Sound and Spelling Rules: How to handle the "ei" vowel pair

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I am sure you have seen posts like this before. I know I have, and I get a charge out of them. Whether or not you like to teach systematic phonics and spelling, you probably have a hard time getting kids to lock in certain sounds and spelling rules…and this one can be a doozy!  

Let’s look at this dastardly duo up close. You have probably heard the old rule “I before E except after C?” Well, the rule doesn’t really end there. Nevertheless, this rule doesn’t always make spelling words that contain an “ei” vowel pair any easier. Let’s try it this way.

 

Teach a Sound Rule AND a Spelling Rule

1. Teach students that “ei” will sound like one of the following FOUR sounds in most English words, where an “ei” is found together in a word:

ē (Long E sound)  

ā (Long A sound)   

ĭ (Short I sound)  

ī (Long I sound)

2. Teach words together that use both an “ei” or an “ie” in the middle and follow this simple rule:

Use ei after the letter C and to say /ā/; otherwise—use ie.

See how easy it is to spell these words right using this rule?

chief               tie                   field                beige              niece              heirs              weird

 

We already see either an “ie” or an “ei” in each word, so all we have to do is look at the letter in front of each vowel pair to be able to get their order right. If there’s a C, it’s “ei”; if not, it has to be ie. Then, to pronounce the vowel pair correctly, use the four sounds we learned earlier:

    ē (Long E sound)           ā (Long A sound)       ĭ (Short I sound)        ī (Long I sound)

 

Yes, a few exceptions exist, but by getting more direct with the rules, the exceptions won’t present a major sound or spelling roadblock. In future posts, we’ll check out some other letter combos that give us fits. See you then!

 

The Playbook of Literary Success: Vocabulary

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What if elementary teachers approached the subject of Language Arts as if it was a competitive sport?  Just think of it… every K-8 teacher would be part of a coaching staff charged with developing players’ language arts knowledge and skills.  In this analogy, the playbook contains plays designed to help each team member achieve literacy success, which is the ultimate goal of the game!  The knowledge and skills learned by each team member will grow into great competence, and every time these competencies are used to practice or compete, confidence will grow.  

Every coach has a secret book of plays, right? Wouldn’t you want to know the secret strategies from the coach’s playbook? Over the next few weeks, we plan to give you a sneak-peek at the playbook and a checklist for each play, including vocabulary, grammar, composition, and writing for all purposes. You will be able to use the checklist to ensure that your special team executes each play with competence and confidence.

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LITERACY PLAYBOOK: Part 1, Vocabulary

The first play in our Literacy Playbook is vocabulary development. Why? Because students need a broad knowledge of words that they can manipulate to make meaning. When students can expertly use words to communicate precisely, it will up the odds that they will be top contenders in a competition that stretches far past the boundaries of our analogy.  Students who can wield their words with confidence have a greater advantage in their future careers. To help them achieve such a “win,” teach students vocabulary in a “play-by-play” approach that includes the following aspects:

For the primary levels:

·Basic alphabetic principle, letter/sound relationships and spelling

·Phonics, word patterns, and syllabication

 For the intermediate levels:

· Word meaning in multiple contexts

· Word relationships (homophones, homographs, synonyms, antonyms)

· Word analogies

· Word etymology

· Figurative language and literary devices (similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, etc.)

In Shurley English, vocabulary study “goes deep and runs wide,” and every student who is versed in the study of each of these areas of vocabulary will acquire the built-in word knowledge to become a competent and confident master of language.

As you reflect upon your current practice time with vocabulary, consider running these plays like you would run with any other team sport. Using a checklist like this will help you become a reflective teacher, one who always thinks about their craft and conducts active research about what works and what doesn’t. Use the areas listed above like a list of plays you want your students to practice and master.  Observe your students carefully and check for their level of engagement.  If they need more practice, call for extra practice!

Start with this question: “Am I stretching my students’ word knowledge by adding in …”

· Word meaning in multiple contexts?

· Word relationships (homophones, homographs, synonyms, antonyms)?

· Word analogies?

· Word etymology?

· Figurative language and literary devices (similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, etc.)?

 

Don’t worry, Shurley English provides the “playbook,” and when you teach it like you would the secret plays from a coach’s playbook, your students will gain the competitive edge they need in the future. Their ability to read, write, and speak in a variety of situations and for various purposes will equip them with the excellent communication skills that are in high demand in every field. Stay tuned for our next installment!

Early Reading: What is microcomprehension?

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I read some information today about what’s missing in reading comprehension instruction, and the research that was provided jumped off of the page for me!  I had to get used to some new terminology, but it all made perfect sense!

The article stated that the latest research in early literacy found that there is an extra step between decoding and comprehension that most of us don’t know about.  They even had a name for the missing skill: microcomprehension.

In a nutshell, microcomprehension is described as the work you do to build a mental model or “visualized graphic organizer” from a text during reading­­­.  The language skills that are required to create a mental model are absolutely critical to comprehension. 

To help you understand a solid mental model of a text, take a look at this passage from The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh:

It’s a very funny thought that, if Bears were Bees,

They’d build their nests at the bottom of trees.

And that being so (if the Bees were Bears),

We shouldn’t have to climb up all of these stairs.

 

If I removed the passage from in front of you and asked you to explain what you read, you probably couldn’t recite it word for word.  However, you could use the mental model you hopefully created to tell me the gist of it. 

Basically, it said that if bears were bees they would build their nests down low in the tree, and if bees were bears, they could just build their nest up high without having to climb all of the branches.

Reading research now tells us that developing readers do not need more practice working on answering comprehension questions.  What they do need is better microcomprehension.  They need to learn the skills that will help them to create a better mental model to help them make sense of what they read. 

I can honestly say that Shurley English covers all of the microcomprehension skills necessary to create a mental model in true Shurley style!  Repetition, of course, is key!  Students learn how to apply this beneficial extra step between decoding and comprehension and to use it automatically. 

Are you ready for strategies to improve microcomprehension? Are you ready to explore multi-sensory approaches to help your early readers break the reading code? We invite you to STAY TUNED, as we will discuss these topics and much more in our latest blog series entitled, Early Reading.