How to Teach Short Vowel Rules and 19 Activities to Help


Orton Gillingham is an effective approach to learning the English language because it has rules to help remember why something happens the way it happens. Short vowel rules are some of the first taught in OG. There are four of these rules – FLOSS, “K” Rule, “CH” Rule, and “J” Rule.

Something to remember going into any OG rule is that there will always be exceptions, but you can teach the rules as a general truth and be sure to tell students that there are exceptions to every rule.

WHEN TO TEACH

On my Scope and Sequence we start early, around the same time we teach blends and digraphs, teaching the FLOSS rule. It’s the easiest because it takes closed syllables and doubles the consonant at the end with an F, L or S.  Later we teach the “K” Rule, the “CH” Rule, and lastly the “J” Rule.

Let’s explore each rule with activities for teaching or tutoring. These activities are also something tutors and teachers can ask parents to do at home with kids that might be more fun than just doing worksheets.

SHORT VOWEL RULES OVERVIEW WITH ACTIVITIES

FLOSS Rule

The first rule we cover is FLOSS. This rule says:

FLOSS: Double f, l, and s at the end of one-syllable words following one short vowel.

Notice that the word FLOSS is an example of the type of word we are talking about and it just so happens to contain the f, l, and the s.

Exceptions to this rule, one-syllable words that do not double, but “should” follow the rule are: if, chef, pal, nil, sol, has, this, us, thus, yes, bus, pus, plus

A few words double, but according to the rule should not: ebb, odd, egg, err, shirr, buzz, fuzz, jazz (you can teach this rule that z is an exception OR that z is part of the rule).

Suffixes –less and –ness will double the final s.

Flags!

Be careful when there is an a, followed by l. The a will typically not sound like a short vowel sound. Examples: fall, hall, small, squall, mall

Be careful with words that have long vowel sounds, but still have the double at the end: knoll, scroll

Know that u can make the sound “oo” which is considered a short vowel sound. Examples: pull, full – this is advanced

Z also follows this rule, in words like buzz and fuzz. You can add this in after you introduce F, L and S. There are not many words that end in Z, so you can also teach it as an exception.

Activities

Flossy the Puppet

Create or use a puppet named “Flossy” to help teach the rule. Flossy does not need to be fancy to have fun!

Activity: Introduce Flossy as a puppet who loves words with double f, l, and s. Have Flossy “whisper” a word into the student’s ear (like grass), and then the student says it out loud. The student then spells the word with magnetic letters or on a whiteboard, and if they get it right, they get to make Flossy dance or give them a high-five.

Jump and Spell

Create spaces on the floor using chalk or tape.

Activity: Say a word (like “hill”). The student will jump from space to space for each sound in the word. When they get to the final double letter, they make two jumps in place. Then they write the word on a whiteboard or piece of paper, emphasizing the double letter.

Colorful Endings

Provide a list of words, some that follow the FLOSS rule and some that don’t.

Activity: Ask students to color the double endings in words that follow the FLOSS rule with a specific bright color, reinforcing the visual recognition of these special endings. Be sure to read each word out loud.

Memory Match Game

Create cards with pictures on one side (e.g., a bell for “bell” and grass for “grass”). On separate cards, write the corresponding words.

Activity: Lay all the cards face down. Students turn over two at a time, trying to match the picture with the correct word. This reinforces visual memory and the spelling of words that adhere to the FLOSS rule.

Story Time

Write a short story or gather a collection of sentences that heavily use FLOSS words.

Activity: Read the story/sentences aloud and ask the student to listen carefully. Every time they hear a word that sounds like it might follow the FLOSS rule, they can raise their hand, tap a drum, or make a fun sound with a musical instrument. After the reading, review the words together and write them down, emphasizing the double consonants at the end.

“CH” RULE

The “CH” Rule says: -tch is used after one short vowel at the end of one syllable words to spell “ch.”

Examples: match, batch, pitch, scotch, fetch, hutch

The sound “ch” is usually spelled ch or tch.

Use ch at the beginning of a word, after a consonant, and after a diphthong. Examples: chair, drench, screech.

There are four exceptions and we use the helpful word: WORMS to teach them.
W hich
O
R ich
M uch
S uch

Flags!

Suffixes can be added to root words that have the “ch” sound without changing the root spelling. Examples: teacher, kitchen, hatchet

Be aware of two endings: -ture and –tion. Both of these have the “ch” sound at the beginning of them. Examples: picture, attention.

A few other words with tu have the “ch” sound. Examples: virtue, spatula

Activities

Continuous positive feedback and repetition are essential. Tailoring activities to the student’s individual needs and interests can also help with engagement and understanding.

Interactive Sound & Spelling Relay

Create a set of cards with images representing words that follow the “CH” rule (e.g., an image of a “hatch” or “patch”).

You pronounce a word from the set, emphasizing the “ch” sound at the end.

Set up two areas – a starting point and a card collection point a short distance away. As you call out each word, the student runs (or walks quickly) to the collection point, selects the correct image card representing the word, and then hurries back to the start to spell it out using letter tiles or writing it on a whiteboard.

Rhythmic Word Building

Display words that fit the “CH” rule on flashcards. Also, have a set of blank flashcards and colored markers available.

Play a simple, rhythmic beat using a drum, tambourine, or clapping. As you play, pronounce one of the “-tch” words in rhythm, emphasizing each sound to match the beats.

Encourage the student to join in by mimicking your rhythm, breaking down the word phonetically as they tap/clap along. After they’ve got the rhythm and pronunciation, they can then visually construct the word by writing it on a blank flashcard with the markers, still maintaining the rhythm.

Letter Tile Building

Use letter tiles or magnetic letters.

Read out a word that adheres to the “CH” rule.

Ask the student to build the word using the tiles, emphasizing the “-tch” ending.

Once built, you can discuss the structure of the word and why it uses “-tch” instead of just “-ch.”

Sound Hopscotch

Draw a hopscotch grid outdoors or use tape on a floor indoors.

Call out a word following the “CH” rule.

As the student hops through the squares, they should say each sound of the word.

The final two hops can be dedicated to the “-t” and “-ch” sounds, reinforcing their combined “-tch” spelling.

Highlight and Categorize

Provide the student with a list of words. Some should fit the “CH” rule, some should end in “ch” without a preceding short vowel, and some can be unrelated distractors.

Ask the student to highlight or underline the “-tch” words in one color and “-ch” words in another. Discuss the differences and review the rule.

Interactive Sentences or Stories

Write sentences (or a story) incorporating several “-tch” words.

Read each sentence aloud with the student, pausing at each “tch” word for the student to identify and spell out loud.

After reading, review the words and emphasize the short vowel that precedes the “-tch.”

You can also ask the student to draw pictures of words in the sentences, visually connecting the words.

“J” Rule

“J” Rule says: -dge is used after one short vowel at the end of one syllable words to spell “j.”

Examples: wedge, judge

Use –ge after a consonant, diphthong, and in a magic e word. Examples: merge, stooge, rage

Students need to understand the C&G Rule where g followed by an e, i, or y will have a soft sound of /j/ and the c followed by e, i, or y will say /s/.

There are five multisyllabic words that use –dge at the end. They are: acknowledge, cartridge, knowledge, partridge and porridge

Flags!
Advanced: There are many multisyllabic words that use –age to spell “ij” at the end. Examples: garbage, manage

Advanced: There are a few multisyllabic words that use –ege or –ige to spell “ij” at the end. Examples: college, privilege, vestige

Advanced: Sometimes in English the letter d (with i or u after it) wounds like “j.” Examples: Soldier, graduate

Activities

Letter Tile Manipulation

Utilize individual letter tiles or magnetic letters for this activity.

Provide the student with a base word (e.g., “budge”) and ask them to form it using the tiles.

Discuss the “dge” ending. Then, mix it up—give them a word like “bug” and ask them how they would add the “j” sound. This provides a tactile and visual representation of the rule.

Flashcard Drill with Movement

Prepare flashcards with images on one side and the corresponding “dge” word on the other.

Spread them out on the floor or table.

Read the word aloud, and the student has to quickly find and slap or tap the card with the corresponding image.

Coding & Coloring

Write several “dge” words spaced out on a piece of paper.

Have the student use colored pencils or markers to circle or shade the vowel in one color and the “dge” ending in another.

Discuss the rule as they do this, emphasizing how the short vowel is followed by “dge.”

Interactive Dictation with Tokens

Use tokens or counters for this activity.

Say a word and have the student repeat it. As they say each sound in the word, they place a token down for each sound they hear.

After laying out the tokens, they write the word.

The “K” Rule

The “K” Rule says: -ck is used after one short vowel at the end of one syllable words to spell “k.”

Examples: lock, stack, pick, deck, duck

The sound “k” is usually spelled with a c, ck, or k.

Use k after a consonant, diphthong, or in a magic e word.

Examples: trunk, spook, lake

Use c at the end of multisyllabic words after a short vowel. Examples: music, cosmic, psychic

Flags!

The letter c is by far the most common spelling for the /k/ sound.

When using the letter c, more than half the time it will be a hard c.

When k is used as an initial letter, it usually occurs before e and i because c could not function as a “k” sound because of the C & G Rule.

Advanced: Most of the words in which the initial k is followed by a, o, or u are taken from a foreign language. Examples: kabob (Turkish), kachina (Hopi), kosher (Yiddish)

Advanved: In a few words from French, the ending sound of “k” is spelled –que. Examples: technique, antique

Advanved: When adding a suffix to a word that begins with e, i, or y, insert a k before the suffix to prevent the C&G rule from being enacted and making the c sound like “s.”

Examples: frolic becomes frolicking, picnic becomes picnicked.

Anglo-Saxon suffixes can be added to roots ending in “k” sound without changing the root spelling. Examples: chicken, locker

Activities

Word Building with Letter Tiles

Use letter tiles or cards. Have a set prepared for vowels and consonants.

Say a word and ask the student to build it using the tiles.

This helps the student physically see and construct the word, reinforcing the rule. You can then discuss the pattern observed in words like “back,” “tick,” and “rock.”

Flashcard Drill

Prepare flashcards with images on one side and the corresponding “ck” word on the other. For example, a picture of a duck on one side with the word duck on the other side.

Show the image and ask the student to say the word, emphasizing the ending sound.

Once they say the word, they can attempt to spell it before you flip the card to reveal the correct spelling.

Interactive Storyboarding

Write a short story that prominently features several “ck” words.

As you read it aloud, have the student draw quick illustrations or use pre-prepared images/stickers to represent the –ck words they hear.

Afterward, go through the story together, identifying and writing down the –ck words.

Word Sort

Create a list of words: some that follow the “K” rule and others that don’t.

Ask the student to sort these words into two categories: words that end with -ck and those that don’t.

A Final Word

OG is cumulative – students will see a pattern after each lesson is added and become familiar with the concepts as they practice more and more. Making the lessons fun and engaging helps too.

I also like to give students cards in rings to have and pull out when they need a rule reminder.  

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