One of the hardest things about reading and spelling in English is learning how to decide if a vowel is a short vowel or a long vowel. The best way to do this is to learn the common long vowel patterns. Although these patterns oftentimes have annoying exceptions, they are still the best way to teach your child how to read in English.
Today, we are going to start with the Long A vowel and its patterns. I would recommend that you start your teaching with the “Magic E“, as this is the easiest and most important long vowel pattern. With practice, this pattern will become easier to recognize for your child, and you can begin to teach them more difficult patterns like “ai,” “ay,” “ei,” and open syllable Long A’s. It may take a while for you and your child to work through this list, but when you are done, you can move on to the Long Vowel E phonics lesson. Don’t forget to read as much as you can with your child during this process, so that they can practice the new things they are learning while reviewing the lessons that they already know.
Please do not forget that vowels have two sounds, the short vowel sound and the long vowel sound. If you would like to review the short vowel sounds, we have a post here that you can take a look at. Please make sure that your child understands the short vowels before moving on to the long vowel rules.
When you are all done with Long A, keep on learning with our lesson on Long E.
If you need any more phonics help, check out our Vowels Home Page for lessons, flashcards, and articles.
How to Pronounce the Long A
It is not often we get to say this, but the pronunciation of long vowels are generally very easy. Most children do not have problems with them like they might with the short vowels, because they already know how to say them. Long vowel sounds are the same as the name of the letter. So the “a” in “game” makes a sound like the letter “A,” not an /a/ as in “apple.” The pronunciation of long vowels should be a quick lesson, but, unfortunately, learning to identify the patterns of long vowels will take much more work. Learning the patterns that determine whether an “a” is a short /a/ or a Long A will take time and patience.
The IPA symbol for Long A is /eɪ/.
1. Long A Pattern: “Magic E Words” (a_e)
The first, and most important strategy for identifying a Long A vowel, is words with Magic E. Teaching your child to identify “Magic E” words can be a little difficult, and will take a bit of practice. It is difficult because many children will read one letter at a time from left to right, and the “Magic E” comes after the “a.” The other trap children fall into is guessing based on the first letter of a word. This is not a good practice, and if it continues, it will only set children up for failure in reading. Be patient, and don’t forget to teach your child to not only read one letter at a time, but also to try to look at the word as a whole. Learning the “Magic E” pattern of identifying long vowels is super important, not only because it is very reliable, but also because it is a pattern we will see with our other vowels as well.
Important Words with “Magic E Words” (a_e)
Important Exceptions to “a_e”
- words ending in -are: share, care, rare, etc. (the “a” sounds more like a short /e/)
2. Long A Pattern: ai
This is another fairly reliable pattern for spotting a Long A vowel. Though, like most things in English, it is not going to be correct every time. The pattern “ai” will generally work to indicate a Long A, but I will list some of the notable exceptions below.
Important Words with “ai”
Important Exceptions to “ai”
- -air words like “hair” or “fair” or “chair” (pronounced the same as the -are words above)
- Said (the “ai” makes an /e/ sound)
- Again (sometimes pronounced with a Long A, but typically we use a short /e/ in this word)
3. Long A Pattern: ay
The Long A pattern “ay” is a very reliable pattern to determine whether an “a” is long or not. Typically, this pattern happens at the end of words, though you may see it in the middle of words as well. Besides one fairly common exception (see below), your child can be fairly certain that if they see an “ay,” then they will need to pronounce it as a Long A vowel.
Important Words with “ay”
- Gray (Grey in British English, but same Long A)
Important Exceptions to “ay”
- Says (/s/ /e/ /z/) (This can be a little confusing because “say” does use the long A)
4. Long A Pattern: ei
This is a bit of a weird one because it doesn’t actually contain an “a” in it. But yes, unfortunately, there are words in English that use “ei” as a Long A sound. It is best to just memorize the important ones, and luckily there are not too many. The “ei” pattern is made more difficult because “ei” can represent other sounds as well like long E (weird) or short /e/ (their).
Important Words with “ei” (Long A sound)
Important Exceptions to “ei”
There are many, many words that have “ei,” but do not make a Long A sound. It would be easier to learn the ones that do, and assume that the others do not.
5. Long A Pattern: Open Syllable (a)
Most words with just a single “a” should be pronounced with a short /a/. However, there are some words that do not follow this rule. Instead, you will have to memorize these exceptions to the rule. These words usually are examples of what are called “Open Syllables.” These syllables end with a vowel, and when this happens we get a long vowel instead of the normal short vowel.
Important Words with Open Syllable “a” (Long A Sound)
Important Exceptions to Open Syllable “a” (Long A Sound)
As mentioned earlier, most a’s on their own will make a short /a/ sound. It would be easier to memorize these exceptions that follow the Open Syllable rule, rather than checking the syllables of the word each time you encounter an “a.”
6. Further Exceptions: “ey”
The pairing of “ey” almost always results in a long E sound. However, there are a couple of words that use “ey” to make a Long A instead. Of these words, these are the ones most commonly used.
How do I Practice Long Vowel Patterns?
Once you have gone over the patterns that use Long A, it is best to practice identifying Long A vowels by reading with your child. You can do this by reading to your child and having them try to sound out individual words, or let them read to you. It all depends on what they like, and what level of English they have. For long vowel identification, reading is the best way for children to learn the patterns and to start to become familiar with common exceptions to the rules.
While reading with your child, please make sure that you discourage them from guessing words. Also, do not try to push them to read beyond their level. By taking it slow in the beginning and properly teaching them how to read using long vowel patterns and synthetic phonics, your child will improve in the long run.
For further practice, consider taking a look at this post over at sightwordsgame.com, where they have compiled a list of words using the Long A and grouped them by their Long A pattern type.
If you have questions that you would like answered, feel free to leave us a post in the comment section, or book some time with us to talk one-on-one about your concerns.