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What is a Vowel-Consonant-e Syllable and Why is It Important?

Image of vowel consonant e fluency grids

The vowel-consonant-e syllable is also known as a silent-e syllable or a magic-e syllable. It is important because it is one of six syllable types. As we have discussed in previous posts, every syllable must have at least one vowel. This particular syllable type has two vowels and follows the pattern, vowel-consonant-e. The two vowels work together to make one vowel sound. It includes words such as, like, froze, place, and flute.

Why does the silent e pattern seem so difficult for my students to grasp?

This syllable type requires students to have the capability of holding onto the letter sequence all the way to the end of the word where the silent e lies in wait. This can be taxing on short term memory or for students who have executive functioning issues.

How can I prepare my students for reading vowel-consonant-e pattern words?

Incorporating phonemic awareness as a warm-up to phonics lessons can help students become attuned to both the long and short vowel sounds. Orally segmenting and blending words with both the long and short vowel sounds will prepare students for a flexible approach to word solving. If one sound doesn’t work, try the other sound.

It is important for students to have mastered reading words with the closed syllable pattern. Mastery means that students are both accurate and automatic when reading words that follow this pattern.

It is also important for students to have mastered the open syllable pattern. This pattern exposes students to the long vowel sounds – the same sounds found in vowel-consonant-e words.

When should I teach this syllable type?

That is really contingent upon the scope and sequence that you are following. We’ve encountered several that wait to address the vowel-consonant-e syllable until after vowel teams are taught. However, because silent-e words are so ubiquitous, we like to teach a mini-unit on silent-e, so students have some idea of how to approach word-solving without guessing.

If you’re looking for a scope and sequence to direct your instruction, here’s our FREE K-2 Phonics Scope & Sequence.

What strategies can I use to help my students read silent e words?

Once you’ve warmed your students up with a phonemic awareness activity, the next step is to connect sound to letter by using letter-sound cards. We like to do a quick drill with large sound cards that have a picture. Students say the letter name, the name of the picture, and the sound of the letter. By quick drill we mean a two-minute drill to review the vowel sounds (and any additional letters with which your students are having difficulty). The reason the picture is included on the cards is to help students recall the sound of the letter.

Once students are familiar with the keyword and can name it independently, we move on to a quick drill using just the letter card (no picture). Again, students say the letter name, the picture associated with the letter and then the sound. At this point, the students should recall all the sounds for the vowels. “A-apple-/ă/, a-acorn-/ā/, a-cake-/ā/.

The third step in connecting letter sound to print is to use the letter cards to spell a vowel-consonant-e word such as note. Remind students that the e is silent. It is there to help the o say it’s long sound. Then model how to segment and blend the word: /n/…/ō/…/t/, note.

The vowel-consonant-e word, note spelled with letter cards.

To promote flexible word solving, remove the letter e, ask students, “What is the syllable type?” Then ask them to read the word. Bring their attention to the change in vowel sound.

The closed syllable word, not, spelled with letter cards.

Then remove the letter t and again, ask, “What is the syllable type?” Then prompt them to read the new word.

The open syllable word, no, spelled with letter cards.

Choose several more vowel-consonant-e words and have the students practice segmenting and blending.

It’s important for students to be aware that vowels sounds can vary. This awareness, and opportunities to apply this understanding helps students become flexible word solvers.

What if my students have trouble reading -VCe words in connected text?

Whenever students are introduced to a new phonics pattern, it is vital to supply them with decodable text that aligns with that specific pattern. This sets students up for success. Providing targeted decodable texts reinforces the notion that the English language is not random, and words follow patterns. Decodable books and texts give students much-needed practice applying the code of the English language.

Once students have been introduced to this syllable type, even if students don’t have complete mastery, there are some prompts that teachers can use to scaffold students.

  • Call students’ attention to the silent e at the end of the word. You can ask them what the word ends with or you can simply point to the e and remind students that this word follows the vowel-consonant-e pattern.
  • Prompt students to recall the ‘job’ of the silent e (to make the vowel that comes before it say its name (or make the long sound).
  • Prompt students to say each sound in the word and blend the sounds together.
  • Another scaffold that we find particularly helpful, is previewing and marking words in text.

How do I mark silent e words?

The process is pretty straightforward, but you will need to model it for your students.

Scanning and marking the text before reading provides the students with a visual cue to the pattern.

Cover of a vowel-consonant-e decodable book, One-of-a-Kind Flute
This decodable book is available in our TPT store.

Should I provide decodable texts for all my students?

It’s important to keep in mind that after a phonics element has been introduced, effective practice includes connected, controlled text that addresses this pattern. The best option is targeted, decodable texts. Don’t leave it up to chance by selecting just any book. Without thoughtful selection, the book may not contain enough of the v-e pattern to allow for reinforcement of the pattern. Otherwise, Teachers then run the risk of conveying the misconception that English is random.

Some students may only need a few opportunities to apply this pattern in a decodable text before moving on to non-controlled texts. However, many beginning readers and most struggling readers will need multiple opportunities to apply the vowel-consonant-e pattern in decodable texts.

Why do I need to use decodable texts?

When students are only taught phonics in isolation, they don’t always apply it to the books they read. It’s up to us to provide them with opportunities to apply their new learning. Decodable texts ensure students get the targeted practice they need.

Is there an exception to the -VCe pattern?

Yes! The exception is words ending with -ive such as live and give. Although these words follow the silent e spelling pattern, the vowel remains short.

There is also the suffix ending –ive, as in the words constructive and reflective. In the English language, no words end with the letter v, except abbreviations like Bev, which is short for Beverly.

How can I help my students spell silent e words correctly.

Phoneme grapheme mapping or sound to symbol mapping is perfect for accurate spelling. The boxes in the grid represent sounds in a word rather than letters. Remember that a digraph has two letters that represent one sound, so those letters share a box.

In the case of a silent e word, because the e does not have its own sound, the e shares the sound box with the consonant that precedes it.

Here is the procedure:

  1. Students segment (tap) the word listening for the vowel sound.
  2. As students tap the word, they draw a small dot in the sound box for each sound.
  3. Students repeat the procedure by writing the letter(s) in the corresponding boxes.
  4. If a letter does not make its own sound, it does not get written in its own box.
Phoneme grapheme mapping of vowel-consonant-e words.

Begin spelling practice by focusing only on words that follow the silent e pattern. Once students are accurate spelling these words, add one contrasting element such as closed syllable words OR open syllable words.

Where can I find resources for teaching the vowel-consonant-e pattern?

Please visit our Informed Literacy TPT store. We have resources for phonemic awareness, spelling, and improving automatic word recognition, as well as our decodable texts mentioned earlier.

Letter sound card bundle product cover.  Includes long vowel sounds for vowel-consonant-e words
This bundle includes large and small sound cards as well as letter cards for building words.
Vowel-consonant-e Fluency Grids product cover.
This resource is designed to help students read words with the vowel-consonant-e (VCe) pattern with accuracy and automaticity.
Reinforcing of Phonetically regular words resource
Reading and spelling are reciprocal skills. It’s important to practice both.

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