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Silent E: Teaching Kids the Whole Truth

Silent E: Teaching Kids the Whole Truth - All About Reading

Today we’re going to bust another phonics myth. You have probably heard this one…

“Silent E makes the vowel say its name.”

And if you look at the following word pairs, that rule does appear to be true.

tap --> tape
fin --> fine
mad --> made

In each example, Silent E changes the short vowel into a long vowel (in other words, the vowel says its name). Dozens of popular phonics programs teach this, and it is one of the most common reading and spelling “rules” taught to beginning learners.

This would be a good rule if it were the whole truth.

The Truth about Silent E

But that’s where the problem arises: after kids learn this rule, they encounter hundreds of words that don’t fit into this easy pattern. They start to see words all around them, such as horse, love, and puddle, in which Silent E doesn’t make the preceding vowel long…and then they start to doubt what they are being taught.

Some students are naturally intuitive when it comes to language patterns, and they can fill in the gaps and move on. But many students take the “rule” at face value and think that the problem is with them—that they just can’t figure out English.

This situation is frustrating and unnecessary, because…

Silent E Has Many Jobs

The chart below shows seven jobs of Silent E, along with sample words.

Jobs of the Silent E Chart

Click to download and print this Silent E infographic!

Saying “Silent E makes the vowel say its own name” is like saying “dogs are black.”

Would your child believe you very long if you tried to convince him that all dogs are black? While it is true that some dogs are black, it is not true that all dogs are black. Dogs can be brown, white, sable, yellow, or mixed.

In a similar vein, not all Silent E’s do the same job. Sometimes they make the preceding vowel long, but they can also do six other jobs.

Teaching the Truth about Silent E

When students know the truth—the full story about Silent E and all of its jobs—they aren’t thrown off when they see Silent E at the end of a word. If it doesn’t make the preceding vowel long, there are other options to explain its existence. Students can trust their education, instead of being misled by a myth.

Knowing the truth also opens the door to some interesting word discussions. For example, did you know that Silent E can do two jobs in a single word? Check out the word race—Silent E makes the A long and makes the C soft. Other examples in which Silent E has two jobs include hive, mice, trace, page, and cage. That’s pretty neat!

How We Teach Silent E

In the All About Reading and All About Spelling programs, we teach all the jobs of Silent E. (In AAS, the jobs are numbered differently because we lumped some together in the “Handyman E” category.) We teach the jobs step by step, one lesson at a time, so students can master the concepts at their own pace.

Are you interested in seeing some sample lessons? Click to download!

All About Reading Level 2 Lesson 14

Download “The First Job of Silent E”

All About Reading Level 2, Lesson 14 sample lesson

All About Reading Level 2 Lesson 39

Download “Soft C and the Second Job of Silent E”

All About Reading Level 2, Lesson 39 sample lesson

All About Reading Level 3 Lesson 8

Download “Pickle Syllables and the Fifth Job of Silent E”

All About Reading Level 3, Lesson 8 sample lesson

Were you ever taught the various jobs of Silent E?


Free report - '20 Best Tips for Teaching Reading and Spelling'

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Shinderliter

says:

Thank you for this post, I have 3 children that sometimes struggle with the e.

Christine

says:

Great ideas. Although we grew up learning to spell, we were NEVER taught these other rules. Thanks for making us aware of them!

Chantel

says:

Good stuff!

Lee Ann

says:

Thank you for the great information. It will be very helpful when I start teaching my youngest to read this year.

Sandra Reid

says:

I work with children who don’t read or spell intuitively. This chart really helps them figure out why they need an ‘e’ at the end of a word. Thanks for an excellent programme.

Katherine H

says:

Great info!

Kate

says:

Thank you. This will definitely come in handy as my daughter continues to learn to read. :-)

Lori

says:

So helpful! Thank you!

Libby

says:

My mom just retired from teaching 1st and 2nd grade for 30 years. I tell her about all of my potential homeschooling purchases- especially reading! The multiple rules of silent E really impressed her in All About Reading. So did the fact that it was all based on Orton Gillingham. I can’t wait to start it with my youngest in the fall.

Katherine

says:

So interesting!

Kim Carter

says:

Love this! So helpful!

Darci

says:

Marie, Your post comes at a perfect time. We are in level 2…currently working on three letter blends, and know that Silent E is just around the corner. I had a very poor foundation in phonics (I blame this for my poor spelling), however using AAR and AAS with my dyslectic 8 year old is giving me the confidence to keep moving forward, even though its hard (and he still doesn’t like reading). I now know that teaching the single mantra of the “Silent e” rule will only hurt my son’s progress. I’m pretty sure, he’d be the kind of kid who would throw his hands up and say….”but before, you said…..” So I’m glad I’m going into this phase of the program knowing that the Silent E has lots of roles. Thank you so much for these programs. :)

Thanks for this timely post! ~Darci

Marie Rippel

says: Customer Service

Hi Darci! I’m glad that the timing of this post was perfect for you! I love when that happens. :)

Karen

says:

Number 2 seems…unnecessary to me. The E is still doing the job of number 1 (making the vowel long), so it’s not like it’s only purpose for being there is to dictate the sound of c or g. It just seems like you’re making it more complicated than it needs to be.

Vivian T

says:

Sometimes the silent e makes the c or g say the soft sound without making the vowel long — like in barge and dance.

Karen

says:

Those are helpful examples; thank you!

Courtney Ibarra

says:

We love All About Spelling and can’t wait to try your reading program!

Allyson S.

says:

Thank you so much this this clarification. I didn’t know how to explain the silent e, but now I do.

Jennifer Greenwald

says:

This is very interesting!

MIchele

says:

Love All About Reading. We’ve done levels 1 and 2 and I have seen my son take off in his reading abilities. Can’t wait to do level 3 with him.

Anne Frana

says:

Thanks for all the great tips.

Linda

says:

Just love this… I think teaching would be so much easier with it…

Donna

says:

This is another reason I’d love to get this program for my daughter.

katreena

says:

Would love to try out this program

Melanie L.

says:

So helpful!

Carrie

says:

This is very helpful! Thanks for sharing :)

Sandi

says:

English language has to be one of the most difficult to learn with so many exceptions to the rules.m

Merry at AALP

says:

Hi Sandi,

It definitely is challenging to learn! However, 97% of words actually do follow predictable patterns, and when kids understand how those patterns work, it does help to simplify things.

Melissa

says:

We have levels 1 and 2. We love this program and can’t wait to try level 3!

Deanna Hooper

says:

Looking into buying this for my daughter who is 13 (8th grade) but reads on a 3rd grade level. She was born with microcephaly and is legally blind in her left eye. Since we started HS last year she has moved up 2 grades. Hoping to get through 2 grades this year. Trying very hard to get her to her grade level.

Merry at AALP

says:

Wow Deanna, that’s great progress in a year. Congratulations on your hard work and her’s paying off, as I’m sure it will continue to. If you have any questions that we can help with, please let us know.

Jenny

says:

NO, I definitely did not learn the jobs of silent E until I started using All About Reading/Spelling with my boys.

Timura

says:

All about reading will be great for our family. This is our first year homeschooling so to win would be a blessing for us!

Boris

says:

Wow, there are many more functions of e than I fully remembered at the time I was first teaching my kids to read. Now they are headed into second grade and I am going to be sure to review this with them.

When I first started teaching them to read, it was right around the time we had been given an animated movie Prince of Egypt, about Passover, Jewish captivity under Egypt and the life of Moses. The animated movie had a few scenes of how the slaves were treated, being whipped by the Egyptians. It stuck in my mind.

For some reason when I started to teach the kids about how when their is an e on the end of a word, the first thihng that came to my mind was these Egyptians whipping the poor slaves- and so I blurted out, the e on the end whips the short vowel and makes it have its long hard sound.

well I can see now that perhaps that helped the first stage of using e on the end but clearly as stated here there is a better way to explain and my explanation although it worked for a certain class of e ending words- it won’t suffice for the rest of the effects of e on the end of a word!! looking forward to learning more about your site and what you offer for products….

Robin

says: Customer Service

Boris,
I bet your “whips the short vowel” story made it very memorial for your child. :D. Thank you for sharing.

Kae

says:

Excited for your giveaway! I think it would greatly benefit my son!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Sheryl.

Sadly, the answer is “They are names and names are tricky.”

First, Adelaide is a French name and in French, the E at the end is pronounced. This video gives the French pronunciation. However, the pronunciation shifted in English but the French spelling remained.

Melbourne got its name from the Prime Minister of Britain during its founding, William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne. The Old English word bourne, which is now only in use in names, meant boundary or a stream that only ran seasonally.

So, both names have a silent E because of the name’s history and not for any reason that applies to modern spelling. But names do that. Why else would we spell John with an H or, even more amazing, Sean being pronounced shawn? Names are tricky.

I hope this helps. I’m sorry I couldn’t give a rule or help that will make spelling these city names easier for a student.

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