Teaching the R controlled vowel syllable to students who have dyslexia can present unique challenges when it comes to learning. Teaching children with dyslexia may struggle to retain and produce the correct sounds of these vowel combinations. However, you can use a few techniques in your Orton Gillingham structured literacy lesson to help your students learn the R Controlled Vowels.
What is an R controlled Vowel Syllable?
The R controlled vowel syllable is a phonetic phenomenon where an ‘r’ follows the vowel, transforming it into a unique and distinct sound. This deviation from closed syllable vowels enchantingly called “a Bossy R” or “A Growling R”, can be found in words like bar, fur and stir. They can be difficult for struggling readers to master.
Unique Challenges to Teaching the R Controlled Vowel Syllable to Students with Dyslexia
Students with dyslexia often have difficulty with phonological awareness and memory – that is, the ability to recognize, remember and manipulate the sounds of language. Some of these dyslexic students also strugggle with saying certain speech sounds like the sound of the letter <r>. As a result, these students may struggle to retain and produce accurate pronunciation of R-controlled vowels.
When dyslexic students pronounce the <r> or an r controlled vowel syllable incorrectly then it can transfer over to reading and spelling words incorrectly because the sounds and symbols are not orthographically mapped correctly.R controlled Vowels are
When to seek help for students who struggle with the <r> sound.
For the majority of English-speaking children, the <r> sound is one of the last sounds they learn to say and it typically takes between 6-7 years to master.
Parents whose children are not yet able to make the /r/ sound correctly by this age may want to work with a speech therapist.
How to Plan Orton Gillingham Lessons with the R Controlled Vowel Syllable
By introducing R-controlled AR words or OR words, first, students can benefit from the ease of representing these one-sound graphemes with consistent spelling. There’s only one way to represent these sounds. This allows children to easily recognize and spell these unique letter combinations before tackling the more challenging /ER/ sound.
Use Key Words to Help Students Connect to the Graphemes
It often helps students who say the <r> sound in a distorted way to have a concrete keyword on phonogram cards to connect to. This helps to avoid some confusion.
If Possible Let Students Choose Their Own Keywords
This was helpful for one of my students who tends to say the /r/ sound like a /w/. He loves NASCAR so he drew a picture that emphasized the <ar> and it helped him. He also consistently spells “for” correctly so he connects <or> with that word. If you are working with a class this might not be possible. You may use premade phonogram cards, but make sure your students can connect with the keyword chosen.
Make Sure There is a Vowel to Boss Around
If you teach reading to students with dyslexia, It can be difficult when children find themselves having difficulty distinguishing the letter <R> from the grapheme /ar/. To help learners differentiate between them, make use of explicit phonics instruction to show that while the letter “r” does produce an /ar/ when spoken aloud, its actual sound most often has more to do with a dog’s growl – sounding like “/rr/” for words such as rim or run.
Every Syllable Must have a Vowel
Additionally, remind students that whenever they hear the sound /ar/ <r> needs a vowel to boss around and will not be written on it own. Remember r controlled vowels in a syllable must have a vowel.
Do Lots of Orthographic Mapping to Make the Connections in the Brain
Of course, reading and sorting R controlled Vowel Syllable words is great but do not underestimate the power of segmenting and writing these words using an Orthographic Mapping Template. Using See it, Say it , Hear it all at the same time. If your student is struggling with saying the target word correctly just make sure you are providing a good oral model for your student or students as they say it.
Use Phonemic Awareness Games with Orthographic Mapping
Challenge your students to contrast syllable types –closed syllables to r controlled syllables. Have them orthographically map the closed syllable ‘pat’ then switch out the short vowels like ‘a’ for an ‘ar,’ resulting in a new r-controlled syllable of ‘part.’ Move on to other words like ‘ham,’ swapping it to become ‘harm’.
Marking Syllables as shown can be a helpful way to teach the r controlled vowel syllable. As they practice this process, they’ll gain proficiency with challenging pronunciations as well as uncover new syllable patterns!
Do Word Chaining to Increase Phonemic Awareness
Use Phoneme Manipulation –Word Chains with phonemes e.g. bar–>car–>card–>hard–>hark–> mark–>park–>pork–>fork. It can be done just orally or with an orthographic mapping template. Repeated practice with chains like this can create proficiency with the r controlled vowel syllable.
Use Decodable Readers
For my students, the best part of the Orton Gillingham lesson is when we get out our decodable readers and highlight the letters and words for our new concept. Then we may sort those words before they decode the passage. As children read these passages their comprehension and fluency grow.
Teaching <er>, <ir>, <ur>
The distinct spellings of /er/, /ur/, and /ir/ can be a tricky part of the lessons. All these graphemes have only one sound but three different spellings. Students have a difficult time because they think these 3 graphemes must have more than one sound. It’s important to remember that with words with r-controlled syllables there is a frequency in which the graphemes are used.
- <er> is predominant and is the most common spelling for the sound /er/. (40%),
- while second place goes to <ur> (26%)
- thirdly, the least frequent of them all – <ir> at 13%.
Teach your students this strategy if they can’t recall a specific spelling with these graphemes in an unknown word right away. Having familiarity with these frequencies will aid in selecting an educated guess!
Focus on <er> after <ar> and <or>
Help your students recognize and recall the phoneme /er/ by highlighting its most frequent representation, ‘er’. Use fun activities to teach this vowel-r combination in one-syllable words.
Explain how the ‘er’ spelling often acts as a vowel suffix – a unit of meaning – when added to word endings like comparative adjectives (older or taller) or nouns that indicate a person who does something like (teacher or farmer).
This is the reason <er> is the most frequent grapheme to represent the /er/ sound. Other suffixes such as -or are used to represent this sound in words with Latin origins like (actor, and inventor). However, the suffix -er is the most common so this will help students with their spelling choices.
Reading and Spelling with <ur> and <ir>
Once students develop proficiency with the concept that /er/ is represented by <er>, <ur>, and <ir> they can often read words that contain them fluently. However, spelling these sounds can be difficult without increased intensity and frequency in instruction.
Using Mnemonics Can Help with These Confusing Spellings
Since there are no specific rules to determine when you should use ‘er ‘ur’ or ‘ir’ for a syllable, plenty of practice with different words is key. Mnemonics also help students commit certain words to memory.
Have Students Draw Pictures to Help with Tricky Spelling
I will often ask students to think of a picture to remember common <ir> spellings like “dirt” or first. One of my students made a flower coming out of the dirt and then drew an <i> on the stem of the flower.
Another student drew a picture of himself winning a race with a shirt with <ir> circled on the front. He wrote “I win.” on his picture and said it would help him remember both the word ‘first’ and ‘shirt.’ It is often more helpful to have dyslexic children come up with their own mnemonics when possible.
‘ar’ as /er/
Later, as your Orton Gillingham lessons continue with r-controlled vowels continues you may teach <ar> in multisyllabic words. Teach words like “dollar”, “vulgar” and “polar” and the <ar> is in an unaccented syllable so it says the /er/ sound. The Words ending in ’ar’ are surefire indicators that it makes a sound of /er/. They are usually adjectives – just remember, understanding the meaning is vital for spelling accuracy when using this technique.
When /ir/ is replaced by a schwa
In some dialects of the English language, the /er/ sound may seem more like the schwa sound /uh/. If that is the case for your students, the teacher may want encourage your students to overemphasize the r-controlled vowel sound when spelling it.
The Double R Exception
With older students, I teach the double R exception which states that if a word has a double r next to a vowel they stop trying to control the vowel and control each other instead so the vowel then takes its short sound again. You will find this in words such as ‘marry’ and ‘chFerry’.
Three Letter representations such as ‘oor’ and ‘ear’
As students become more comfortable with R controlled vowel sounds, they can move on to the less frequent trigraph representations for /er/ and /or/. It’s important to point out that <oor> is found in words like ‘door’, ‘poor’ and ‘floor’, while <ear> appears in words such as ‘learn’ or ‘earth.
All Students Can Be Successful with the R controlled Syllable
With systematic explicit Orton Gillingham Lessons all students can be successful with the R controlled syllable in reading and spelling. Please check out my Orton Gillingham Decodeable Lessons for lots of great practice and games for your students!