 weeks (with long vowel s in between), teach the same vowel sound/e/ with the spelling patterns (ie, y, and ey). I want to know if covering one vowel without inserting another would be more feasible?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Brenda,
While some students will do fine with learning four ways to spell the sound of long E one week, and then three more ways just a couple of weeks later, a lot of students are likely to get confused. How are they to know which way to spell the sound with each word?

All About Spelling approaches the multiple ways to spell single sounds much slower with lots of time for practice and becoming familiar with one pattern before the next is added. AAS takes 5 levels to teach all 9 ways to spell the long E sound (E, E_E, EA, EE, Y, EY, I, IE, and EI). Children have been spelling words with long E spelled EA for two levels before they learn words with long E spelled with IE. This means they know lots of words with the EA pattern and don’t even have to think about how to spell them anymore by the time they tackle the more tricky IE. (How long it takes a child to complete two levels of AAS depends on a lot of factors, but for most children, it is a year and a half or longer.)

Does this help? In short, I would be very concerned about introducing so many way to spell the same sound in such a very short period of time.

Melissa Anderson

says:

Thank you for all the great resource and programs. We really love them. I have a question about teaching the long u sound. We are struggling with my daughter wanting to spell the word “you” in place of using the letter “u” when it is making its long sound. How do I help her decipher this better? For example, the word use. She wants to spell it “yous” or cube she wants to spell “cyoub”. We have discussed this at length about the jobs of silent e making the u say its name and that the long u sound is not replaceable with the word you. I believe the y sound at the beginning of the long u sound it really what’s confusing to her. She understands all the other long vowel sounds except this one. We could really use some tips. Thank you so much!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melissa,
That long U sound is so tricky for some students!

You see, it IS different than the other long vowel sounds. None of the other vowel sounds have a consonant sound in front of them. While your daughter may not be able to articulate it, she is hearing the difference and feeling the need to address it.

So, just focus on words with long U for a while. Set aside 10 minutes or so a day each day for at least a week to work on this. Start by writing U (or using the U letter tile) and asking her what sounds this letter makes. Then ask her what it’s long sound is. Talk about the /y/ sound in it. Tell her she is correct that the consonant Y sound is in this letter sound, but it is just spelled U, no Y needed.

Tell her that the only time the /ū/ sound is spelled with a Y is in the words you, youth, and bayou. In all other words, if she hears /ū/ she is to spell it with U. (Note, I may have missed one, maybe, two uncommon words with the /ū/ sound spelled with a Y, but pretty much the only one she needs to worry about because of its commonness is the word you.)

Then write some words that have the long U sound. Write cute and have her read it. Ask her how the /ū/ sound is spelled in this word. Then write unit. Ask the same. Pick some 10 or so long U words to work on and go through them together one at a time.

Then erase all of them, and ask her to spell them, reminding her that the /ū/ sound in each of them is spelled with a U.

The next day, have her spell the word again. Then maybe do a few sentences from dictation using some of the words.

If all of this has been easy for her, then on the fourth or fifth day, mix things up a bit. Maybe ask her to spell, without preteaching, another word with the long /ū/ sound that she has been practicing. Maybe mix in some words that don’t have the long U sound.

If all this worked well, then just be sure to review a few long U words each week for a while to keep the concept fresh in her mind.

One word of caution, sometimes long U drops the /y/ sound and is just /oo/. This happens because the /y/ sound is impossible to say after the consonants R and L. This trips up some students as they hear /oo/ and the letter U never enters their mind. The word rule is a huge troublemaker for many students for this reason.

I’d love to hear if this helps clear up the difficulties for your child.

Kay P.

says:

Just a comment on the Four Ways to Form Long Vowel Sounds. The first three are basically true. But for the last one – about double consonants after I and O – is a little confusing, I think. I believe the operating word is CAN. BUT, consider the following words: think, pink, song, work, sing, pill, with, dish, wish, blemish, etc.. With some digraphs and blends , the ‘rule’ won’t work at all. Just my humble opinion. Thanks for the idea.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kay,
You are completely right! This is the Find Gold Rule, and it is a “may” or “can” rule, not an always rule. When I and O are followed by two consonants in a one-syllable word, they may say their long sound. There are many common words that follow this pattern, so it is worthwhile for students to know, even if it is a “can” rule.

Janet B

says:

Hello,
There are several reasons the above words use a short vowel sound. The letter combinations of ink, ing, ong are “welded” or “ glued” sounds…..meaning you learn those letters as one sound…and don’t consider the final 2 consonants as the rule to make a long vowel sound. The words dish, wish, blemish end with a consonant digraph….again one sound so it isn’t used as 2 separate letters. (sh, ch, wh, th, ph).
Work uses an r-controlled vowel. (or, ir, er, ar). The double L in pill is treated as one letter. When teaching children to read these combinations (and others as well) need to be taught. I hope this helps.

Allison Lawson

says:

Can anyone explain why Tan has a short vowel sound but Tank has the long vowel sound?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Allison,
The answer is regional accents.

In some regions, tank actually has a short vowel sound. However, for many, the NK phonogram shifts the A to a long sound (or for some a kind of long sound, not short but not as clear as a long A). That NK phonogram also shifts I to a long E sound too for some accents, although that is somewhat less common than the long A shift. But for many, pink is pronounced “peenk”.

It has to do with the nasal sound of the NK phonogram. When the vowel is said right before that sound, it can move the area of the mouth the sound is produced in. The vowels shift up and back in the mouth. This doesn’t affect O and U because their short sounds are made more toward the back of the mouth anyway.

Does this help? If you live in an area that pronounces tank with a clear long A sound, you can teach it that way. You can let your student(s) know that the NK phonogram makes the A say it’s long sound. And if you pronounce pink with a long E sound, you can say that NK makes I say it’s third sound. Kids usually catch onto these pretty quickly. Even if they try to sound these words out with the short sounds, most children will naturally shift to the other sound if that is how they are accustomed to hearing the word.

Chelsi

says:

Is there a short vowel word chart like this one?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Chelsi,
I’m sorry no, but having a short vowel chart would be a good idea. I’ll pass it along.

Jessica

says:

Thank you for all the great resources!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Jessica! 😊

Barbara McKinnie

says:

Thank you!

Lori Slaubaugh

says:

It is so confusing for kids! Thanks for the chart!

Connie

says:

I *did not* hahah…of course autocorrect would do this on a spelling blog comment. 🤦‍♀️

Connie

says:

I dis not know the rule about the double consonants making the preceding vowel long! We love AAR and just started AAS. Highly recommend!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for recommending All About Reading and All About Spelling, Connie!

Margarita Diaz

says:

Thank you! This is awesome to help teach my son. I’ll be honest I learned too. A lot I have forgotten since I was younger and stuff like this has helped me help my son.

Anna Horgan

says:

Love all about spelling!

Shannon s

says:

Love what all about spelling has done for our reading challenged child!

Ruby

says:

I love the all about reading and can’t wait to try the all about spelling

Amanda Gustafson

says:

Love using All about Spelling and All About Reading together!!!

Polly Raby

says:

So helpful!!

Loreen G.

says:

Love all the fun and helpful resources you offer!

Nichole Thrasher

says:

This was so helpful!

Allison

says:

This is great, I love the visual guide!

Lindsay

says:

This is so great! We are excited to
Start this fall. We will be starting with level 1 for all theeenkids. I think we could all benefit from this program!

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