Teaching Short Vowel Sounds

Some children have difficulties learning the sounds that the “short vowels” make.

This can make impact on both reading and spelling.

Problems are usually related to:

  • ‘knowing’ what sound each short vowel makes – which impacts on DECODING (READING), and
  • being able to hear the difference (discriminate) between different vowel sounds and ‘mapping’ them correctly, which impacts on encoding (spelling).

If your child is having trouble discriminating the vowel sounds in words,

Have you checked their hearing? – is a useful guide full of tips.

At our tutoring centre, we work on the short vowel sounds very early in our Synthetic Phonics program.

SIDE NOTE: You might sometimes see vowels with an upside down curve above the letter.  This means the short vowel sound is being referred to, and is a universally agreed upon ‘short-hand’ to avoid confusion (between long and short vowel sounds).  n.b long vowel sounds are indicate with a horizontal dash over the top of the vowel.


For the purpose of this post however, please assume that the short vowel sounds are what is being referred to.

Typically, children tend to confuse or have difficulty discriminating e and i, and a and u.

As a result, it pays to teach the vowel sounds in a strategic order, separating the teaching of the ones that get confused.

The most common order of teaching the short vowel sounds is: a, i, o, u then e

This follows the “Carnine order” of teaching the alphabet.

The short vowel sound for  a  is usually taught first because once children know the sound for the letter  ‘a’ and a few other consonants such as m, s, t then they can start ‘reading’ and ‘spelling’ words.

Teach to mastery.

we do not move onto a new short vowel sound until children have ‘mastered’ the current one they are learning.  This makes it less likely they will confuse short vowel sounds.

My hot tips for teaching vowel sounds:

Teach the similar short sounds separately.

Use words that start with the vowel sound rather than words that have a medial vowel sound or the vowel sound at the end (at least when you first start out, as it is easier for kids).

Help kids discriminate the sounds not just by what they sound like but what they feel like (in your mouth).

Give lots of practice of each vowel on its own  (both decoding and encoding).

Use games and other resources to give lots and lots of fun and varied practice.

Focus on one vowel sound at a time.

It is quite ok to use non-words (or made up words) such as tok.  The advantage of using non-words is that your child ‘has to’ decode them as they can’t rely on their language/word knowledge and sight word knowledge.

Use short vowel onset and rime word slides and word family activities.

For example bat, cat, fat, hat, that, mat, pat, rat, sat

bell, dell, fell, hell, sell, tell, well, yell



The things we use and do at Starfish are:

I’ve put links to each so you can find them easily either in our online store, blog posts, free downloads or other websites.

Ants in the apple sound cards.  I show how we use these in one of our alphabet posts.  You can go straight to it here.


Hand and mouth movements. We teach these on their own, then often practice them in combination with the ants in the apple short vowel cards.  Check out the youtube clip of me demonstrating how we provide hand movement prompts for each short vowel sound.


A systematic progression of words containing short vowel words using the educational bricks.   We use the educational bricks EVERY single day in our centre, and made word lists to follow, as we find it hard to think of plenty of examples and practice words ‘on the spot’.  We have the word lists available FREE to download.     Check out how we set the bricks up below…


Download our free short vowel word lists, here. We’ve included a non-word word list, too.  We progress through the lists, in the following order….

words beginning with short vowels

CVC words with medial short vowel sound

CVCC words with medial short vowel sound

CCVC words with medial short vowel sound

CCVCC words with medial short vowel sound


I’ve written lots of blog posts on these educational bricks as we think they’re  fantastic.  You can jump to the one on blending (which show footage of me using them)  here.

Games using short vowel sounds

There are lots of games and resources that provide practice of reading or spelling short vowel words, and mixing it up helps maintain motivation and interest.

Easy Words to Sound Bingo Starfish education centre (189 of 287) This is one of our best sellers, and I use it so much in our centre, for lots of different purposes.

Vowel Sound Volcano (we remove the long vowel sound word parts)


Vowel Owls  (we remove long vowel picture cards)

We have a similar game that is free to download (that you can make).  You can also use the cards from the free game to extend the Vowel Owls game, as well.


Alphabet dice and vowel dice

Blank write on/wipe off dice

Magnetic Letters

Starfish education centre (150 of 287)  Starfish education centre (154 of 287) Starfish education centre (146 of 287)


DSC_4016     Magnetic Letters



Starfish education centre (165 of 287)

This ZINGO game is especially popular with kids, and gives lots of practice with CVC words.

Super Genius First Words

Multiplication - Super Genius

This is a new game for us, and it’s great value as it has lots of ways to play.

We’ve also put two FREE SHORT VOWEL GAMES up on our website.

Starfish short vowel cup game

Get to our free download of this game here.


Starfish Short Vowel Bingo game

Get to our free download of this game here.


Using word families and vowel rimes (onset and rimes)

We love the educational bricks for this, particularly the lower case pack and the vowel rhyme set.

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 2.44.36 pm  Starfish education centre (12 of 287)

However, you can also use slides. It is smart to have a few different options and strategies.  These word family slides were made from a fantastic teacher resource called M100Words. You can get to their website here.  But it is easy to make your own for free.


I can’t stress how important short vowel sound knowledge is for reading and spelling.  Take the time to make sure your children get this right – it is an investment that will reap rewards.