What is a Vowel Team Syllable?
A vowel team syllable contains two vowels working in tandem to create a single vowel sound. They can also be referred to as vowel digraphs.
Vowel team syllables are usually taught after closed syllables, open syllables, silent e-syllables, and r-controlled syllables. An example would include <oa> as heard in the word “boat”. Another example would be <ee> within words like ‘bee’ and ‘see’.
Can A Team Be More Than Two?
Occasionally, a learner may see a team with consonants as found in diphthong <aw> or trigraph <igh>. It is usually easy for students to recognize the vowel digraphs, but because there are so many variations students often struggle with reading them and spelling with them.
Why are there so many vowel Digraphs?
In English, children learn there are 5 vowels. A, E, I, O, U but there are at least 14 different vowel sounds (phonemes) in English. We also have many words that are homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). They are usually spelled differently to differentiate the meanings.
English also has many different origins and that also affects its spelling. We need the vowel team syllable to help spell in our diverse language. But this diversity is difficult for struggling readers and spellers.
Table of All the Vowel Teams with examples
|Long E/Short E||Examples|
|ee||bee seed eel|
|oi/oy||boil oil boy toy|
|ou||trout soup double four|
What to avoid when teaching Vowel Teams
While the old adage, “when two vowels go out walking, the first one does the talking” may ring true in some cases of vowel teams pronunciation, it is unfortunately applicable to far less than 40% – ‘oi’, ‘au’, and even r-controlled combinations such as ‘our’ cause exceptions that must be kept in mind.
Teaching Vowel Teams to Struggling Readers
As educators, we must take a hands-on approach to teach vowel team syllables by breaking down the phonics and the decoding process so every student can reach their full reading potential. Teaching vowel team words must be done in a systematic progression so these tricky syllable patterns can be mastered.
Help Students Recognize Predictable Teams First
Remember some teams represent more than one sound as you are teaching reading. It is better to introduce these unpredictable vowel team syllables after introducing the teams that only say one phoneme. Teachers should focus on teaching the predictable vowel teams first, such as <oa>, <ee>, <ai>, and <ay>. These four vowel teams are usually the most common and used in many words.
Teach Vowel Team Syllables vs. Another Syllable Type
Teach vowel team syllables with a syllable or word sorts from the six syllable types your student has learned. Your learners may not have necessarily learned all of the syllable types yet. That is okay just use the types they have learned so they can see the differences
Here is a procedure teachers can use:
1. Look at the vowels and consonants. Mark the vowel.
2. Do you see a team?
3. Is this a vowel team syllable? (If yes put up 2 fingers to indicate a team.)
4. Then focus on reading words with these patterns.
Have students practice with one-syllable words and then two syllable words and then multisyllable words.
Practice Reading Predictable Vowel Teams in Decodable Stories
Once students have some knowledge and experience reading words with the predictable vowel team syllable, move on to connected text in decodable stories. Learners should search for vowel digraphs within the passages before reading them. Students often enjoy highlighting the vowel team syllables in different colors. Teachers should also do dictation with orthographic mapping exercises as part of the lessons.
Sort Unpredictable Vowel Teams
There are several unpredictable vowel teams. These teams can say more than one sound (phoneme).
The vowel teams are <ea> <ie> <oo> <ow> <ou> <ew><ue> <ei> <ey>.
There are some generalizations and rules that we can teach students to help them know which sound a vowel team might make in a particular situation. This knowledge helps most in choosing the correct teams for spelling.
Group Vowel Teams Based On Phonemes
Unpredictable Vowel Teams have to be explicitly and carefully taught to students. Teachers should teach these vowel teams and group them based on different ways to represent the vowel sound. Students must develop the ability to flex a sound.
If they don’t have a particular rule to fall back on. It is extremely important for students to orthographically map these words and use them in a variety of situations.
Teach the most frequently occurring predictable vowel teams first and the less frequent teams last.
What is a Diphthong?
Diphthongs are also known as sliders. A diphthong is a team where the diphthong vowel sound slides from one sound to another. The mouth changes position. It starts in one place and then changes its position. The diphthongs are <aw> and<au> <oi> and <oy> <oo> <ew> <ou> and <ow>. If you have students that struggle with these phonemes then have them look in a mirror as they pronounce them. Students learn these sliders more quickly when they can see their mouths.
Teach Rules to Help Narrow the Choices for Spelling
Many long vowel sounds are represented using vowel digraphs. It is important to explain each pattern carefully and teach the rules that govern them to help learners spell and read them accurately.
AI & AY Vowel Teams
Watch the video below for the ai ay spelling rule. You will find it in my second grade spelling bundle with helpful and fun activities!
AI & AY Spelling Rules
The rules that are the easiest for students to learn for spelling are often based on position. Vowel Teams <ai> and <ay> are used based on position in the base word. Vowel Team <ai> can be used initially or at the beginning of a word to represent the long <a> phoneme or in the middle of a base word but never at the end of a base word because English origin words don’t end in the letter <i>. The <vowel team <ay> is only used in the final position is base words.
Diphthongs OI & OY
These Vowel Teams are predictable and can be taught fairly early. They say /oi/ as in ‘boy’ and ‘boil’. For spelling, the vowel team <oi> is never used at the end of a base word. Vowel Team <oy> is also predictable and says /oi/. It is used only in the final position of a base word.
Diphthongs AU and AW
For reading, these digraphs represent the same sound /aw/ as in ‘August’ and ‘saw’. We have 2 spellings but <au> is never used at the end of a word because English words do not end in the letter <u>. <AW> is often used at the end of a base word but can also occur in the middle of a word most often followed by the letters <l> and <n>. (e.g. ‘dawn’ and ‘crawl’) Watch the video below for help with this team. The activities are found in my second grade Orton Gillingham Spelling Packs.
EE, EA, & EY
All of these vowel digraphs say the long vowel <e> phoneme. The teams<ee> and <ey> only say the long <e> phoneme. <EY> is only used in the final position of a base word. <EA> is not as predictable it says three sounds- the long <e> phoneme as in ‘eat’ the short vowel sound<e> sound as in ‘bread’ and the long vowel sound <a> phoneme as in ‘steak’. But thankfully it only says that sound in a few words, (great, break, steak, and in r-controlled words (bear, wear, tear, swear, pear.)
OW OA and OE
Always teach <oa> before <oe> and <ow> as it only says the long <o> phoneme. <OE> also only represents the long <o> phoneme (except in the words shoe and canoe) but is only found in very few words (e.g.doe, foe, hoe, roe, toe, woe, aloe, oboe).
<OW> is semi-predictable for spelling. It is most often found in the final position in words but it says both the long <o> phoneme as in ‘grow’ and ‘show’. It also says the diphthong sound as in ‘cow’ and ‘how’. It is usually best to first teach the long <o> sound with all 3 vowel teams before revealing any variations.
Vowel Team OU
Vowel Team<ou> has 4 phonemes associated with it.
- /ow/ as in trout
2. /oo/ as in soup
3. long <o> as in four (usually found in these r-controlled syllables)
4. /uh/ as in double
The /ow/ and /oo/ sounds are the most common sounds for these vowel teams. The long <o> phoneme and the short <u> phoneme are only found in a limited number of words. So, teachers may want to focus only on the /ow/ sound and /oo/ sound in initial instruction.
It may be helpful to use the keyword picture of trout soup to help students remember these sounds. For Spelling, vowel team <ou> is never used at the end of a base word since English words do not end in the letter <u>.
|OW as /ow/|
Vowel Team OW
We talked about<ow> saying the long <o> phoneme as in snow, but it can also represent /ow/ as in plow. Students will have to be taught to flex this phoneme (try it both ways) and determine by the context of the sentence which pronunciation makes sense.
There is no rule to help in reading this unpredictable vowel team. However, there is a rule for spelling <ow>. It usually occurs in the final position in a base word unless it is followed by an <l>e.g. ‘owl’ ‘bowl’ or an <n> e.g. ‘clown’ or ‘own’.
Vowel Team OO
|oo as in noon||oo as in look|
<OO> is another team that will need to be flexed in unknown words since it also represents two sounds. It says /oo/ as in ‘school’ or ‘moon’ or /o͝o/ as in ‘book’ or ‘cook’. Using the keywords ‘schoolbook’ can be a helpful memory trigger.
Vowel Teams UE and EW
<UE> is a only found in a few words and also says 2 sounds ( long <u> and /oo/) as in ‘blue rescue’. Vowel team <ew>only says the /oo/ phoneme but is a rare spelling.
Vowel Team IE & IGH
<IE> is also fairly rare and represents the long <i> phoneme as in ‘pie’ or the long <e> phoneme and in ‘piece’ Since it is not a commonly used team teachers may want to wait to introduce it to students. The team <igh> says the long <i> sound.
Multisyllable Vowel Team Words
Vowel Teams Must Be Taught Carefully to Struggling Readers
Not all predictable, so it is important to teach vowel team syllables explicitly and with ample practice. We need to give students enough time to orthographically map these tricky sounds and letters. If you need more games, decodable passages, and spelling activities with rules please check out the resources below and in the free resources library.
What are Vowel Teams?
Vowel teams are pairs of letters that represent a single sound. Some vowel teams are predictable, such as the <ee> team, which always says the long <e> sound. Other vowel teams are less predictable and will require students to flex sounds read words with both possible sounds and determine the correct pronunciation based on the context of the sentence. e.g., vowel team <ow> says both the long <o> sound as in ‘grow’ and ‘show’ and the diphthong /ow/ sound as in ‘cow’ and ‘how’.
What is another name for Vowel Teams?
You can also call a vowel team a vowel digraph because most teams are 2 letters that say one sound.
FAQ In what order should you teach vowel teams?
Predictable vowel teams include ee, ai, ay, oa,and oe. These always say the same sound regardless of the word. It is for this reason teachers may want to introduce these teams first.
FAQ: What are all the Vowel Teams?
List of all the vowel teams
Long A: ai/ay, eigh, ey, ea
Long E: ee, ea, ei, ey, ie
Long U: ew, ue, eu
Long I: ie, igh
Long O: oa, oe, ow
Diphthongs: oi/oy, ou, ow, au/aw, oo
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