Part 5: Tricky words

Vowels - helpful hints for spelling

The way vowels work is probably the least understood aspect of phonic teaching. Many of the vowels have more than one way of being written, as well as often being irregular. Some knowledge about them is useful, without getting too bogged down in rules.

Generally, the early rules relate to the short vowel. When the children have been taught to listen for the short vowel and can easily identify it in words, they can understand these rules:

A short word with a short vowel, ending with a ‘c’ sound, is written with a ‘ck’, e.g. ‘black, neck, tick, tock, duck’, etc. If it doesn’t have a short vowel, then just put ‘k’, e.g. ‘look, dark’, etc. Note that the ‘oo’ sound in ‘look’ is now called ‘little oo’ rather than ‘short oo’ (as in previous editions of The Phonics Handbook). Children need to know which are the short vowels because the consonant may need to be doubled. These rules do not apply to the ‘little oo’.

A short word with a short vowel, ending in ‘f, l, s’ or ‘z’ needs a double ending, e.g. ‘cliff, spill, miss’, buzz, etc. (except the very short words if, is’ and ‘of’).

If the suffixes ‘ing, ed, er’ or ‘y’ are added to a word with a short vowel, there have to be at least two consonants before the suffix is added. Where there is only one, the final consonant must be doubled. If there are already two consonants at the end of the word no such doubling is needed.

Final consonant is doubled, two final consonants already - so no doubling needed

running, bending

chopped, landed

thinner, blonder

funny, handy

If the word does not have a short vowel, no doubling of the consonant is needed, e.g. looking, heated, lighter, dreamy.