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When Two Vowels Go Walking

When Two Vowels Go WalkingThere's a common spelling rule that says "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." It’s a cute rhyme that’s easily remembered, and most teachers simply take it for granted that it is true, especially if their phonics program includes the rule as fact.

The PBS children’s program Between the Lions even devoted an entire song to the “two vowels go walking” rule (see it here), illustrating the concept with a catchy tune and animated letters that walk together (hand in hand, no less!) on a road. Their conversation is, however, decidedly one-sided, since the first vowel is the only one that is allowed to “do the talking.”

For the sake of convenience, it would be wonderful if this rule were true—teaching reading would be simplified if it were. But this "rule" is false 60% of the time.

To test the rule, I took the 1,000 most common words and analyzed them by applying the rule to each one. I discovered that, contrary to the rule’s claim, only 43% of the words actually followed the rule, and a stunning 57% of the words did not! When I analyzed the top 2,000 words, the percentage shifted even further—only 36% of the words followed the rule, and 64% did not. So much for oft-repeated phrases!

This is not to say that the rule is entirely invalid. There are many cases in which two vowels regularly “go walking,” including ai, au, ea, ee, ei, ie, oa, eo, oi, oo, ou, and ui, as represented in words like green, sea, hair, coat, clean, rain, and peach.

On the other hand, these same pairs of vowels also exist in many words that don't follow the rule, including good, about, earth, bear, noise, author, and friend.

Instead of relying on the incorrect guidance of this (fake) rule, teach your students the sounds of the letter combinations, or phonograms! By taking the time to thoroughly teach phonograms, you will help your students learn important and fundamental concepts, such as ai says /ā/, au says /aw/, oa says /ō/, and oi says /oi/. This knowledge will give your students some real tools to work with—and there will be nothing to unlearn later!

The All About Spelling program thoroughly teaches these multi-letter phonograms using multisensory and mastery-based lessons to provide your students with a strong foundation for future learning.

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