Understanding the Six Syllable Types - Vowel Teams

Vowel Team Syllables

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Vowel teams are the fifth syllable type that we introduce to our students when we are using a Structured Literacy approach.

What is it? Vowel Teams (more formally they are called vowel digraphs and diphthongs) most often include two vowels that work together to make one sound. Sometimes W sneaks into these vowel teams and sometimes a vowel paired with other consonants like IGH work together to create a “vowel team” type pattern.

How do I teach it? I explain to students that we have two vowels touching and working as a team. Sometimes only one vowel will do the talking and sometimes they work together to create a new sliding sound.

We mark vowel team words by placing a dot above each vowel if it makes a single sound we will connect the dots with a line. If it is a sliding sound, we will connect the dots with a squiggle line. Let’s practice marking!

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We teach vowel teams in the following progression:

-ai, -ay, -ee, -ey, -oa, -oe, -oi, -oy, -oo, -ou, -ow, -ea, -au, -aw

Several of these vowel teams follow a pattern that students can generalize. Some vowel teams only come at the beginning or middle of a syllable, where other vowel teams that makes the same sound only comes at the end of a syllable.

For example, ai comes at the beginning or in the middle of a syllable whereas the vowel team –ay (that makes the same sound) only comes at the end of a syllable.

We anchor all our phonogram rules with key words and images that create a visual and auditory, anchor to this information. For the –ai phonogram, we use the word and image for rain. For the –ay phonogram, we use the word and image for play.

When introducing vowel teams that follow this pattern of placement within a syllable, we teach them separately at first. This means that we use one lesson to teach –ai, explicitly. In our next lesson, we will teach –ay, explicitly. If the student demonstrates mastery with these phonograms in isolation, we combine these words within our word lists.

We wait to integrate word lists but we do introduce the other vowel team. It can help begin to warm students up to the idea that when they are spelling and hear the /a/ sound in the middle of a word, it is spelled –ai. But, when they are spelling and hear the /a/ sound at the end of a word, it is spelled –ay.

Other vowel teams that follow a similar pattern are: ee and ey, oa and oe, oi and oy

Some of our favorite games to use when practicing this syllable type are: Play In The Rain, Find the Keys, Destroy the Poison, Look at the Moon, Make Trout Soup, Snow Plow, Eat Bread and Steak, Yawn – I Have To Do The Laundry, Vowel Team War, Syllable Type Sorts Game which are available in our Membership Site and on TPT.

If you are interested in learning more about teaching literacy using syllable types consider joining our Delivering SMARTER Intervention course.

Corey Pollard