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Spelling V: Blended Families

Part five of our Spelling series:

Blended Families

You’ve been working with your child on the single-sound consonants and the first sounds of vowels.  He knows that most of the e’s on the ends of words are silent but busy.  He’s wanting to know how to spell everything and trying to read signs and cereal boxes, so you are practicing with simple consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words, and can’t explain everything fast enough.  Or . . . you’re not quite there yet?  That’s okay.  There’s no rush!

This is already tricky, so I won’t say that things start to get tricky once you move on to words of more than three letters.  But let’s add some more tools to the toolbox.  Remember the Berenstain Bears Bike Lesson?  Papa Bear keeps adding “one more” lesson before Small Bear gets to ride his new bike.  At least we do get to read before we get through all the lessons.  

One tool that will make it easier to learn longer words is to be aware of consonant blends.  You already do this without thinking about it and, for many children, their ears will tell them how this works without too much trouble.  “Blends” are two or more letters that work together to make one sound, or that run together in such a way that it seems like one sound.  The ck blend is an example of two letters that make only one sound.  There are two-letter blends that can be at the beginning and/or the end of words (twin, camp).  There are also three-letter blends (scrub, three, bench, catch).  

When I’m teaching reading, I don’t usually belabor the concept of blends with flashcards or worksheets, because, as I said, the ear of an English speaker will usually make short work of the concept.  But should it be necessary, here are some of the common beginning blends: bl, br, ch, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr, pl, pr, sc, sh, sk, sl, sm, sn, sp, st, th, tr, wh  

Some common ending blends: ch, ck, ft, lf, lk, lp, mp, nd, ng, nk, nt, pt, sh, st, th, xt  

The Writing Road to Reading teaches ch, sh, ck, ng, and wh as separate, single-sound phonograms rather than blends.  Th has two sounds, as in think or this.     

The internet is awash with worksheets, should you require reinforcement beyond simply reading.  

I think most of us appreciate words that sound like they look and look like they sound.  Word “families” are just what they sound like, words that are related by letter patterns.  This is where we get into how vowels find the help they need to say something besides their first sounds.  We already know that the silent e in a VCV word ending usually makes the vowel say its name.  Let’s look at some pattern families that also help the vowels say their names.  


We’ll start with a.  There are two phonograms, diphthongs, that have the letter a in them and make the sound of a’s name, ai and ay.  When we practice these in class, we said, “Ai, never used at the end of an English word.”  Because English words don’t end with i.  We say, “Ay, the a we use every day,” because the word day and all the days of the week end with this phonogram.  I can point to the days of the week on the calendar or the chalkboard each time we say this.  If this doesn’t work for you, feel free to make up something that does.  “We play in the hay every day,” or something like that.

Word families that use these phonograms would include: 

ail, bail, hail, braid, laid, maid, brain, main, pain, chain, bait, wait, faint, paint

bay, clay, day, gay, gray, hay, lay, may, pray, ray, say, stay, stray, tray, way

Again, we don’t spell this way just to make it harder for kids to learn.  The original pronunciation of words with ai would have been ah-i, or ah-ee (bah-il or bah-eel, for bail).  The ay would have been more like aye, as in, “Aye, aye, Sir.” But more open-mouthed than the way we usually say aye these days.  A shift several hundred years ago in the way we use the inside of our mouths to pronounce these vowel sounds is responsible for our pronunciation not matching our spelling.

Four other phonograms sometimes sound like a:

ei: rein, veil, their (Anciently: ray-in, vay-il, thay-ir)

eigh: eight, weigh, sleigh (ay-ight, way-igh, slay-igh)

ey:  prey, they, grey

ea: break, great, steak (bray-uk, gray-ut, stay-uk)

There are four phonograms for the e sound: ie, ei, ey, ee:

ee is the easiest. We memorize this as, “Ee, the two-letter e.”

ie: “E, ī, ĭ; If you say e, i, and you write e, i, you’re wrong.”

ei:  “E, ā, ĭ; e squeezed together make an ā and ĭ.”  Which may not make a whole lot of sense on close examination, but that’s how I learned it, and the concept is that the e and i have squeezed the middle sound, a, out of the picture.  

ey:Ay, ee; They see a monkey.”

Two phonograms for i: ie and igh. For igh we say, “igh, the three-letter ī.”

die, lie, pie, tie and fight, high, light, night, right, sight, tight

Sometimes y will say ī: by, dry, fly, sly, try, why

One of the WRtR spelling rules is, “Vowels i and y usually say ĭ, but may say ī.”  Perhaps we should add, “We don’t know why.”  Probably simply because we no longer say, bee, dree, flee, slee, tree, or whee.

For o, the phonogram oe.  O, the o of toe.”  And doe, foe, hoe, sloe, woe.

When it comes to u, there could be some confusion between the sound of the letter’s name and more of an oo sound.  Some of that is regional, which is fine, since that’s how we got this messy spelling in the first place. We learn the phonogram ew as “Ewww, you,” and I hold my nose like I smell a bad smell.  I find, however, that I often have a hard time figuring out how our book determines which sound certain words should have.  

chew, dew, drew, flew, grew, new, threw, and few, mew, pew.

The same for ou and ui.  I pronounce you as yew, but soup as soop. To me, fruit sounds like froot, and juice sounds like joos. Even in words like prude, rude, and rule, in which the e ought to be making the u say its name, they sound like prood, rood, and rool to me.     

So I’ll throw oo in here.  We learn this phonogram, “Oo, ŏ, ō, put your boot on your foot on the floor by the door.”

oo: boon, moon, soon, toot

ŏ: cook, foot, hook, look

ō: door, floor

We have more vowel blends, but we’ll leave it at vowels saying their names for this time.  I’m sure it makes them happy to get to do that once in a while.  

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