Teaching Tips and Tricks for Long/Short Vowel Discrimination

Most first graders make the transition from decoding short vowel words to long vowels pretty well. But some students need more exposure, and visual cues are often quite helpful for these kids.

When making the transition from reading short vowel words to long vowel words, students need to train their eyes to see the silent e in VCe words or the vowel pairs in CVVC words (typically taught later). Repeatedly pointing out the two vowels helps to train their eyes to see that the two vowels work together make the long sound. 

Along the way in our teaching lives, we pick up little tricks from other teachers that make us wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

This is one of those little tricks.  It’s a simple, but very effective technique to use to introduce long vowels and for students struggling with long/short vowel discrimination.

But first, students must have solid auditory discrimination between long and short vowel sounds, or phonological discrimination before discriminating with text. One way to practice this is by randomly saying long or short vowel sounds and having students say, “long” or “short” after each sound you say.

Once auditory discrimination is solid, then they are ready for the visual piece. I teach my first graders that when I point to a vowel with one finger and say, “sound,” I expect them to say the short vowel sound. (I use these charts in both whole group on the carpet and for small groups at the kidney table that need more exposure.)

When I point to the vowel and silent e with two fingers and say, “sound,” I am prompting the long sound. This draws their eyes to the silent e that helps the vowel say its name. I also point to the vowel pairs in the same way with two fingers to draw their eyes to the two letters that make the one long vowel sound.

The technique I have learned is to simply point, say “sound,” prompting the long or short sound, then point to the beginning of the word and say, “read.”  Once they understand the finger prompts and my word prompts of “sound” and “read,” they are ready to read a chart of words in isolation. See 13 second video below. 

The same prompting can be used when students read text. When they hesitate in front of a word in text, I say, “sound,” prompting them to say the vowel sound and then I say, “read.” After several repetitions of this, students can more easily see the long or short vowels automatically on their own. I have found that brief prompting during a reading of text is much better than interrupting students with long dialogues to explain or reteach. They will understand your prompt of “sound,” and “read” if you have practiced it enough.  Soon they will be prompting themselves as they read, and that’s what we want!

After guidance with a chart, students can also practice further with their own focus boards or drill sheets that have a mixture of long and short vowel words. Speed Drills for Words With Long and Short Vowels  Each row repeats the same 8 words but in a random order. There are 20 pages of drills with different words.

I just slip them into sleeves to protect them and store them in a binder.

Once students understand your expectations for using these drills, they can be added to centers and partners can time each other and check for accuracy.

Get your Long/Short Vowel Discrimination Drills HERE.

I would love to hear your ideas too! Thanks for stopping by!

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  • Unknown January 10, 2022 at 6:06 pm

    This is such a great lesson! Thank you so much!

  • Unknown January 10, 2022 at 6:06 pm

    I used these with one of my students today, I loved it so much, thank you for sharing! Do you by any chance have something similar for math?

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    I am a newly retired first-grade teacher in the beautiful state of Colorado. I taught for 32 years (17 of those in 1st grade.) Watching my students learn and grow was such a blessing for me, and I'm excited to share what I've learned over the years with you. Read More

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