Thursday 24 May 2012

The Magic 'e'

In phonics, vowels are usually pronounced like this:

a as in cat
e as in bet
i as in fit
o as in hot
u as in hum

However, there are many words in which they are actually pronounced like their letter names (that is the way they are pronounced when you recite the alphabet). One of the occasions this happens is when a syllable has an 'e' on the end.

For words with one syllable, whenever there is an 'e' at the end of the word, the preceding vowel is pronounced like its letter name, rather than phonetically. For example,

a-e: gate
e-e: these
i-e: mine
o-e: cone
u-e: tune

The rule also applies where there is an 'e' at the end of a syllable within a word, such as spaceman, where the 'e' at the end of 'space' changes the preceding 'a' to its alphabet pronunciation.

In addition to changing the sound of the preceding vowel, the 'e' in these circumstances becomes silent.

I explained the rule to Garden Girl by telling her that an 'e' at the end of a word, or syllable, has magic powers. It can make a vowel earlier in a word, change sound. The vowel always changes to its alphabet sound. The 'e' then makes its own sound disappear. So, when you are reading a word with a magic 'e' on the end, you never need to sound out the 'e'. Similarly, I told Garden Boy the magic 'e' was a naughty alien.

Garden Boy has picked up on this rule much faster than Garden Girl, mainly because he loves the idea of a naughty alien changing sounds, but with a simple prompt such as 'Look at the end of the word - what do you see?' Garden Girl will usually manages to work it out. They both currently need prompting to break words down into their syllables and look at the last letter of the syllable, but I know that by prompting them to work it out themselves each time, they will eventually begin to recognise the rule.

I have also told them both that if they have sounded out a word and it doesn't sound quite right, try changing the vowel sound to its alphabet sound. It isn't always the reason the word doesn't sound right, but more often than not it is the reason, so it is always worth a try. I prompt them with the question, 'What might you try changing?' and they take it from there. This is a more general rule but one that is easier to apply and remember by a 3 and 5 year old.

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