Vowel Team Syllables


October 14, 2011 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Articles


A vowel team syllable usually has two vowels working together to make the vowel sound for a syllable. There are some teams that include consonants too, such as igh, eigh, and ough. Although this syllable pattern isn’t very common in English, many of the words that contain teams are common everyday words. All learners will benefit from studying vowel team syllables. It is a mistake to assume that teaching the most common syllable types (closed, open, and silent e) constitutes adequate instruction, especially for children who have dyslexia.

Most of us have heard that rule, “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking, and says its name.” Many of us have never stopped to think about the fact that it doesn’t work well. In recognition of that old rule, I’ve put feet on the bottom of the vowel team pictured on the syllable poster. But notice what that first letter, an e, is asking in the bubble. Letter e isn’t sure whether he should say his name, his sound, or a long a sound. All three sounds are possible. Notice the sneaky look on letter a’s face. You can’t trust the walking rule, it works less than half the time (Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills by Judith R. Birsh). Actually, it shouldn’t even be taught. Teams are tricky. Each one needs to be studied separately. Sometimes the sound is the name of the first letter, especially if the second letter is an e (look closely at the teams listed on the left side on the poster).  But more often this is not the case. Look at all the teams listed to the right of ea on the poster.

As you can see, there are quite a few different vowel teams. They can be divided into two different technical categories. The first category is called a vowel digraph. The two vowels make one sound. The second, or vowel diphthong, has two vowels, with a sound that slides from one sound to another. Vowel digraphs include ai/ay, ee, ey, oa, oe, ue, au/aw, ea, ui, oo (as in “boo”) ow as in “pillow” and ou as in “soup.” The diphthongs include eu, oi/oy, ou/ow as in “now” and “ouch, oo as in “book.”

Vowel teams require careful study in order to learn to make correct spelling choices. Knowledge of the most frequent ways vowel sounds are spelled can help guide spelling efforts. Lists of words that contain a certain vowel team can help. Other ideas include drawing a picture that contains as many of the words on a team’s list as possible, and then visualizing the picture while recreating the list orally or in writing. Younger children can have fun actually creating a scene with objects that are spelled with a given vowel team. Photos of the scene can then help recall proper spellings.

Because we use vowel team words so often, it is important to study them carefully. Take the time to do it well.