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.
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…
The chart below shows seven jobs of Silent E, along with sample words.
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.
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!
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!
Were you ever taught the various jobs of Silent E?