1. Introduce the Second Vowel Sounds.

2. Discuss the strategy of testing the vowel sound systematically when reading an unfamiliar multisyllable word.

3. Practice the strategy of testing the vowel sound.

4. Introduce the Third and Fourth Vowel Sounds.

Pre-Class Preparation

1. Write the Main Rule on the board.

2. Write the letters a, e, i, o and u on the board

3. Select the words you wish to use for this lesson from the word list farther down this page, or from this PDF of the list:

Class time elapsed: 0 minutes

In-Class Procedures

1. Ask the class to recite the First Vowel Sounds as you point to them on the board in random order.

2. Ask the class if they know what the Second Vowel Sound of each letter is. (Answer: the letter names, /ae/, /ee/, /ie/, /oe/ and /ue/.

3. Ask the class to recite the Second Vowel Sounds as you point to the letters on the board in random order. (This should be trivial.)

4. Ask the class to respond with the correct choice when you point to a random letter while you say either “First” or “Second.”

Time elapsed: 4 minutes

5. Write the word taper on the board. Ask one of the weaker readers to read the word.


The reason for picking out the weaker readers for these examples is not to embarrass them, but to attempt to get someone to illustrate the steps in the process. A student who knows the word taper on sight is not the best choice here, but you will need to judge whether or not a particular student will be too embarrassed by failure when you decide whom to call upon for the examples in this lesson.

The ideal situation: Student says tapper. Tell the student that the word could be tapper, but that tapper is spelled with two p’s, so it’s not tapper, but that so far he’s done everything correctly by trying the First Vowel Sound for the letter a when faced with an unfamiliar word. Then point to the letter a and ask the same student what the Second Vowel Sound is. Get just the response /ae/ if possible, without the student jumping to the whole word. Ask the student to say the first chunk using the /ae/ sound and then to read the word. Make corrections as necessary until the student says taper correctly.

Alternative Presentation: Ask any student to pretend that the word on the board (taper) is an unfamiliar word, and how it would be pronounced using the Main Rule. When they say tapper, point out that it could be, but that we spell tapper with two p's, and ask the same student how the word would be pronounced if the first chunk used the Second Vowel Sound for the letter a. After the student says taper, make the point that when faced with an unfamiliar word, you just progressively test the vowel sounds in that manner. Add that, to do so, it's important to know the potential options for each spelling.

Time elapsed: 7 minutes

6. Write the word minus on the board. Again, ask one of the weaker readers to read it.

The ideal situation: Student says minus with an /i/ sound in the first chunk and doesn't recognize a word.

Write mi nus on the board, with a space between the chunks and tell the student that so far he's done everything correctly. He's used the First Vowel Sound in both chunks, and blended the two chunks together to see if it's a word he recognizes. Equally important, he didn't jump to an incorrect guess. As with taper, prompt the student for the Second Vowel Sound and see if he then gets the correct word.

Note: Common behaviors exhibited by weaker readers who don't recognize the word minus are to either guess minutes immediately (putting a /t/ sound in it) or to change the vowel sound and say menace. Some will go with minutes first and when told there's no /t/ sound in the word, will then jump to menace. Make corrections as necessary to get him back on track so that he eventually tries the Second Vowel Sound.

Alternative Presentation: Treat minus exactly the same as taper above. You won't get the guessing you might get from a weak reader, but you will still be making the point that you try the various vowel options in order.

Time elapsed: 9 minutes

7. Write words from the list below (or from the PDF) on the board and call on students to read them. If they don’t know the word immediately, they are to apply the Main Rule first and see if they recognize a word. Only then are they to test the Second Vowel Sound. (The words on the list were chosen specifically because changing the vowel sound in the first syllable to the Second Vowel Sound will generate the correct pronunciation.)

8. As you go through the list of words, trying Second Vowel Sounds after First Vowel Sounds, discuss the Third Vowel Sound and the Fourth Vowel Sound for the single vowel letters as follows: the letter a can also be /o/ as in want; the letter e has only two sounds; the letter i can also be /ee/ as in ski; the letter o can be /oo/ as in do; the letter u can be both /oo/ as in truth and /oul/ as in push.

2-Syllable Words

amen (a men)
bacon (ba con)
basic (ba sic)
basis (ba sis)
saber (sa ber)
sacred (sa cred)
tasted (ta sted)
raven (ra ven)
hatred (ha tred)
crisis (cri sis)
sinus (si nus)
client (cli ent)
diet (di et)
item (i tem)
pilot (pi lot)
silent (si lent)
riot (ri ot)
tripod (tri pod)
modem (mo dem)
open (o pen)
broken (bro ken)
program (pro gram)
bogus (bo gus)
bonus (bo nus)
crocus (cro cus)
spoken (spo ken)
hotel (ho tel)
locust (lo cust)
omit (o mit)
poet (po et)
protect (pro tect)
robot (ro bot)
frozen (fro zen)
siphon (si phon)
humid (hu mid)
cubic (cu bic)
unit (u nit)

3-Syllable Words

violent (vi o lent)
violin (vi o lin)
violence (vi o lence)
coconut (co co nut)
prohibit (pro hi bit)
photograph (pho to graph)

Time elapsed: 15 minutes


Your students should be beginning to realize that it is useful to know the First Vowel Sounds using this approach, and they should be starting to commit them to memory intentionally by now.

Regarding corrections, students will sometimes seem to be approaching a correct result and then will revert back to an original guess even after they have correctly stated both chunks in the word. For example, a student might say m/i/-nus…minutes! at first, and after correcting will arrive at m/ie/-nus, but when blending the two chunks together, the /t/ sound resurfaces and he says minutes again. This is quite normal behavior for struggling readers and is probably because their main strategy up to now has been “reaching for a guess.” Once the guess is established, it’s hard to shake. Use judgment as to how frustrated a particular student is becoming if he fails, after two or three efforts, to shake the guess, and simply tell him the answer. Then, tell him that it’s the guessing habit that is getting in the way and explain that it’s very difficult to overcome, but that it can be done as he gets better at applying the Main Rule and then testing for a different vowel sound option.

Your goal is always to get the Main Rule properly applied, and then to ask the student “What else can this be?” while indicating the vowel letter that needs to be tested for its Second Vowel Sound.

Students, meanwhile, need to progress by dumping the guessing habit in favor of a strategy that works. To do that, they need to learn to trust themselves to apply the Main Rule and then judge whether the “word” they’re coming up with is a word at all, and if it is not, to test the vowel sounds by trying another viable option which, up to now, is just the Second Vowel Sound.