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  • Writer's pictureLiza Raino-Ogden

A Note on Phonics

Okay, I know that there are many parents out there who are feeling a little overwhelmed with the idea of helping their child with phonics. Or rather, parents who feel overwhelmed when they realize that what they just innately know is not innate to their child. I discovered recently that, even if you know how to swim, it is incredibly difficult to teach another person unless you have been properly trained yourself. Just saying, "Okay, now kick!" will get you nowhere because your trainee won't even know how to kick. Plus, one of the biggest problems I've seen with the parent/school connection is that often there is not consistency between one place and the other, as again, English has a very deep orthography that means lots of our letters have multiple sounds. Which means that a struggling reader might get exceptionally confused when her teacher tells her "ow" says /ow/ like "cow" and her father tells her "ow" says /oa/ like "snow."

Therefore, here is a definitive list of the sounds that each of the letters or letter combinations make that parents and guardians should teach their children having a hard time learning to read. I know that it is true that each letter can make more than one sound, but especially when your child is struggling it is important to cut down on the myriad of sounds that an "A" can make. I say words like "snow" don't play fair and then put it in a sight word box. It's better to focus on decoding "wow," "cow," or "plow" first.

Short Vowels

a = /a/ as is cat

e = /e/ as in pet

If your child is really struggling with this difference, as can happen with students with low phonemic awareness abilities, try finding two word that will be of interest to them to say out loud before voicing the sounds, like "apple" and "egg" or "Anna" and "Elsa." This can often take lots of practice.

i = /i/ as in pit

o = /o/ as in pot

u = /uh/ as in luck

oo = /oo/ as in boo


I say that this magic E is going to jump over one letter and bop the other vowel on the head, making him say his name. You can choose between the moniker "magic E" or "bully E" depending on your child's preference.


When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking. This applies to:

ai = /ae/ as in rain

ay = /ae/ as in play

ea = /ee/ as in team

oa = /oe/ as in boat

This is different than finale e because these letters will always be directly next to one another, while final e words have a consonant separating the vowels (except words with double e, like feet).


These are generally some of the hardest vowels for children to master, as they are the ones that have many different sounds. However, for initial learning purposes, it is often easiest, especially with children who are struggling, to assign just one sound to each combination. This helps to give kids a system for decoding that is easy to fall back on.

ow AND ou = /ow/ as in cow or out

aw AND au = /aw/ as in paw or

oi AND oy = /oy/ as in coin or toy


These are often overlooked, mostly because yes, I know--'R' is not a vowel. However, together with a vowel, the 'R' makes a crazy sound.

ir, er, and ur = /er/ as in dirt, nerd, hurt

ar = /ar/ as in fart (I call this pirate vowel, because pirates say... ARRRRR)

or - /or/ as in... or (or for, but you get it)

Again, please reach out with questions! I am always available to respond to even the smallest of queries. Email me at



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