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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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Alodia Abarca Igloso

says:

thank you so much for sharing. this is so important to me and a great help in my teaching in Elementary

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Alodia. I’m glad this is a help for you in teaching!

Sheetal Sanghvi

says:

Biggg thank you for such informative, educative and interesting posts and printables.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, you are very welcome, Sheetal! Thank you.

Melissa

says:

This is soo helpful. There are so many rule, so having an attractive infograph with examples has helped our sons.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased to hear that this infographic has been helpful for your sons, Melissa! Thank you.

Jacquelyn gunsser

says:

Just found this site really enjoyed this

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Jacquelyn!

jooliet

says:

Yes! This is great thanks. The split digraph rule is not the only thing to consider.

claire

says:

i love your program

Jennifer Griffin

says:

Thank you!

Jennifer Griffin

says:

We are on level 2, lesson 42. I thought I read somewhere that the silent e cannot jump 2 consonants to make the vowel say a long sound. Is this true? I have searched the manual and cannot find where I thought I read this.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jennifer,
We teach words where a silent E makes a vowel long over two consonants in All About Reading level 2 lesson 49. We have the teacher build the word taste for the students and then say:
“In this word, Silent E asks the A to say its name. Usually, there is just one consonant between the vowel and Silent E, but sometimes there are two consonants between them.”

Only a few words will have the -aste ending where the A will be long, so it’s not a common pattern at all but it does happen. However, I have seen other places (not All About Reading or All About Spelling) that teach this “rule”.

Tami

says:

In teaching Level 5 lessons 12 and 14, “engine”, and “square”, the book says they are both Handyman E. To me they both look like exceptions to the other rules. Can you help clarify that for me? I don’t remember where we first learned Handyman E and I can’t find it explained. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tami,
The Handyman job of Silent E in All About Spelling includes words that would otherwise be a “rule-breaker” or exception. So, these two words do go in that category.

For many students, the “air” sound of the AR in square is close enough to the long A sound that they want to put it into Job #1 category, and that is fine! However, for many regional accents, long A and “air” are far enough apart in sound that square is a Handyman E job.

Engine is more of an exception or oddball, as the -ine ending in words almost always says long E (magazine, figurine, saltine) or long I (whine, combine, define). If it would help your student, you could teach engine as a rule-breaker, however.

Val

says:

After going over the first two jobs of silent E, my kid spelled “childe” instead of “child”. I am an EEL so I wasn’t sire how to explain to him it was wrong. Should I go over the rules with him and as this word does not “check” any of those boxes, it is why we do not spell it with an “e” in the end? Thank you very much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Val,
The letter I is long in the word child because of the “Find Gold” rule. When I or O are followed by two consonants in a one-syllable word, they may say their long sound. Note that this is a may rule, as I and O aren’t always long when followed by two consonants in a one-syllable word (for example, both has a long O but moth does not).

You may need to introduce your student to the idea that there are many ways to spell the long vowel sounds. Our A Handy Guide to Long Vowel Sounds blog post discusses them. Silent E is just one of the many ways to make the long I sound.

Are you using All About Spelling with him? You can let him know that he’ll learn about how to spell words like child in level 2 step 14.

Clarice

says:

Cause of the exceptions table is ‘teibl” and unforgetable is not? Live verb and life?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Clarice,
I’m not sure what you asking here. Table, unforgettable, live, and life are not exceptions. The silent E is performing one of the jobs discussed in the blog post in each of these words. Did you have any questions I can help you with?

Clarice

says:

Great lesson. Congrats from Brasil.

Gael

says:

Really interesting information thank you ?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Gael.

Judy Almond

says:

Would love your newsletter!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure thing, Judy! I signed you up.

Mbonimpa Banabas

says:

hi

Beth Ferguson

says:

This email came at the perfect time. We are on Level 2 in the R controlled vowel lessons. Today we did /or/ and my son was identifying the types of syllables in the words. He asked a very good question, and one that I didn’t have an answer for. We got to the word “more” and he identified the correct type of syllable, but then he asked why isn’t it just spelled “mor” like for? And for a second I started running through all the rules in my head and finally I was like-that is a really good question. We looked up the etymology of the word to see if that gave us any insight, but sadly no help. Is it just an exception? I was super excited to see that he is really thinking and applying what he is learning. I attribute this to your All About Spelling program. This is giving my 13 year old the spelling tools he so desperately wants to have.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Beth,
I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this.

Your son is thinking about words and that is great! It’ll make such an impact with his reading and spelling. He’s very observant!

The hard truth is that in English there are approximately 250 ways to spell about 45 sounds. Sigh. That means many sounds will have more than one way to spell them, and which is used can be due to a rule or etymology, but it also can be just because that is how it has been done in history.

In the case of for, there is also a homophone fore. The two different spellings reflect the two very different meanings. One of the Jobs of Silent E is to differentiate between homophones like by/bye and aw/awe.

Sheryl

says:

In searching for information on how to help my struggling 13 year old with spelling, I came across your blog. He loves to read and is very smart in many other things, but spelling and grammar are not his strong points. I feel like I need to go back to all the basics and lay a better foundation. As his mom, I know him well enough that I think if he can “get it” – phonics and rules, then he will be able to do much better at spelling. Any suggestions, ideas or resources you could share would be so much appreciated! Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sheryl,
Yes! We have two blog posts that I know will be helpful for you, Using All About Spelling with Older Students and Real Moms, Real Kids: A Typical Day with All About Spelling. The second one specifically shows a mom with her teenage son.

After you take a look at those, let me know if you have further questions or need more information.

preetha gunasekar

says:

Great Info about silent e, nice infographic, which is printed and stuck in our info board at home.

D. K.

says:

I am curious about your thoughts on introducing these correct ideas to very young ones, who are otherwise interested in and ready to learn about reading. I have a three-year old who is starting to read. We are learning as part of playing, using BOB books and such, but I am in search of something systematic I can use going forward. And I am thinking of how to do that without overwhelming her at this stage. It is not the same scenario as a child going to school where they have daily and weekly lessons to build up knowledge overtime. I understand your books are for school-agers but was wondering if you nevertheless have any recommendations for younger learners, based on the same comprehensive approach.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

While it is unusual, our All About Reading program has been used successfully with preschoolers. Check out our blog post Using All About Reading with a Gifted Learner. In it, dad Mark describes how he used All About Reading with his son Cody, who finished did levels 1 through 4, finishing when he was only 5.

Take a look at your level 1 placement test and see how your child does. From what you describe, it sounds like she may be ready for level 1. You will want to keep the lesson time short and playful, but All About Reading makes that easy and it sounds like you already have that well in hand.

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

Renate Punt

says:

Wow this is such a wonderful lesson that even I learnt something. Although I am quite the spelling guru of the family, one is never too old to learn.
Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Renate! The many jobs of Silent E was something that was new to me too. ?

Dan

says:

Thank you so much for sharing these resources!

Erica

says:

I’d like info about the silent e cards. Do you have a link for them?

Renate Punt

says:

Oh that would be great

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Renate,
I’m not sure what these Silent E cards are; All About Learning Press doesn’t have cards for Silent E.

I’m sorry I’m not more help with this.

Rona

says:

I would like the silent e card info as well. Thank you!

Denise Zeigler-pilgrim

says:

wonderful!!!! I am one of the teachers that taught that and then had to back track when other words came into play.

Angelina Etter

says:

Awesome!

Lajren

says:

This is awesome!

Agin Stempel

says:

Thanks for these papers.
Even though I know these rules, it’s great having them in a compact page and so clearly set out.
Many thanks.

Vanessa

says:

Dear Marie. These Pdfs are great. I just wanted to say thankyou for sending an article about disgraphia some months back. Observing my nearly 12-year-old son during lockdown, I think this may be the key to improving his learning experience and something his school never picked up on. Many thanks. Vanessa

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad to hear that our dysgraphia blog post has been helpful for you and your son, Vanessa. Please let us know if you need any additional information or help.

Lisa

says:

I am teaching this concept through online tutoring on Wednesday!! Perfect timing to have received your email. Thank you! PS…I love All About Reading. I have been using it in my learning center and tutoring for the past two years. I have seen many, many struggling readers succeed in this program and I’m so excited each day to teach it. This year we are taking on All About Spelling. Looking forward to seeing my kids and my students grow!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so glad this was helpful and timely for you, Lisa! It’s great to hear that All About Reading and All About Spelling are helping your students so well.

Lisa Schmidt

says:

This is why I love education. I’m always learning new things!

Courtney Mayfield

says:

We love AAS at our house! It is re-teaching me so many things and enabling me to better explain and teach my children in a way that will help them for the rest of their lives. Simply saying “just because that’s how it’s spelled” when they ask why is not good enough. This Silent E information is fantastic and I am very appreciative of the printable to go with it. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Courtney. You are correct, of course. Saying, “That’s just the way it’s spelled,” teaches kids that English has no logic at all and that they should memorize each word individually. The average working vocabulary for an adult is ten or twenty thousand words and it is simply unreasonable to ask students to memorize that many words individually. While English is known for its exceptions, rule breakers, and idiosyncrasies, it is mostly logical and regular. It’s so much more efficient to learn the rules and patterns of English and then only memorize those exceptions.

Troy

says:

I was just playing spelling games with my 4 year old and she refused to put an e at the end of horse because it didn’t make any sense to her. I found this article and explained it to get and she was immediately receptive…. She was still done with writing and made me write the e but the attitude change was amazing after I could explain it. Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Troy. Four years old is pretty young to be learning all the many rules of Silent E, but it sounds like she is doing so well!