R-Controlled Vowels: Everything You Need to Know

These are specific vowels that an “r” follows and end up being influenced or controlled by the r. There are five notable vowel combinations that are controlled by an r. they are: or, ir, ur, er, and ar. R-controlled vowels are frequently called the “Bossy R” because the r makes the vowel form a new sound.

R-controlled vowels can be a challenge for children to spell and sound out. However, it’s important for students to learn about r-controlled sounds and be able to identify them so they can spell and read more complex words. Often, learners who haven’t mastered r-controlled vowels misspell and mispronounce these words. For instance, if a child were to read the word cord, they might read the o as a short o sound while separating it from the r sound. This will make the word sound like card rather than cord. Additionally, when spelling the word cord, they might try to add a vowel team or a silent e to create a long o sound, such as coard or cored. Once children have learned and mastered this important phonics skill, they should be able to correctly read and write the majority of r-controlled vowels.

When teaching r-controlled vowels, teachers should follow systematic phonics instruction. They should start with ar and or because they don’t sound the same, and hence, are easier for students to learn. Teachers can introduce er/ir/ur together because they all make the same sound. The use of a compare and contrast strategy can be helpful to teach r-controlled vowels. Teachers can ask students to read CVC words comprising short “a” (e.g., cat, cap, and can). Then they can tell the learners that the consonant “r” alters the sound of the vowel before it and read out the word “car.” The process can be repeated with other CVC words. Teachers can also have the learners read “had” first and then replace the “a” with “ar” and read out “hard.”

Phonics posters, decodable texts, pictures, and word sorts, etc., can also be used to help students master r-controlled vowels. Once the learners can read “ar” words, teachers can move on to the spelling of those words. A common spelling mistake often done by beginning spellers is writing the letter “r” by itself for /ar/. This confusion is created by the letter name and sound. Teachers should explicitly tell learners that while the letter name for “r” is pronounced as “ar,” this isn’t the sound it represents.

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