Long e words are quite tricky to teach because there are so many different ways to spell the long e sound and there aren’t any rules or generalizations. With long e spellings, students must practice and be exposed to the words until they have mastered them. I’m going to break down each of the eight ways to spell the long e sound to help you understand and teach long e to your students.
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Eight Ways To Spell Long E
The long e sound can be represented by 8 different spelling patterns:
- e – be
- e_e – eve
- ee – meet
- ea – beach
- ei – protein
- ie – piece
- ey – key
- y – candy
The majority of these are vowel teams, so students should already know the open, silent e, and vowel team syllables. Students should also be able to find the base word, as some of these rules apply to the base word even if it has a suffix.
Spelling Generalizations for Long E
At the end of an open syllable, e makes the long e sound (says its name) and this is the most common way of spelling the long e sound. Some examples include be, even, and veto. Sometimes ee or ea are used at the end of a word (tea) so it’s not a rule that the long e sound at the end of a syllable is always spelled with just e. Students must understand how to split words into syllables and know what open syllables are.
E_E Spelling Pattern
The e silent e spelling pattern is actually not that common. This one is usually in the middle of a base word. Examples include eve, delete, and extreme. Of course, students should be confident with the magic e syllable.
EE and EA Vowel Teams
EE and EA sometimes spell the long e sound in the beginning, middle, or end of a base word. Neither one is more common, so these will simply have to be memorized.
One trick is to use a guide word with each spelling when introducing these. So you would introduce ee with the word tree, and ea with the word meat. Then when your students ask which spelling to use for a long e word, you can say ‘/ee/ like tree/meat’.
Some teachers also group them as wet/meal words (ea) and nature words (ee).
Y usually spells the long e sound at the end of a word when it follows a consonant and the word has more than one syllable. This spelling of long e is actually the most common. Examples include heavy and baby. It also makes the long e sound when it comes before another vowel, as in the word embryo.
IE, EI, and EY Vowel Teams
These are the least common ways to spell the long e sound.
The long e sound spelled ie is often preceded and followed by consonants. It’s usually in the middle of the word but can be at the end. Examples include brief, relief, and rookie.
The long e sound spelled ey is usually at the end of a base word. Examples include valley and monkey.
The ei spelling of long e is the least common. Examples include seize and protein.
Tips For Teaching The Long E Sound
When you start teaching long e, you really have to focus on repeated exposure, lots of practice, and homophones. Teach one spelling pattern at a time, and once one is mastered you can add in another. It’s much easier to learn how to read these than to learn how to spell. Since they all sound the same and can appear in the same place, choosing the right spelling pattern can be tricky.
Use guide words to help students decide on the spelling pattern.
This will still require you cueing them but at least you’re not providing the answer without them thinking about it.
Decide on a guide word for each spelling pattern. This will be the word you cue your students with when they are not sure how to spell a word with the long e sound.
For example, use the word tree for long e spelled ee, meat for long e spelled ea, chief for long e spelled ie, and baby for long e spelled y. When students ask which spelling to use, you say ‘long e like in the word baby’ or whichever word has the correct spelling.
Students should still first break the word into its syllables, and try to eliminate some spelling options. So for example, if they are trying to spell the word begin, they should know it won’t be with ey or y because those appear at the end of a base word. If they still ask, you can cue them with something like ‘it’s the end of a syllable so what do you think can go there?’ Guide them to choosing the correct spelling pattern.
Also, because there are multiple options expect students to get them wrong sometimes, and tell them this! It’s ok if they make mistakes as long as it’s another valid spelling option and not something that doesn’t follow any rules. Through repeated exposure and practice they will eventually internalize the correct spelling pattern for words.
Lots of practice and repeated exposure are the name of the game with the long e sound. Do a variety of activities repeating the words as many times as you can.
Long E Words Activities & Lesson Ideas
Phoneme Grapheme Mapping – This is a great activity that really isolates the phonograms for students to practice. You can get the Phonics & Spelling Through Grapheme Mapping book and follow the long e lesson, or use my long e word list to do the same activity using sound boxes. See below for an example.
Create short stories to help anchor the spelling patterns. – Group similar words together and create a short story using them to help students remember them. This is similar to the ee and ea group images from above with the wet and nature words. For example, with ea, you could say ‘John drank tea on the beach while an eagle flew by’ or something like that. Draw a picture or create your own poster with images of words with this spelling pattern and put it up in your room.
SOS – If you don’t already know what Simultaneous Oral Spelling is, then check out this post here. I love this multisensory spelling method for practicing spelling. And you can do this whole class or one on one making it really easy to use in any setting.
Dictation – This is another fantastic activity but I would do this after you have spent some time on long e because it is harder for some students. Also when dictating words, give students a clue about the spelling such as telling them it’s a vowel team or open syllable. I often dictate words that all have the same spelling pattern to avoid these problems.
Sorting – Sorting is always a good idea when you have multiple options for spelling. You can play matching games like memory, just sort them into piles/columns, or create any game that requires sorting by spelling pattern. This builds phonemic awareness so it’s always a good activity for all students.
You can also sort by color coding the vowel team or spelling pattern in the words. I took the list from the SOS activity, then had my student highlight each vowel team in a specific color to more visually show the groups.
Picture cue cards – Create visual graphics of tricky words, homophones, and homographs. These picture cues really help students remember which pattern to use. I suggest you make these using index cards and keep them in a baggie or box for reference. See an example below (it’s for a long o sound but you get the idea).
Games – Of course, I always include games because it’s just so easy to add a stack of flashcards to any game and make it educational! Use an easy to play board game where students need to pick up a card on their turn and add a task like reading the word aloud and sorting it, or asking another player to spell it, or even something as simple as having them air write the word after reading it aloud. Or print off a teacher-made game from Teacher Pay Teachers.
Constant Review – Remember to keep these spelling patterns in constant review after they are learned, so they are not forgotten. Using a sound wall or phonogram drills are great ways to do this without it taking up a lot of time.
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If you’re looking for more tips on teaching reading to struggling learners, check out these other posts:
- Phonemic Awareness Strategies & Activities For Struggling Learners
- The 6 Syllable Types
- Why You Should Switch To A Sound Wall
- Reading Strategies for Struggling Readers – Elkonin Boxes
- Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies – My Secret Tip To Improve Reading Comprehension
- Multisensory Strategies for B & D Reversals – Dyslexia Intervention
- Multisensory Spelling Strategy for Struggling Learners – Dyslexia Spelling Strategy