How To Teach The Long A Sound

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Long a is another tricky sound to teach because it has many different ways to spell it. This one only has two spelling generalizations so many will depend on memory and practice. I’m going to break down each of the eight ways to spell the long a sound to help you understand and teach long a to your students.

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long a words list

Eight Ways To Spell Long A

The long a sound can be represented by 8 different spelling patterns:

  1. a – baby
  2. a_e – cake
  3. ai – rain
  4. ay – play
  5. ei – reindeer
  6. eigh – weight
  7. ea – steak
  8. ey – they

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 A

A alone

At the end of an open syllable, a makes the long a sound (says its name). Some examples include able, apron, maple, and lady. Students must understand how to split words into syllables and know what open syllables are.

A_E Spelling Pattern

The a silent e spelling pattern is the most common one you’ll find in the middle of a base word. Examples include cake, safe, and behave. Of course, students should be confident with the magic e syllable.

AI Vowel Team

AI sometimes spells the long a sound in the beginning or middle of a base word. You will notice that most of these words end with the letter n, but this is just an observation you can share with students, not a rule!

AY Vowel Team

Ay usually spells the long a sound at the end of a base word. Examples include may and tray.

EY Vowel Team

There are only 10 commonly known words spelled with the ey phonogram at the end of the word: they, hey, grey, prey, obey, convey, purvey, survey, whey, and abeyance. You can teach these as a group. Most other words that say long a at the end of the word are spelled with ay.

EI Vowel Team

The EI spelling pattern for long a is not very common. There is no rule for this spelling pattern. Examples include rein, beige, and heir.


EIGH can spell the long a sound at the end of a word. This is another uncommon option. Examples include eight and weigh. Teach these as a group.


This is by far the least common way to spell the long a sound. I would also teach these words in a group: steak, great, break. Then you have the EA+R words like bear, tear, wear, pear, and swear.

long a spelling generalizations

Tips For Teaching The Long A Sound

When you start teaching long a, you really have to focus on spelling generalizations, homophones, and homographs. 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.

Teach the process for deciding on the spelling pattern.

Once students are familiar with all the options for spelling long a and they know open syllables and the silent e syllable, you can teach them the process for determining the spelling pattern a word has.

When students come across a word with long a and they need to figure out which spelling pattern to choose, here are the questions they can ask:

  1. Is there more than one syllable?
  2. Is there a base word?
  3. Where is the long a sound in the word?
  4. Could this be one of those rare spelling options?

Students should first break the word into its syllables, and go through the questions.

This will take some practice so try going through a set of words with your students a few times, then have them do some more on their own. This is the same process they will use with other long vowel sounds so it’s a great skill for them to have.

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.

Long A 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 a lesson, or use my long a word list to do the same activity using sound boxes. See below for an example.

long a activity using sound boxes and phoneme grapheme mapping

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.

long a words spelling activity

Dictation – This is another fantastic activity but I would do this after you have spent some time on long a because it is harder for 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.

long a words sorting

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.

color coding vowel teams for long a

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:

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