Vowel Teams - The Reading & Spelling Rules That Nobody Taught You

Teaching Vowel Teams to struggling readers can be tricky - especially when they have so many rules that nobody taught YOU! Read on to see what kind of activities we use with our dyslexic students to help teach them the vowel team spelling rules.

Hey friend,

Thanks for sticking with us and our series of “The Reading & Spelling Rules Nobody Taught You.”

The fifth of the six syllable types we talk about is…

Vowel Teams

Vowel Teams are when two vowels stick together to make one sound.  Think of the vowel sounds in words like rain, play, green, key, goat, boil, etc. 

If our students recognize these at all, they usually remember the saying "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking."  While this works for some vowel teams (ai says /A/ like in rain), it doesn't work for all of them (ea in steak says /A/). 

It is important that we teach students each of the vowel team's sounds explicitly, just like we explicitly teach the rules in the other 5 syllable types, Closed, Magic E, Bossy R, Open, Stable Final.

We start by explaining that there are two different kinds of vowel teams. Digraphs and Diphthongs (sliding sounds).  Your digraphs are going to be vowel teams like ai, ay, ee, ey, oa, oe, etc.  When you read them, they make one clear (and familiar - hopefully) vowel sound.  Your sliding sounds are teams like oi and oy,, and ou/ow.  These still only make one sound, but it isn't quite a clear and familiar vowel sound (think oy like in boy or ow like in plow).  

Many of our vowel teams make more than one sound.  When this happens, we rely really heavily on key phrases and pictures to help cement the rules for our students.  Let's use oo for an example.  OO has two sounds and we teach this by using the key phrase "look at the moon."  Take a second and say that out loud to yourself. Do you hear the different sounds?

EA is another vowel team that can make multiple sounds.  For this one, we use the key phrase "eat bread and steak." EA can say /E/ like in eat, the short e sound /e/ like in bread, and /A/ like in steak.  The phrase is also ordered strategically, because the long E sound is the most common sound ea will make, and the /A/ sound is the least common.  

Sometimes, consonants can sneak into our vowel teams, like in ow, and igh.  These patterns still classify as a vowel team, because the letters work together to make one vowel sound.  

Here is a quick rundown on all of the vowel team rules that we teach our students. If you are looking for anchor charts to help solidify your students’ vowel team knowledge >>click here<< or, you can grab specific worksheets and activities by clicking on any of the vowel teams below!

Vowel Team Rules & Activities

ai - 1 sound. It says /A/ like in rain. We find ai in the middle of a word or syllable.

ay - 1 sound. It says /A/ like in play. We find ay at the end of a word or syllable.

ee - 1 sound. It says /E/ like in green. We usually find ee in the middle of a world or syllable.

ey - 1 sound. It says /E/ like in key. We usually find ey at the end of a word or syllable.

oa/oe - 1 sound. They say /O/ like in goat & toe. OA says O in the middle of a word or syllable, while we find oe at the end.

oi - 1 sound. The keyword is poison. We find oi in the middle or a word or syllable.

oy - 1 sound. The keyword is destroy. We find oy at the end of a word or syllable.

oo - 2 sounds. The key phrase is Look at the Moon.

ou - 2 sounds. The key phrase is Trout Soup.

ow -2 sounds. The key phrase is Snow Plow.

ea - 3 sounds. The key phrase is Eat Bread & Steak.

au - 1 sound. The key word is laundry. We usually find au in the middle of a word or syllable.

aw - 1 sounds. The key word is yawn. We can find aw in the middle or at the end of a word or syllable.

ie - 2 sounds. The key phrase is Pie and Cookies.

ei - 2 sounds. The key phrase is The Reindeer Receives.

ui - 1 sound. It says /u/ like in fruit.

ue - 2 sounds. The key phrase is Don’t Argue About the Glue.

ew - 2 sounds. The key phrase is Pew the Stew Smells Gross.

eu - 1 sound. It says /u/ like in sleuth.

igh - 1 sound. It says /i/ like in night.

eigh - 1 sound. It says /a/ like in eight.

If you found this helpful and are interested in learning how we teach vowel teams using a structured and systematic approach that gets even our non-responders reading on grade level >>click here<< to check out our free training!