More Than the ABCs: Vowel A

Sounds of a with Shurley English.jpg

Last time, I showed you how to help students own the alphabet as more than just the ABCs. Each symbol or letter is a picture of sound. Our job is to teach kids how to attach the sound or sounds that each symbol represents.


We’ll start at the very beginning with the letter  A a. As you can see, I printed both the capitalized version and the lower case versions. I do that because children need to see and use both forms. I start with A a,  not because it is the first letter of our alphabet, but because it represents the first three vowel sounds I teach. I repeat…it has THREE sounds that should be taught right out of the starting gate: a, a, a. Click the play button below to hear the correct pronunciation of a, a, a.

The letter symbols, plus their diacritical markings for the three sounds of Vowel A, look like this:

Sounds of A with Shurley English.png

If you are used to teaching only the short and long sounds of a, please note that the third sound is just as easy to teach and learn. The third sound of Vowel A is the broad sound—the vowel sound you hear in words like water, father, and all. I call this the “third uncommon sound of A a” because it occurs less often in English words than the short and long sounds. It is important to go ahead and teach all three sounds right at the start. Many of the most basic words our youngest readers have to read will contain the third uncommon sound of a. If you only teach the short and long sounds of Vowel A, kids are likely to get confused.


Notice the colored letters? I use color-coding for the vowels as I teach these sounds. In my explanation, I let kids know up front that all of the vowels in our alphabet have at least two sounds: short and long; but I also let them know that vowels Aa, Uu, and Oo have third uncommon sounds. Then, I teach them to use a black ink pen, a black felt-tip marker, or a black colored pencil to distinguish the short vowel sounds of each of the vowels when they write them. We will use blue for the second sounds of the vowels—those are the long sounds (the ones that sound like the vowel letter’s name). Finally, we use red for the third uncommon sounds of the vowels that have a third sound: Aa, Uu, and Oo—vowels Ii and Oo have only two sounds each. Color-coding adds a multi-sensory flare to the whole process, which is great for kids’ brains!


To help kids practice and master the three sounds of Vowel A, they should write all three of the color-coded A’s in a row, on a lined sheet of notebook paper. They should write the A’s very close together with only a little space between each A. As each A is written in its proper color, students repeat the sound it makes chorally.


They should practice writing only the lowercase A during the writing practice, and they will need to have all three colors of ink pens, markers, or colored pencils handy. Between each lowercase a, they will have to switch the color of their writing utensil. That adds another dimension to stimulate the sense of touch. If students write a whole base line filled with the color-coded lower case a’s, that makes what I call one whole practice line.


The practice line should look like this, and it should span across the entire notebook baseline:

A baseline with Shurley English.png

Next time, join me as we jump to a different letter in the alphabet, the consonant letter Ss. See you then!