Continuing with my syllable series, learn what a vowel team syllable is and how to teach it using multisensory methods.
What is a vowel team syllable?
A vowel team syllable, also known as a vowel digraph or diphthong syllable, is a syllable with two vowels working together to make one sound.
It’s important to notice whether a vowel combination is reversed such as io in lion. In this case, you split the syllable between the i and o as this is not a vowel team.
Vowel Digraphs and Vowel Diphthongs
A digraph is when two letters spell one sound, and diphthongs are a special kind of vowel sound. So all vowel teams are digraphs but some are also diphthongs.
Vowel diphthongs are known as sliding sounds. These include oi/ow like in oil/boy and ow/ou like in cow/loud. They still make one sound but it’s not as clear or familiar, as the sound slides from the first vowel into the second. If you look in the mirror as you make a diphthong sound, you’ll notice the shape of your mouth changes.
Here are all the different types of vowel digraphs:
- Long A Vowel Teams: ai, ay, ea, eigh, ey
- Long E Vowel Teams: ee, ea, ey, ei, ie
- Long I Vowel Teams: ie, igh
- Long O Vowel Teams: oa, oe
- Long U Vowel Teams: ew, ue, eu
- Diphthong Vowel Teams: oi, oy, ou, ow, au, aw, oo
Unpredictable Vowel Teams
It’s also important to note that some vowel teams almost always make the same sound, but some make different sounds. For example, ai almost always makes the long a sound, but ea can make the long e, short e, or long a sound. These are known as unpredictable vowel teams.
Unpredictable vowel teams often follow spelling generalizations so these must be taught explicitly!
Vowel Team Words
You’ll see vowel teams and diphthongs in one syllable and multisyllabic words.
Many one syllable words include vowel teams so students don’t need to know how to do syllable division to start learning about this.
Here are some common vowel team words you can use to introduce the vowel team syllable:
You can download my long vowel word lists which include vowel team words for each long vowel sound for free by signing up below.
When should you teach the vowel team syllable?
Teaching Vowel Team Syllables
As always, ensure you have students marking vowels and consonants when learning about syllables. This helps them see the syllable patterns so they can begin to break down words on their own.
Teach students the two vowels in a vowel team work together so they can’t be split up. The 2 vowels act like 1 vowel.
For vowel teams, I don’t have my students mark if it’s a long or short sound (with the breve or macron symbols), since you can’t do either with diphthongs. So I simply have them write a v below each vowel and draw a little scoop underneath that connects them to visualize that the 2 vowels make 1 sound.
Tips for teaching vowel teams:
Teach one vowel team at a time. This is especially important for struggling readers. I would focus on one pattern for at least 2 or 3 days until students can recognize them easily without prompting. Some students will need a week or longer.
Start with one syllable words then move on to multisyllabic words.
Use lots of visuals like color coding (same color for both vowels in a vowel team), letter tiles, phonogram cards, and posters like the one below.
Use etymology, teach homophones, and teach spelling generalizations to explain the different spelling patterns and rules.
For example, English words do not end in ‘u’ or ‘i’, which explains why some spelling patterns for vowel teams appear in the middle or end of the word.
Some kids get discouraged and confused because some patterns make more than one sound. Be sure to include some content to explain why this is the case so they don’t think “English is hard and doesn’t make sense and has all these exceptions!“
If they can understand why ea makes different sounds depending on the word, that will help them feel more confident in reading and spelling.
Teach vowel diphthongs last, and use mirrors so students can see how their mouth position changes. Focus on the most common vowel teams first like ea, ai, and ee. Diphthongs are a little trickier so save those for last. Using a mirror helps students correctly pronounce the sounds and notice slight differences.
In vowel teams, y and w act as vowels and not consonants. This is why when I introduce vowels I always say sometimes y and w act as vowels too.
I also avoid using that catchy little phrase “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking” because it is not always true.
You can download the Vowel Team Syllable Poster (along with the other 5 syllable types) for free in my freebies library.
Vowel Team Syllable Activities
This bundle below includes all my activities for long vowels, which includes vowel teams for each long vowel sound. Learn more about it here.
One of the first activities I do when teaching a vowel digraph is to isolate that pattern in words with color coding. Provide students with a list of words with vowel teams and use a highlighter to trace the vowel team within the word. From there you can use a short decodable passage and ask them to read and trace all the vowel team syllables they can find.
Some other multisensory writing ideas include air writing, tracing, and sand trays.
Have students use blocks to segment the sounds in words with vowel teams. Say or show the word and have students place a block in each box to represent each sound/phoneme. This helps them visualize vowel teams as one sound even though they contain 2 or more letters.
Students can also tap out the phonemes in a word as they spell it aloud.
Pictured below is my Winter Themed Word Mapping Mats that incorporate sound boxes, segmenting, blending, and writing all on one page.
Do Simultaneous Oral Spelling drills
Use SOS, a multisensory spelling strategy, to practice spelling words with vowel teams. Only use words with the vowel teams students already learned.
Review often by asking students how to spell vowel team sounds
For example, ask students “What says /ee/?” They should write/say all the different ways to spell the long e sound (only the ones they already learned) such as ee, ea, e_e, ei, ie, and ey. I would review this daily until they have learned them all. It only takes a few minutes and can be done orally with the whole class to save time.
Break apart multisyllable words
This would be one of the last activities I do with students once they are pretty strong with the vowel team. I like to write multisyllabic words with vowel teams on flashcards then have students follow the marking and splitting procedures (mark vowels, draw the scoop, split the word, cut along the split). You can do this with worksheets too.
Don’t forget to make it multisensory!
Remember that for struggling readers the multisensory aspect is critical. Regardless of the activity, incorporate at least 3 senses. If students are tracing, make sure they’re also vocalizing the sound. If students are blending using cards, again they can vocalize the sounds as they blend. You want them to see it, hear it, and write/touch it every time.
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