Split digraph, Vowel+e, Bossy e, Silent e, magic e – why and how to teach it

The split digraphs a-e, e-e, i-e, o-e, u-e are very common spellings.  They have different names: Silent e, Magic e, Vowel Consonant e, Bossy e, Split digraphs.  Many children struggle to read words with these spelling patterns, so we need to teach them explicitly.

Why do we have these spelling patterns in English?

The ‘e’ at the end of the word is a relic of a letter that was once pronounced. With time, and the evolution of pronunciation of the English Language, the pronunciation was lost but the letter remained.  In many words (not all) the ‘e’ at the end of the word influences and changes the vowel sound and also some consonant sounds.  It changes the vowels from ‘short vowel sounds’ /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/ to ‘long vowel sounds’ /ae/, /ee/, /ie/, /oe/, /oo/ and /ue/.  There are some common words that don’t follow this principle such as ‘have’, ‘give’, ‘live’ or ‘gone’.

How to teach the Split digraphs?

There are various ways to teach the split digraphs.  When I first learned about systematic phonics, I had a little wand and taught it as a Magic e.  I would zap the e at the end of the word and it would help me change the sound of the vowel from ‘short’ to ‘long’.  But I soon abandoned my wand when I was trained in Linguistic Phonics (we follow the Sounds-Write programme).  Now I teach the split digraph in an explicit and multisensory way.  The grapheme is shown as one and then separated. Children are encouraged to use their finger to connect the two parts of the split digraph.  When reading a word with a split digraph in a text, that finger action is used.  Some teachers like to show the link between the two parts of the digraph with a curved line under the word, linking the two parts of the grapheme.


Interested in decodable books that focus on split digraphs?

See our special set of books that help children decode words with these spelling patterns:

UK editions https://www.phonicbooks.co.uk/product/dandelion-readers-split-vowel-spellings-set/

USA editions https://www.phonicbooks.com/product/dandelion-readers-vce-spellings-books-1-6/

#VCe #vowelteams #digraphs #splitdigraphs #magice


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