7 Creative Ways to Practice R-Controlled Vowels - Simply B Teaching (2024)


Learn specific activities to help your students master the nuance of r-controlled vowels.

7 Creative Ways to Practice R-Controlled Vowels - Simply B Teaching (1)

The first time I taught R-Controlled Vowels, well, let’s just say it wasn’t my best. My phonics program at the time had us introduce all 5 r-controlled vowel combinations in the same lesson. My students and I were lost especially because r-controlled vowel patterns can often be one of the trickiest ones to teach. It is often the first time a student has more than 2 ways of spelling a single sound, and there are no clear rules to determine which one to use. That means the only way to master r-controlled vowels is to practice, practice, practice. Want to improve your students’ practice and your instruction right away? Grab these lessons and activities to get intentional practice and teacher tips!

What is an R-Controlled Vowel?

Simply put, r-controlled vowels are vowel patterns where the letter r follows the vowel and changes the sound of the vowel because of the vocalization (or the way we say the sounds together). The closed-mouth sound /r/ cuts off the open sound of the vowel, changing the sound from what we typically expect from a vowel. These lessons are a great way to walk students through understanding what is an r-controlled vowel!

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What Are R-Controlled Vowels Called?

R-controlled vowels can go by SO many names. It’s one of the things that make it challenging for students to learn. They can go by bossy-r, r-controlled vowels, and vowel-r combinations, among others. Imagine: a student is in a classroom learning about “bossy-r”. They are struggling with the vowel pattern, so they began working with a reading interventionist and now the student is working with “r-controlled vowels.” The student does not make the expected progress, so they begin working with a special educator and now the student is hearing “vowel-r combinations”. Common language, especially for our students with working memory challenges, is crucial when learning more complex vowel patterns such as r-controlled vowels.

R-Controlled Vowels Rules

R-controlled vowels can be challenging because there is no clear rule to determine which vowel-r combination is needed. However, there are patterns in r-controlled vowels that may make it a little easier for your students to determine which one to use. It all comes back to practice, practice practice. The more students see and work with r-controlled vowels the more likely they are to recognize when one doesn’t look right. Use these activities to help students practice and master the r-controlled vowel rules (or lack thereof)!

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Tricks of R-Controlled Vowels

While there are no hard rules for r-controlled vowels, there are a few patterns students and teachers can utilize to achieve mastery. The combinations ar and or have unique sounds and can be determined by the ear. The other three, ir, ur, and er, all make the same sound making it challenging to determine which is used.

Here are some patterns you can share with your students to increase their success when learning r-controlled vowels!

  • Er most often occurs at the end of the word. It can also be a suffix (a meaningful ending of a word). For example, teach → teacher (someone who teaches). Er is statistically the most common way to spell the sound /ir/.
  • Ir is often utilized for nature words (dirt, bird), number words (first, third), clothing (shirt, skirt), and circle words (twirl, stir, circle). This is the second most common spelling of /ir/.
  • Ur is the least common spelling of the sound /ir/. It is often found in hurt words (nurse, burn).

These are a great way to practice the three r-controlled vowel sounds of /ir/, while learning tricks to remember which is which!

Introducing R-Controlled Vowels

Introducing r-controlled vowels can be a daunting task. You may choose to introduce it differently based on the current skills and abilities of your classroom. The key when introducing any new concept is making connections to previous skills without overwhelming the students with new information. Beginning with /ar/ is often easiest for students because they can clearly hear the sound /a/, which they are already familiar with. Following /ar/, is typically /or/ for the same reason.

That leaves us with tricky /ir/, which can be spelt 4 different ways: ir, ur, er, and ear. Most teachers focus on ir, ur, and er, leaving ear for a later lesson. It is helpful to introduce each vowel-r combination one at a time. As you introduce a new way to write /ir/, be sure to continue to practice the previous way.

R-Controlled Vowels Word List

Using a r-controlled vowel word list is a game-changer when running a phonics lesson! It takes a HUGE mental load off the teacher to not think of words that fit a specific pattern on the spot. Using a well-thought-out word list that increases in complexity and syllabication. These r-controlled vowel activities and lesson plans feature a word list, and word cards, for teachers to systemically teach vowel-r combinations.

Creative, Low-Prep Activities for R-Controlled Vowels

Find the vowel

Find the vowel is a simple, yet effective game, to introduce r-controlled vowels. It can be played in several ways. After explicitly introducing one r-controlled vowel pattern, give students a list of 5-8 words. Have them highlight, or circle, the vowel pattern in the word then touch each sound to read. Another version is to hang the vowel combination, or words featuring the vowel combination, around the room and have students find the vowel pattern to bring to the carpet and share.

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find the real or nonsense word

Cut up real and nonsense word cards and hang around the room, or put them spread out in front of the student. Ask the student to find a real word. Then, ask the student to find the nonsense word. You can also make a recording sheet for some copying practice. Be sure the student says the word out loud each time they make a choice. You can learn more about how reading nonsense word helps with overall reading acquisition here.

foldable books

Kids love a good foldable book! These r-controlled vowel activities included fun, targeted book for each vowel-r combination. Using a foldable book is an engaging way for students to focus on a specific vowel pattern.

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build a story

Many activities target multiple skills but building a story is a higher-level activity to practice r-controlled vowels. First, take a decodable story featuring the vowel-r pattern. These ones are engaging, and provide multiple levels for each story! Cut the story into strips. Each strip should feature one sentence. Ask the students to read the sentences to glue onto a different paper to create a story that makes sense.

read and draw

Read and draw is a great activity if you’re short on time. The concept is simple and enjoyed by many kids! Write a word on the board. Give students 2-3 minutes to draw a quick sketch representing the word. Alternatively, if you’re looking for an independent activity, these activities feature a read and draw activity with 5 r-controlled vowel words!

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magic letter

Who doesn’t love a good magic trick? Tell your students you have a disappearing vowel! Write a word that features a vowel-r combination on the board but leave out the vowel. Ask students “What vowel could have disappeared?” Have them write their suggestions in the whole word on a board. Be sure to ask them if it looks as they would expect when practicing the sound /ir/.

how many words?

How many words is a great activity to get kids thinking about the various interactions letters can experience? Give your students a few letters, probably a and r as two of them, and see how many real words they can make! These r-controlled vowel activities feature the how many words activity along with many other ways to improve your students’ knowledge of the vowel-r combination!

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R-Controlled Vowels Sucess

As with many new concepts, the best way to help your students achieve success with r-controlled vowels is explicit instruction with intentional practice. These r-controlled vowel lessons are systematic, walking teachers and students through the different features and uses of the vowel-r combination.

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7 Creative Ways to Practice R-Controlled Vowels - Simply B Teaching (2024)
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