Short Vowel Practice – Phonics
Updated: Jun 9
Short vowels can be so difficult for young readers to decipher. When listening to words, the short vowel sounds can be tough to pick out. They can also be tough to hear correctly, since we often speak through those vowels quickly. All that to say, students need more practice with short vowels than we often give them.
Recently, I wrote about adding focused short vowel practice into phonemic awareness routines or even as students are waiting in line or between lessons. It takes just a few minutes for students to hear a word or syllable and repeat back the short vowel sound they heard (along with motions to really help students solidify those sounds). This practice in hearing and repeating sounds without any letters attached is extremely necessary, but it can’t be where we stop with short vowel work.
Young readers and writers must be able to work with sounds, hearing each specific speech sound clearly; however, they also must be able to connect a grapheme, or letter, to that sound in order to actually read and write. This is where the phonics piece of focused short vowel work comes in.
If you read my post about short vowel work as a phonemic awareness activity, then this method will seem pretty similar. The difference in this method is that students will show a vowel tent or card as they repeat an isolated short vowel sound back to you rather than make the vowel motions.
There is a BIT of prep work for this, but it is very simple.
First, you’ll need to choose whether you want your students to use vowel tents or vowel cards. I use the vowel cards in my small groups when we do this vowel practice, but I like to use the tents when I’m working with a full class of students. For ease in quickly seeing if students are correctly matching the vowel sound and its letter, I would suggest a different color for each vowel, no matter which option you choose. For example, in my set of vowel tents, all of the ‘a’ tents are hot pink.
Here is a free printable for the vowel cards (click “download” below), which are simply vowels printed onto colored cardstock, cut out, and laminated.
And here is a free printable for the vowel tents, which are formatted to print onto colored 5×7 index cards, cut in half (there are two tents per card), and then be folded into tents. This is how I made mine. It took me a minute to make sure (in the printer properties) that my paper size was set up and then that the bypass tray in the printer was set up to the correct size, but after that 5-minutes of set-up, I had a complete set of 40 vowel tents printed within a couple of minutes and cut in half (there are two tents per index card) in another couple of minutes. Basically, the printer annoyances were worth it to me.
Another option for vowel tents is to have students make their own (or have a parent volunteer make them all) by folding an index card (the smaller 3×5 size work well), and writing the vowel on each side. A bit simpler although potentially more time consuming.
No matter which you choose, the method is the same (or similar). Also, both options add a multi-sensory component to the lesson, allowing students to move and touch the letter that matches the sound they hear and say. Multi-sensory instruction for the win!
This activity shouldn’t take more than 3-5 minutes. Here’s the process:
Have students line up their cards or tents in front of them. Students should have one of each vowel (a, e, i, o, u).
Starting with JUST the vowel sounds, the teacher dictates a sound and the students repeat that sound back while either holding up their vowel tent or pushing their vowel card forward.
Next, add a consonant sound onto the vowel requiring students to pick the vowel sound out from two sounds. Teacher says the two-sound syllable or word. Students repeat back ONLY the isolated short vowel sound while holding up the vowel tent or pushing the vowel card forward.
Repeat step 3, but add another consonant sound to the beginning so that the words or syllables have a CVC pattern. Students pick the short vowel sound out of the three sounds, repeat just that vowel sound back while holding up the vowel tent or pushing the vowel card forward.
Either stop with step 3 or extend the practice further by mixing the word/syllable lengths, adding blends, or even saying multiple (I’d stick just with two, max) syllables at a time. For more than one syllable, students still repeat just the vowel sounds but go in order of the syllables dictated. For example, the teacher says “magnet” and students would say “/a/” and show the ‘a’ card/tent then say “/e/” and show the ‘e’ card/tent.
Here is a sample lesson plan and examples of words/syllables for each step of the process. Feel free to use it as a starting point, and then create your own words/syllables as you become comfortable with the process.
Being such a quick “call and answer” type of activity, using a different colored paper for each vowel makes it very clear whether or not students are matching short vowel letters and sounds correctly or not. When all but a couple students are holding up orange cards, those off-colors stand out.
It is important to start with step one, moving into each new step once students are comfortable and “warmed up”. As students become better at isolating the vowel sounds, work with just a couple syllables in steps one and two, then spend more of the time with step three words/syllables and extensions.
I’ve done this activity with first graders, making sure to get to it 4 or 5 times per week. I still do this with the 4th and 5th grade students I work with now 2 or 3 times per week. Being the older and naturally competitive students that they are, the 4th and 5th graders usually turn this activity into a bit of a speed game which just adds engagement and motivation to this simple activity!
Try it in your own classroom and comment letting me know how it went! Or, if you do something else to practice short vowels with students please share!