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How to Teach the Silent E Rule

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Silent E can be a difficult concept for young readers to grasp. In this lesson, you will see some methods of teaching this concept so that students have an easier time remembering it.

Confusing Concepts

When students are learning to read and spell in English, there are many confusing rules they have to learn. This is particularly true when learning vowel sounds. There are many things that affect vowel sounds and, most confusing of all, sometimes the vowel is completely silent! Silent letters can be tough for students to grasp. The most common and often difficult of these is silent E.

When spelling words with silent E, young students often leave off the E entirely, and when reading these words, they will typically pronounce the first vowel as a short vowel and the 'e' as a long vowel. For example, instead of correctly pronouncing 'cape' they might say 'cap-ee.' Teaching the silent E rule is a vital part of reading education, and there are a few methods you can use to help the idea stick with your students.

Make it Fun

The first method is to give the silent E rule a fun name. 'Silent E turns the vowel from a short vowel into a long vowel' is not a sentence that will stick with younger students. Instead, use something like, 'Bossy E makes the vowel say its name.' This creates a fun image in the reader's mind of an E bossing around the other vowel. If they are interested and entertained by the rule, they are more likely to remember it. Learning devices like this, that help information stick in the learner's brain, are known as mnemonic devices.

Activities

As with any new skill, practice is the biggest key to retaining the information. The more exposure your students have to the silent E rule, the more likely they will remember and apply it when they are reading and writing on their own. Including silent E words in spelling lists, for example, is a good way to give them continued exposure.

It is also beneficial to explicitly show them the E in action. This can be done through a myriad of worksheets or activities, but the principle is always the same. You want them to start with the short vowel form of the word, then add the E and practice pronouncing the different vowel before and after the E is added.

In addition, you want to illustrate the difference in meaning. After all, silent E not only changes the pronunciation of the word, but it transforms it into a completely new word. Including pictures in the activity is a good way to accomplish this. For example, if you are showing the change from 'cap' to 'cape,' you could have a picture of a baseball cap accompanying the short vowel form of the word, and a picture of a superhero cape accompanying the long vowel form.

Having illustrations like this helps the difference in meaning stick in the child's mind, which will help them when they encounter the word in their reading. In addition, if they are completing fill-in-the-blank style worksheets, having illustrations can help guide them to writing in the correct words.

Fill-in-the-blank worksheets with illustrations are an excellent way to practice the Silent E rule.
Silent E

When creating or finding activities to practice this rule, try to include examples for each vowel. This helps show the students that the rule can apply to any vowel.

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