Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Top Five Tips for Teaching Short E Words


The Top Five Tips for Teaching Short E Words #phonics #teaching #kindergarten #1stgrade #2ndgrade #shorte #CVC

Over the years, I’ve had so many students (and my own child) be so determined that they are going to sound out that word by themselves with no assistance and then immediately struggle with the vowel sound. 

And what happens when I step in and verbally try to help? 

The kid feels defeated. 

They wanted to do it themselves. They wanted to take ownership of that word.  And that small /e/ sound that came out of my mouth ruined their plans. It zapped any intrinsic desire to conquer the word independently.

So, what is a teacher to do?  How can we help teach the Short E sound without destroying a kid’s love of independence and learning?

Here are my top five tips for establishing a strong phonics foundation that empowers students to take charge of their learning.


1. Utilize Sign Language

When initially teaching a new vowel sound, I always show students the corresponding ASL sign for the letter. This simple step incorporates movement and muscle memory which helps deepen the connection between the letter and the sound.  Here is the sign for the letter E:


The Top Five Tips for Teaching Short E Words


I like to tell kids it kind of looks like an "e" with the top fingers curling into the middle of the hand and the thumb looping up from the bottom.

The best thing about teaching students this sign is that it becomes a simple, nonverbal signal for students.

If a student is struggling to sound out a word, subtly holding up the sign gives a silent prompt which allows the student the scaffolding he needs to continue while also maintaining confidence and building independent reading skills.

One of my favorite things to see is when students start signaling themselves as they read.  They come to a word, stumble on the vowel sound, flash themselves the signal, decode, and continue on their independent and empowered way.


2. Anchor the Concept

Have you ever noticed how much kids’ eyes move around when they are quickly searching for an answer they don’t know?  Rather than having students stare at their shoes or wildly scan the room from side to side, give their eyes something to settle on – another nonverbal prompt. 

I like to have one main location in my room (mine is on the side of my whiteboard) where I put a poster of the week’s phonics skill. After the week is over I add the poster to a bulletin board so students can always reference it later. But for the week at hand, the week we are covering that Short E sound, this is the poster prominently displayed on my whiteboard:


The Top Five Tips for Teaching Short E Words - Anchor Poster

I explicitly teach students at the beginning of our phonics lesson that this is our poster for our unit and that we can reference it when we need help with that Short E sound. I model how I can read the words on the poster and how the “e” is in a different color so it stands out. I also model how seeing the hen reminds me of the Short E sound.  As the week progresses, I make sure to reference back to the poster, modeling how when I need help, I can look to that anchor.

If you’d like this Short E poster (and 19 other phonics skill posters), you can grab them for free here: Free Phonics Posters.


3. Examples! Examples! Examples!

Repetition is key.

You’ve probably heard various numbers, but there is a general idea (based on multiple studies) that kids need repetition to learn new words. Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan quotes research that show an average student needs around ten repetitions with a word to learn it. 

That’s 10 for an average student. 

Your kids who struggle even just a little bit will need more than ten. And the students who struggle a lot…

Repetition matters.


4. Make It Fun

Repetition is boring!

If you’re doing the same thing with the same words every day or multiple times within the same lesson, kids will zone out. You’ll lose them. That love of independent learning will be extinguished.
So, what can you do?

Sneak in the repetition like a ninja.

Read the words. Write the words. Use manipulatives to create the words. Play games with the words.  Illustrate the words. The possibilities are endless!

But, the time it takes to create those possibilities so repetition is fun and exciting is also endless. It takes hours to make all that productive fun for just one phonics skill!

The Top Five Tips for Teaching Short E Words - Word Work and ActivitiesDon’t worry – I’ve got you covered.

I have over 100 phonics skill packs ready to go for you. The Short E ones are right here:





These packs each include 30 different word work activities that start at the foundational level and build to mastering Short E skills. 

Kids get a range of fun activities including cutting & gluing, tracing, stamping, word sorting, illustrating, coloring, story writing, and more. Students also get to solve word puzzles, complete word searches, and play I have… Who has… with Short E words. This is all the repetition those kids need in one place.

Best of all? It’s low prep!

If you want to check out the other packs that are available, use this Free Word Work Guide with clickable links.


5. Turn the Tables

Students who have that independent, I-want-to-do-it-myself (aka stubborn) attitude towards learning love nothing more than the power and control of being in charge. Harness that tenacious mind and let the student become the teacher.  

When students know that they get to be the teacher for a concept, it inspires them to take control of their learning.  They need to know that Short E sound well enough to teach it to you and the rest of the class.

So ask them, what part of the Short E sound do they want to teach everyone? The ASL sign for Short E? How to use the anchor poster effectively? How to decode Short E words? How to manipulate the sounds in the word hen so that it becomes den?

Putting teaching in the hands of students creates instant empowerment.

The Top Five Tips for Teaching Short E Words #phonics #teaching #kindergarten #1stgrade #2ndgrade #shorte #CVC

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