There is a basic rule about IE/EI, but there are also many exceptions to the rule that make it difficult to learn and teach this concept. However, getting a basic understanding of the rule can level the field for spelling and reading. This rule is usually for 4th grade and above.
First, the rule says (and many have already heard this):
Use i before e except after c, when spelling long e (ē).
֎So, what does this mean? It means that the location of the c is very important to the concept. Because it says “after” c, but in reality the c comes first, before the ei. It is important to make sure this is very clear when teaching this rule.
Examples of IE:
Examples of EI:
֎In the class I attended, they had a list of exceptions:
Neither, Either, Weird, Seize (They used “NEWS” to remember these words)
֎EI can also make other sounds (which can make this confusing for learners). This “rule” is for determining the long e sound, but that doesn’t mean EI cannot appear in other words and make other sounds (it’s just not a “rule” at that point).
Here are other sounds that EI can make:
Long A. There are so many of these, some will teach this as part of the rule. Examples: weigh, neighbor, eight, beige, deign, feign, geisha, heinous, reign, rein, reindeer, veil, vein.
Short E. Examples: heifer
Long I. Examples: height, feisty, heist
Short I. Examples: forfeit, counterfeit
֎The best way to teach this rule is to spell words and use the words in sentences. Other methods are to proofread words for spelling, or fill in the blank for ie, ei words. (c__ling, th__f).
֎It is also important to remember that other sounds make the long e – ee, e-e, ea, as in seek, cede, or beak.