Today in our new Spelling Rule series, we’re going to help demystify Y as a vowel. Before I understood Orton Gillingham Spelling rules for teaching spelling and reading, the ‘when’ and ‘where’ of using this tricky letter as a vowel was unknown territory. But after some deep training dives – voila! It all became much clearer. So let’s break down this marshmallow-shaped mystery together; it’ll be fun (and educational)!
When is Y a Vowel?
If you want to teach Y as a Vowel, you need to know when it is a consonant. It is typically a consonant sound when it is the first letter in the word. However, according to research, it’s more likely for ‘Y’ to act as a vowel than a consonant.
2 Borrowed Vowel Sounds
The two most common sounds borrowed by the letter ‘Y’ are the long I sound and the long E sound and here comes even better news: these lendings are quite predictable! In general, ‘Y’ takes on its long I form when appearing at the end of a single-syllable word like ‘cry’. In a two-syllable example word like ‘baby’ ‘Y’ says the long E. sound. So sometimes we call this the “Cry Baby” Rule. This fun name helps students remember the rule.
The following words illustrate Y as a Vowel Rule include:
Try my by cry pry
baby bunny funny candy city
Y is usually a consonant sound at the start of words, but it can occasionally have an unexpected twist in some! The letter Y may give you a surprise when starting two-syllable words – like canyon and beyond. Even lawyers rely on this oddity for their names!
Though it’s not the norm, sometimes a two-syllable word can end with an unexpected long I sound!
A few multi-syllable words that have Y as an I
deny reply rely defy July
identify mutiply magnify supply imply
English Words Typically Don’t End in the Letter I
It can be tricky to understand, but some one-syllable words featuring the long I sound are spelled with an “i” -hi. But these are rare because in English <i>’s typically don’t come at the end of a word.
Words from Foreign Languages Are the Exception
The exception is when they are shortened words (e.g. “hi”) or instances from another language like the <i> in spaghetti which comes from Italian. Later on, students will learn other vowel teams that make a similar-sounding word (like ey or ie). Don’t worry though! By then your learners should have picked up y as being a common ‘long i’ indicator in spelling…even if it’s not always used every time!
When a One Syllable Word Ends in the Long E sound it is typically spelled with the vowel team double E.
When it comes to syllables, y as a vowel can be tricky! Y can occasionally throws us a curveball by adding an “I” at the end of two-syllable words. But don’t worry – for one-syllable words, you won’t find that same ending sound appearing as “e”. That’s usually spelled with either an e or double e e.g. me and tree)!When the Letter Y is saying a vowel sound like the long i or long e sound it is at the end of an open syllable.
Teach the Concept of Y as a Vowel by Breaking it Down
Helping students understand the long e sound spelled with y is critical to their reading and spelling advancement. Breaking down this instruction can feel overwhelming at first but breaking it into parts makes understanding and internalizing much easier and less confusing.
Practice with Open Syllables
Start by having students learn open syllables such as “my” and “by”. Then practice sounding out 4-5 sounds until they are comfortable segmenting words accurately.
Sort with One Syllable Vs. Multi-Syllables
Then focus on how to segment into syllables. Then you can do a sort with 1-syllable words vs. multi-syllable words. Make it a multisensory activity by building with letter tiles or writing while spelling out loud.
Start with words that don’t have Y as a suffix
Learning the long e sound using ‘y’ as a vowel can be tricky for students – give them some extra practice to ensure they get it right! Always start with examples that don’t use y as a suffix (e.g. city), so kids feel confident when mastering this spelling.
Vowel Teams can also represent the long E sound at the end of words. Think key, chimney, and turkey! However, these are rare spellings that should be taught after mastering the Cry Baby Rule. It’ll keep young minds sharp and make learning phonics fun for everyone!https:
4 Key Questions to ask when spelling with Y as a Vowel Word
Spelling a Y as a vowel word with a doesn’t have to be overwhelming for your students! Have them break it down by asking themselves 4 questions.
- What’s the base word?
- How many syllables does it have?
- Is there a long E or I sound in this word?
- Where is the vowel sound located?
Using these questions will help your student’s writing to be more accurate.
Tips and Activities for Teaching Y as a Vowel
- Expand early literacy and phonemic awareness skills with a sorting activity! This is fantastic for small group instruction time. Kids can have delightful fun as they sort words by sound or pictures based on the vowel’s position. Have the separate the pictures based on single and multi syllable words and then write them or build them with letter tiles. Help to encourage language development in an exciting way.
- Get the party started with something familiar! Give your students a headstart by reviewing their collection of sight words with open syllables like “my”, as well as any nicknames or pet names they may have. Who doesn’t love talking about Fluffy and learning how to spell it correctly?
- Get the most out of your blending drills by having students practice both their E and I sounds. It’s an extra fun way to make sure everyone is on track!
- Review, Review, Review – Make sure to keep the y vowel card in your regular rotation of drills. There’s a tendency for students to be comfortable writing automatically with patterns like ‘my’ or ‘by’, but they may struggle when challenged by less familiar words such as ‘try’ or ‘cry’- so it’s important not to underestimate the power that mastering spelling rules can have!
- Give your students an entertaining challenge with a decodable story! Have them scour the text for words that contain the Y vowel sound, then watch their writing skills soar as they practice dictation and sentence building using those newly-discovered words.
Help your students take their spelling to the next level with spelling with Y correctly. It’s an easy mistake for young writers and can be tough to unlearn if not corrected early.
With this teaching, they’ll understand that when they hear /E/ at the end of a multi-syllable word they will usually spell that sound with a <Y>, and when they hear /I/ at the end of a one-syllable word they will usually spell that sound with a <Y> – resulting in better accuracy when writing.
Q: When does Y act as a consonant?
A: Y acts as a consonant when it is the first letter of the word (e.g. yes).
Q: When does Y act as a vowel?
A: Y acts as a vowel when it is at the end of a word. In one-syllable words, it usually represents the /i/ sound (e.g. try). In multi-syllable words, it usually represents the /ē/ sound (e.g. baby).
Q: How can I help my students with reading and spelling with Y as a vowel?
A: There are several activities and resources you can use to help your students master this concept. Introduce the Cry Baby Rule as an easy way for them to remember that when they hear /long I sound/ at the end of a one-syllable word, they should spell it with a <Y> and in a multi syllable word the <Y> will typically say the Long E sound.
Then, practice sorting words with small group instruction and expand early literacy skills with a sorting activity to reinforce the sounds. Practice blending drills and use decodable stories with Y as a vowel as a focus as an authentic way to challenge your students.