How To Teach The Long O Sound

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Long O can be a tricky sound to teach because there are a few different ways to spell it. But I’m breaking down how you can easily teach this sound and all its spelling patterns.

Plus, I got you covered with my free Long O Words List. You can download the list pictured by signing up below. If you don’t see the signup form, click here.

long o words list pdf download

Five Ways To Spell Long O

The long o sound can be represented by 5 different spelling patterns:

  1. o – go
  2. o_e – phone
  3. oe – toe
  4. oa – boat
  5. ow – snow
4 ways to make a long vowel sound

Spelling Generalizations For Long O

O_E spelling pattern

The o silent e spelling pattern is the most common way to spell the long o sound so I would start here. Of course, students should be confident with the magic e syllable. These words are one syllable. Some examples of long o words with silent e are phone and joke.

Just O

In open syllables, the long o sound is represented by just the letter o by itself. They can be one syllable words but more often they are 2 syllables or more. Examples include go, total, and tomato. It often appears at the end of both short and long words.

Students must understand open and closed syllables to be able to apply this.

OA Vowel Team

The oa spelling of long o usually appears at the beginning or middle of a one syllable word. Examples include: oat, boat, and toast.

OW Vowel Team

The ow spelling of long o usually appears at the end of a one or less commonly two syllable word. Examples include: snow, tow, and window.

An exception to this is when the irregular past tense is formed with an n such as: grown and blown. The original word does follow the rule, we simply add the n to make it past tense.

OE Vowel Team

The oe spelling of long o usually appears at the end of a word. Examples include: foe and toe. This is the least common and can appear in compound words in the base word. I would teach these in a group since there are so few words and remind students that these are rare and are short one syllable words.

long o worksheets

Tips For Teaching The Long O Sound

When you start teaching long o, 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.

long o spelling generalizations

Teach the process for deciding on the spelling pattern.

Once students are familiar with all the options for spelling long o 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 o 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 o sound in the word?
  4. Could this be one of those rare oe words?

Break the word into its syllables, and go through the questions.

From there, they can go through the most common options first. So that would be the o_e or just o, then the vowel teams.

If it’s a one syllable word, they need to choose between o_e, a vowel team, or the less common option of just o. Figure out where the long o sound is. If it’s at the beginning, try oa. If it’s at the end, try ow.

If it’s more than one syllable, check if it’s an open o, which in that case would be spelled as just o.

If there is a base word, focus on that part of the word.

This will take some practice so try using the checklist below (it’s available in my freebies library) to go 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 o spelling checklist

Long O Activities & Lesson Ideas

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 flashcards and keep them in a baggie or box for reference. See an example below.

rose rows homophones picture card

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.

I include 3 different sorting activities for the long o sound in my Long O Worksheets & Activities set.

long o word sort
word sort for 2 long o spellings

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

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 o spelling strategy

Dictation – This is another fantastic activity but I would do this after you have spent some time on long o 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.

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 my Long O Word Work along with several other games and activities.

long o words digital game
long o words game

Constant Review – Remember to keep these spelling patterns in constant review after they are learned, so they are not forgotten. Using a sound wall is a great way to do this without it taking any extra time.

long o word work

*I offer a free sample of these digital long o activities in my freebies library.

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long o sound spelling generalizations pin image

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