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The Mystical "Sometimes Y": Consonants & Vowels

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

Happy first week of school! If you are anything like me, you have found yourself a nice comfy-cozy spot and are all curled up with a hot tea or an iced coffee.

While the first week back is a great week to focus on getting back into routines and general behavior expectations. It’s also a great time to review some of the more foundational concepts that we are going to build on over the year to come.

For today’s phonics Friday post, I wanted to do just that. Let’s dive into consonants and vowels.

I’m sure you have heard the saying, “vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y”.

I wanted to quickly address that mystical ‘sometimes y’

I'll be brutally honest, up until a few years ago, I didn’t even understand the ‘sometimes y’… so if you take anything away from today’s post… this is a great nugget of truth.

1. When the Y grapheme says, /y/ like in yam, yak, or yellow it is acting as a consonant. That /y/ phoneme/sound is always a consonant.

2. When the Y grapheme 'steals' a vowel’s sound or is teamed up with another vowel to make one sound, it is acting as a vowel. Consider, baby, rhythm, cry, key or hay.

Because the y says /y/ as it's first sound and it only acts as a vowel on specific occasions, I consider it to be a consonant that sometimes steals a vowel sound. I also teach the other vowels first sound first (short a, e, i, o, and u).

Here are three reasons why it is helpful to know what letters are vowels.

1. Every Word in English has a vowel

Many early readers struggle to hear and isolate the vowels in words (called segmenting) and thus forget to include them in their writing. If we remind students that every word has a vowel, it can help emergent writers to segment and write words more accurately.

2. Every Syllable has a vowel: Reading Application

With very few exceptions (i.e. rhythm*) the English language also has one written vowel / vowel team in each syllable. As students start to read multisyllabic words, we can use syllable division rules to break words into smaller chunks. We do this by first noticing where the vowels are located in the word and the number of consonants between the vowels.

*The word rhythm has two syllables and two spoken vowel sounds (/i/ and /u/). What is unique is we do not write a vowel grapheme to represent the /u/ phoneme that is spoken.

3. Every Syllable has a vowel: Writing Application

If we teach that each syllable has a vowel, then students will also be better able to segment and spell unfamiliar multisyllabic words. When we clap syllables or notice our chin dropping, we are noticing our mouth forming a vowel sound in the word.

At Latch Onto Learning, we teach consonant and vowels, and the surrounding skills necessary to be a skilled reader and writer. We would love to support you on your educational journey with your little learner!

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