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!


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.

Teaching Silent Final E: The Catch-all Rule

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If you have been tracking with my series of silent final e posts, you don’t want to miss Part 4: The Catch-all Rule. My students always enjoy this one because of its name and how it works!

So far, you know the first 3 rules for why an e appears at the ends of some words. It is important that I remind you of those rules before discussing Rule 4. As students become more and more familiar with Silent Final E words, they will be able to use them as a sort of litmus test for new Silent Final E words they encounter. When students find new words to read and spell, they will be able to analyze them and even code them. (To learn more about word coding, check out the Shurley English website: But for now, I can explain Rule 4, The Catch-all Rule, if you understand the first three rules.

Let’s say a student is aware of a new Silent Final E word. The word is seize. After discussing the word’s meaning and using it in several sentences, it is time to lock it into memory so that the spelling becomes easy…except, the silent e at the end just doesn’t seem to fit any of the rules. It isn’t there to make the interior vowel long. We know this because

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So, what is the only solution? Simple, the e is just there BECAUSE IT IS! If the silent final e isn’t there for any of the first three rules, then it meets Rule 4, The Catch-all Rule. Some linguists call this a “lazy e” because it is just there and does nothing except occupy space.

Believe me, kids love to analyze Silent Final E words if they know the system. Just you wait, when you notice kids purposely identifying WHY a Silent Final E resides at the end of a word or syllable, their spelling ability soars.

For more helpful spelling (…and reading) hints, take a look at our first and second grade levels of Shurley English. You’ll be surprised at just how dependable and predictable the rules are!

(This post is part of a series on Silent Final E. To start at the beginning, click here.)

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David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.


He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.