We're introducing a new spelling rule to teach students about schwa! This blog post builds on a three-part series we posted in August on understanding vowels, consonants, and syllables. If you didn't see them, they are a great starting point, as they clarify several foundational concepts related to our new spelling rule.
After years of teaching children how to read and training teachers, I have found that the single area of greatest confusion about English is related to the schwa - the most common sound in English!
Schwa is simply an unaccented vowel sound. In English, the two schwa sounds are /ŭ/ and /ĭ/. While Logic of English materials explore schwa already, we have concluded that it will be most helpful to to teach students about schwa as a rule.
Our new Spelling Rule 31 explains to students when they will hear a schwa sound within words.
Spelling Rule 31
Any vowel may say one of the schwa sounds, /ŭ/ or /ĭ/, in an unaccented syllable or unaccented word. O may also say /ŭ/ in an accented syllable next to a W, TH, M, N, or V.
Originally, the only tool we provided for spelling words with schwa sounds was to “Say to Spell” the schwa sound during Spelling Dictation. “Say to Spell” asks students to exaggerate the pronunciation of the vowel for spelling purposes.
For example, with the word adapt, pronounced “ǝ dapt,” we
say to spell “ā dapt.”
With frozen, often pronounced “fro zǝn,” we strongly emphasize the short e and say to spell “fro zĕn.”
Say to Spell is a powerful tool for helping students develop an auditory picture of a word, and we've found it very beneficial. However, though we will continue to use “Say to Spell” as a way to aid students in both spelling and reading words with a schwa, we are finding it is helpful to explicitly teach students why and where the schwa occurs, rather than leaving them to infer or make guesses about what may now be the most commonly occurring spelling rule in the language.
The concepts taught in Spelling Rule 31 are already included in Foundations B and C. In fact, it was during the writing process of these levels that I first understood the importance of explicitly teaching the schwa sound and discovered a way to explain a technical linguistics definition to young students. This information will continue to work its way into revisions of each of our products, including Essentials. The new rule is already included in the 2nd editions of the Phonogram & Spelling Rule Quick Reference and the Spelling Rule Flash Cards, as well as the spelling rule chart on our website.
The two parts to this rule are further explained in two upcoming blog posts:
What is Schwa? Helping Students Read and Spell the Schwa Sound
The Clever Monks and the Lazy O: Why O sometimes says /ŭ/!