Whether you teach English to young children, non-native speakers, or adults, learning vowels can be an interesting and unique challenge. To help your students, first make sure they understand what a vowel is. Also, help them as they learn to pronounce and read different types of vowels, such as short, long, and diphthongs. Games, songs, and other activities can make lessons more exciting and educational.
Part 1 of 3: Explain What Vowels Are
Step 1. Define the difference between vowels and consonants
To begin with, you can say that a vowel is the sound that is produced by blowing air from the mouth without bringing the lips or teeth together. Then, explain that the consonant is the sound made by moving part of the mouth, lips, tongue, or teeth. Use some examples to illustrate the difference.
- For example, ask them to say the letter "e" together. Point out that their mouth, tongue, teeth, and lips are not moving when you do this. Then ask them to pronounce the letter "b". Ask what they have done with their mouths. The answer should be that you have closed it briefly.
- Sometimes students need to try several times or have a few lessons to understand the concept, especially if they are young. Continue explaining and providing different examples.
Step 2. Show them the five vowels of English
Write A, E, I, O, and U on a board or on paper. Explain that these five letters can be combined to make different sounds.
As you show them each vowel, ask them to repeat. In this way, they will learn while they pronounce the letters. Do several repetitions for each vowel and reinforce the lessons over several days
Step 3. Teach students that the letter y can sometimes function as a vowel
The y can be a challenge for students who are just learning vowels, as it sometimes acts as a vowel and sometimes as a consonant, depending on the situation.
- The y is used as a long “i” or “e” at the end of a word. Some examples of this are the following words: "boy", "pay", "fly", "busy", "many" and "my".
- The y works as a consonant when it is at the beginning of words, as in the case of “yacht”, “yellow” and “yes”.
- Although the y as a vowel is usually found at the end of certain words, there are exceptions, as in the case of the words “myth” and “hymn”.
Step 4. Explain diphthongs and vowel digraphs
A vowel digraph occurs when two vowels are written together. When both letters are pronounced, a single sound called a diphthong is created. There are 8 diphthongs in English, but there are 18 digraphs (that is, 18 ways to write them).
- The digraphs are as follows: ai, ay, ee, ea, ie, ei, oo, ou, ow, oe, oo, ue, ey, ay, oy, oi, au, and aw.
- Show each digraph written on a card, along with a picture of a word that includes it. For example, you can put the word "B hey"on a card with a picture of a child. In this way, people who learn visually will understand better.
- Digraphs that end in y or w usually go at the end of words.
- Some words have 2 vowels in a row, but each one is pronounced separately. For example, in the case of the words “chaos” and “violet”. Remind students that these are not diphthongs, as they are not pronounced as one sound.
Step 5. Teach them that all English words have at least one vowel
This is useful for students who are just learning to write or spell. Remind them that they will always need a vowel to write a word.
Part 2 of 3: Pronounce the vowels
Step 1. Tell the students to repeat the pronunciation
Practice one vowel at a time. To start, make the vowel sound. Ask them to repeat after you. Do it 2 or 3 times, or more, until your students have learned the sound. Then you can move on to the next vowel.
- Remember to speak slowly while teaching. This is particularly important when teaching non-native speakers who might have a hard time differentiating between vowels.
- Repeat the exercise over several lessons on different days to reinforce what you have learned.
Step 2. Isolate the vowels of a word
It begins with a simple one-syllable word. Write it down for all to see. Ask the students to say only the vowel, not to pronounce the consonants.
- For example, use the word "cat." Ask them to say the vowel of the word, which would be a short “a”.
- It may take a couple of tries before they can do it on their own. If you notice they are having trouble, help them by saying the word.
- It is important to write and pronounce the word so that students can associate the letter with the sound.
Step 3. Provide examples of short vowels
These usually appear at the beginning of words, although sometimes they are also in the middle. Give your students words that contain short vowels to help them recognize the sound. Here are some examples you can use:
- short: map, pal, cat, dad
- i short: pin, mint, still, fill
- short or: con, lot, dot, hop
- short u: pun, nut, bun, hub
- short e: pen, let, get, send
Step 4. Once they have learned the short vowels, move on to the long vowels
To help them remember the difference, you can point out that the long vowels sound like their name. That is, the long a is pronounced like the letter a, from “lake” or “tape”. Here are some examples you can use:
- long: bake, fake, date, state
- long i: fine, mine, shine
- o long: rope, dote, note
- long u: mute, cute, rude, dune
- long e: me, he, she, theme
Step 5. Mention that the “dumb” e at the end of a word makes the previous vowel long
Students may find it difficult to differentiate between the pronunciation of words like “rat” and “rate”, or “hop” and “hope”. Make sure they understand that the e at the end of a word means that the vowel just before it becomes long.
- Use word pairs such as the following to illustrate: “hat” and “hate”, “cap” and “cape”, “dot” and “dote”, “ball” and “bale”.
- Once students understand the concept, give them some words that do not end with e, such as "tap," "bat," and "far." Then ask them to pronounce them as if they had an e at the end.
Step 6. Present one diphthong at a time
Given the number of diphthongs and digraphs that exist, it is better to teach everything in parts. Group the diphthongs that sound the same together and present them together. Dedicate a different day for each group of diphthongs. Show students examples of the correct use of each.
- For example, you can teach oi and oy in one group. Remind students that oy usually goes at the end of words, while oi usually goes in the middle. Provide examples like "toil" and "toy", or "coin" and "coy" to show the difference between the two digraphs.
- For diphthongs that sound the same, use words and pictures to demonstrate correct usage. For example, help them memorize the difference between "meat" and "meet", or "read" and "reed."
Part 3 of 3: Reinforce the Lesson
Step 1. Practice the vowels with flashcards
Each card should have a word with the vowel highlighted. Ask a student to pronounce the vowel and then read the whole word. If he is having difficulty doing this, ask him to pronounce each letter separately.
- Create your own cards with note cards. Write the words on the index cards and be sure to use simple vowels, as in the words "cat" and "dad," and vowel digraphs, as in the words "neat" and "read."
- Put pictures on the cards to help your students remember the vocabulary.
- You can also get ready-made cards at bookstores or school supply stores.
- Have the students practice in groups with the cards. If you don't have a homogeneous audience, try to bring native and foreign speakers together to help them learn faster.
Step 2. Record the students as they pronounce each vowel
You can use a cell phone, a computer, or a tape recorder. Then let everyone hear how it sounds. If they have difficulties, help them with the correct pronunciation and re-record them.
For non-native speakers, first allow them to listen to a native speaker and then show them their own recording. Ask them to identify the differences between the vowel sounds in both versions
Step 3. For younger students, allow them to play some kind of phonics game on a computer or tablet
These make learning more fun. The program might require them to recognize which vowel is correct or to group similar-sounding ones. Here are some examples of games you can play:
- Phonics Hero
- Phonics Bloom
- Hooked on Phonics
- Reading rockets
Step 4. Provide a table of vowels
The idea is to group the words according to the sound of their vowels. Words with similar vowel sounds are placed together. They are generally simple, with one or two syllables. You can get a ready table on the internet or create one yourself.
Another good idea is to ask students to make one of their own. Give them several words with different vowel sounds. Then ask them to order them according to these sounds
Step 5. Use songs to help non-native speakers with their pronunciation
Songs often force the person to stretch the sound of the vowel when singing. If you are a teacher of an English as a foreign language class, consider that singing can help students to have better pronunciation. Here are some examples of songs you can use:
- Old macdonald
- Row, Row, Row Your Boat
- Where is Short E?
- Apples and Bananas