When teaching reading you may find yourself wondering: what are the short vowels? Our vowels, (a, e, i, o, and u), can be found in every English word. Vowels can occur together or separately and they make so many different sounds! Here you will learn what short vowels are when they occur in words, how to teach the short vowel sounds, and activities to improve your childrens’ knowledge of short vowel sounds.
Don’t have time to learn about short vowels now? No worries – I’ve got you! Bookmark this article for later and grab these print-and-go activities for short vowels to use now. With week-long lesson plans and activities for each vowel, your students will understand what a short vowel is in no time!
Use Small Groups to Teach the Short Vowels
Small groups are a great way to teach short vowel sounds. You, as the teacher, can easily hear your students make the sound, get information on how they are applying the sound to their reading and writing, and support students reading fluency as they become more comfortable with vowels. Learn more about how to make small group instruction work in your classroom. From classroom management to assessment, assigning groups, and creating activities these 7 tips will turn your small group instruction time into your favorite time of the day!
What Are Long and Short Vowels?
Vowels occur in every word in the English language. You may see vowels by themselves (like in cat) or, you may see them with other vowels (like in coat). Generally, vowels make two sounds: a long sound and a short sound. (This is not talking about vowel diphthongs, like /oi/ and /oy/, we’ll get to that in a different article!)
This is a vast oversimplification but generally, if a vowel is on its own it will say the short sound. If it is paired with another vowel, it will say the long sound. In single-syllable words, vowels will say the long sound if paired with an e. Such as cave, lone, kite… These are called CVCe syllables.
What Are Short Vowel Sounds?
Short vowels are when the letters (a, e, i, o, u) say their assigned sound rather than the letter name. These sounds are also called “open mouth sounds” because each sound is said with the mouth open. Short vowels typically appear in the middle of words but can sometimes appear at the start. Here are some examples of short vowels: A – apple, cat, E – elephant, pet, I – itch, pit , O – octopus, cot, U – up, cut
Listen to the sounds here:
How to Mark Short Vowels
Phonetically, short vowels are noted with a breve symbol (ă). This symbol is noted in dictionaries and other vocabulary indexes to help the reader with the correct pronunciation. As students grow comfortable with different letter sounds it can be helpful to use phonetic notation as they apply their letter-sound knowledge to their reading and writing.
Do Short Vowels Say Their Name?
Short vowels do not say their name! They say their sound. In fact, there is a chant you can use in your small groups when teaching the vowel sounds. It goes: short vowels say the sound, long vowels say the name. Make a short sign with your hands, then point to your ears as you say “sound”. Then, stretch your arms as you say “long” and point to yourself as you say “name”. Adding in this body movement will help your students learn the difference between long and short vowels.
Teaching Short Vowel Sounds
Teaching short vowels can be overwhelming when you’re not even sure what a short vowel is!
I had no idea what a short vowel was when I first started teaching. In fact, during my Teaching Literacy class in college, I had to rewrite a paper because I confused not only the vowel sounds (long and short) but also because I confused phonemic and phonological awareness. We all start somewhere, right?
To effectively teach the short vowel sound in the early elementary grades (ages 4-7) my best advice is to keep it simple and use predictable routines and activities. Kids are often thinking of a million different things and are often concerned about what is going to happen next. By using predictable phonics routines you essentially “free up brain space” to support your students in learning the new phonics pattern.
Keeping Phonics Simple
When students often ask “what are short vowels?” keep the answer simple. Say, “short vowels say the sound”. It is beneficial to have students repeat the phrase over and over again to help them achieve mastery of this skill. Making phonics phrases allows students to easily apply the lesson to their reading and writing. Anytime you can add movement to a phonics activity your students will benefit!
Short letter sounds often appear in the middle of words, between two consonants. They also help the reader or writer determine the syllables in the words. By focusing on where the vowel appears in a word along with what sound the vowel makes you can support your students’ knowledge of short vowel sounds!
Strategies for Teaching Short Vowel Sounds
Teaching short vowels is a long game. It can take weeks for students to identify the letter and sounds, months to apply the knowledge and read simple words, and a year to write and build words as expected. Here are strategies to stay constant with your phonics instruction to help your students master those short vowel sounds!
- Identify Sounds without The Letter
A great way for students to learn what are short vowels is to listen for the sounds without the letters attached. These sounds are called phonemes. Say a short CVC word, like “cat”, and have the student break it apart into individual sounds: /c/ /a/ /t/. Last, have the student say the sound they hear in the middle (/a/). If this is challenging, use a manipulative to help the students isolate the sound. Boxes, chips, and unifix cubes are all great choices to help students break apart CVC words and identify the short vowel sound.
- Match the Sound to Its Letter
After students hear the short vowel sound in the CVC word explicitly introduce its grapheme or its written letter representation. You can say: “This is the letter A, it says /a/”. Have students repeat the sound and letter multiple times. Practice students seeing the letter and saying the sound. This can be done with sound lines or flashcards, or even in the guided blending of short words.
- Focus on Letter Sound Correspondance
An effective strategy for teaching short vowel sounds is to focus on letter-sound correspondence. It can be helpful for students to have some knowledge of consonant sounds before learning vowel sounds. This way they can begin to build and read short words utilizing the vowels in the middle.
Activities for Teaching Short Vowel Sounds
Teaching short vowel sounds should never be boring! There are SO many great activities you can do to help your students read and write the vowel sounds. Be sure to keep your routines and activities simple so your students can focus on the vowel, rather than be overwhelmed by the complexity of the task.
Reading A Short Vowel Sound Book
Introducing the short vowel with direct, explicit instruction is key to supporting student mastery of the sound. Reading these fun, introductory books is a great way to help students with their letter-sound correspondence.
Use whiteboards and letter cards or magnets to build different short vowel words! Practice the routine of: say it, stretch it, build it to guide your students to isolate each sound they hear. This activity is best with a partner so the students can work together on identifying which vowel they hear.
Short Vowel Word Ladders
Word ladders are a great way to increase reading fluency because it supports students in building connections between letters, sounds, and words. Word ladders are when students or teachers manipulate sounds to create new words. For example, you can start with the word “cat”, turn it into “hat”, then turn “hat” into “hot”. This helps students understand how sounds work in words and can help increase fluency as they become more automatic in reading these words.
Writing and Reading Short Vowel Sentences
Application of short vowel sounds is key to mastery! Have students think of and write sentences using CVC words. When students create the sentence, they take ownership and engagement in their learning. Have students write and read each other sentences to practice their short vowel sounds.
Short Vowel Decodable Reading Passages
Using short vowel decodable reading passages is a great way for students to apply their letter-sound knowledge in a functional way! The best reading passages for short vowels are roughly 80% known words (either through sounds or memorization of non-pattern sight words). Decodable Reading passages should be engaging to students. Be sure to ask them what they want to learn about and find (or create!) reading passages that match their interests.
Phonics Small Group Instruction
Small group instruction is a great way to teach what are short vowels! Using these activities your students will learn the vowel, and its sound and apply it to their reading and writing. Are you having a hard time scheduling or managing your small groups? These 7 tips will help you create, manage and track data during your small group instruction!
Now, if someone asks, “what is a short sound?” you can answer! Short vowels are when the letter says its assigned sound.
Use these to help teach letter sound correspondence!
Looking for more information on short vowel sounds? Check these out!