As our reading tutor training continues, we’ve learned a lot of great new ideas about how to teach the basics of reading and phonics to students of all ages, especially students that are English language learners (ELL). One of the things that we’ve done some extensive work with is the vowel circle. The vowel circle is composed of five categories designed to help students recognize vowels patterns in their spelling and in their every day speech.It starts out with the first group that is the smilers. Smilers are vowels or vowel patterns that, when said, have your mouth form a smile-like shape, such as the “ee” in cheese or the “ay” in play. Next come the open vowels. When open vowels or vowel patterns are used the mouth usually ends in an open position, such as the “aw” in saw. The round vowels are ones that usually leave your mouth in a rounded position with your lips slightly puckered, such as the “o-e” in tune or the “oa” in coat. The crazy r’s are there to remind students that r’s make vowels do crazy things that they wouldn’t do around other consonants and that –er, -ir and –ur all sound the same in a word. The sliders are an interesting category because they make your mouth slide from one position (either open, round or smiler) to another, such as the “ou” in out when your mouth slides from open to smiler.
The vowel circle is a great tool to use in many elementary grade levels. It really helps students to make associations with vowels and create connections in their brains where they might not have had them before. The vowel circle enables the students to connect vowel sounds to a visual (the pictures in the circle and the actual text of the vowel pattern) to a sound, to a feel in their mouths. Students that use the vowel circle correctly and constantly in class and small group have shown a marked improvement in both their spelling and their decoding skills.
If you’re working in an elementary school or simply want to work on pronunciation at home, looking at the vowel circle is a good place to start.