Alternative spelling of the long /a/ vowel sound

What a cool free resource from for teaching the Long A with this great flipbook.

the many spellings for the long a vowel sound

Flipbook for the long a vowel sound

It can be quite difficult for someone with dyslexia to discriminate between sounds and the long /a/ vowel sound has 8 spelling choices to add to this confusion. Many dyslexic learners experience problems with hearing sounds in words often experiencing weaknesses in auditory memory as well as problems sequencing sounds in words. Consider the problems that arise then when one of the most effective ways to identify the correct spelling choice is by the position of the long /a/ vowel sound in a word. These common spelling patterns are often referred to as vowel teams, a combination of two vowels such as  'ai' and 'ay' make one sound. 

A great free resource teaching the rules for Long A spellings flipbook from

When someone who experiences problems with sequencing sounds in words is asked to select the alternative spelling for the long /a/ vowel sound by identifying the position of the sound in the word, it can be very frustrating for a learner with dyslexia or other specific learning difficulty. Here are some of the strategies to teach the alternative spelling of the long /a/ vowel sound:

1. Does the vowel bounce or stretch? 

2. Is it in the middle or end of the word?

3. Is the long /a/ sound at the end of a syllable?

Listening activities and games to identify the long and short vowel sound help establish the bouncy sound of a short vowel and the stretched sound of the long vowel that says its name. Using a mirror gives the learner a strong physical visual cue from the shape of the lips and mouth when saying the long and short vowel sounds. Another great activity is using these cute Jumpies and elastic bands to reinforce the long or short bouncy sound the vowel makes in words. Once the learner can distinguish between a long and short vowel and is familiar with the common spelling patterns (long /a/, ay, ai, a_e) then more practise in spelling choice is needed. A fun way to do this is to read a list of words and the learner selects the corresponding spelling choice and Jumpie and explains the rule before pushing down on the figure.

Giggles and wriggles!

1. /a/ vowel sound at the end of a syllable is long (apron, basin)

2. long /a/ sound comes at the end of the word, English words do not end in the letter 'i' and changes to 'y' (stray)

3. long /a/ sound comes in the middle of the word (rain, attain)

Introducing the common alternative spelling choices for the long /a/ vowel sound can be established by using word families for 'ay' (bay, day, Fay, Jay, lay, may, pay, play, ray, say, stay, way). Word study activities will show the 'ay' spelling is at the end of words and it is important to understand that English words do not end with the letter 'i', the letter 'i' is changed to the letter 'y'.  If the rule is established then more challenging words can be presented for learners.

Love this free resource from

Sorting sounds and talking about the reasons for their decisions helps build awareness of the rules for the alternative spellings of the long /a/ vowel sound. The other common spelling is the 'ai' spelling as in rain or detain usually found at the start of middle of words (aim, ail, refrain).

Wish I'd found this free resource for the spellings with the long A vowel from before now.

Flip the short vowel to a long /a/ vowel by adding the silent 'e' is a great activity that quickly captures the interest of the learner. 

What a great free resource for review spelling patterns for the long A vowel!

Another clue to highlight when making alternative spelling choices for the long /a/ vowel sound, is noting the syllable where a vowel is at the end of a syllable, this makes it long (apron, alien, basin etc).

Found this just in time, great freebie from!

Get a copy of this 8 page A5 booklet for the long vowel sounds. Each page has sound pictures and key words in bubble writing. There is a rule box at the top of each page for the learner to write the rule in their own words. If you haven't signed up to receive these free materials, what are you waiting for?  Sign up here and a free alternative spellings flipbook for the long /a/ vowel will be sent to you right away.

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Suffix -ess, -tele, scribe

Here is a quick aid to use when teaching the suffix -ess.

The suffix -ess is used to form a female noun although it is now more common to use gender neutral language such as actor and waiter rather than actress and waitress.

When adding -ess to a noun ending in -tor or -ter, the vowel before the r is usually dropped. Other examples of the suffix -ess include: actress, benefactress, lioness, tigress, hostess, mistress, huntress, governess, princess, songstress, stewardess.

Here is a handy visual prompt to reinforce the meaning of the suffix -ess.

A fantastic idea for the suffix_ess from

Another great poster idea is the telephone, for the root word -tele, meaning 'far of' or 'distant'. Most learners, not only those with dyslexia or other specific learning difficulties will remember root words more efficiently when a visual image is used in conjunction with the word.

Great idea for teaching the suffix -tele from

We love this poster for the root word -scribe meaning to 'write'.

Fun resource for the root word -scribe meaning 'to write'. From

The root or base word -log / logy means 'word'. This gives a strong visual image to help learners with weak verbal memory or have communication weaknesses with difficulties understanding language.

Strong visual images reinforce the meaning of root words, a great resource for dyslexia learners!

If you'd like a copy of our Root words resource, just send us an email :)

Word building: 20 root words and 14 prefixes = 100,000 words

Decoding longer words is challenging for dyslexic learners so it is essential to make learning visible and relate it to the personal experience of the individual. In decoding longer words the learner will also be exposed to a wider range of vocabulary, and vocabulary development for those with reading difficulties is a particular area for development.

One study showed 20 root words and 14 prefixes, and knowing how to use them will unlock the meaning of over 100,000 words.
Another study showed that a set of 29 prefixes and 25 root words will give the meaning to over 125,000 words.
— Reference:Virginia Edu

Readers with dyslexia commonly experience difficulties in sequencing and holding units of sound in mind while they process the sounds to make the word. Therefore a systematic and cumulative programme that identifies the steps and discrete elements of word building will be more successful. Helping the individual to create a personal framework for understanding the meanings of root words, also referred to as base words, reduces the pressure on working memory and processing speed which is a characteristic of dyslexic type difficulties. In reading multi-syllable words, it can be common for the dyslexic learner to omit syllables leading to dysfluent reading and a slow reading speed which impacts on comprehension. Skills in word building and a working knowledge of common root words, prefixes and suffixes will improve reading fluency and spelling. It will also help improve the quality of independent writing as the individual gains confidence in using units of sound to spell unknown words, freeing them to concentrate on sentence structure and expression.

As a general rule, start from the known and build in success to activities, this will give the individual the confidence to 'give it a go' where they otherwise have learnt to give no response in situations where they are unsure of the correct answer.

In much the same way that sight words are treated as an essential cornerstone of fluent reading for emergent readers, the skills of word building using base word, prefix and suffix, likewise is a cornerstone of fluent reading in older age groups and stages. It is important both in pedagogy and andragogy to start from where the learner is and to use the familiar to structure learning so the learner can, in the first instance  apply rules and then to generalise rules for word building.

Word investigation alone, may not give the dyslexic learner the specific teaching of vocabulary which needs to be developed through explicit teaching as part of a multisensory, cumulative programme.

Whilst younger learners may be fascinated by the idea that some of the English language comes from Greek and Latin, for other learners it can be an anathema! In a recent lesson with an adult learner, their response to this information was one of quizzical skepticism and complaint, "But no one speaks Latin any more!".

The root word act is a good starting point because all learners will be familiar with the root word act and will have some knowledge of a wide range of words using prefixes and suffixes. Use different coloured pens to help establish the steps in building words. This helps reinforce the prefix is before the root word and the suffix is at the end of the root word. Remember many dyslexic and dyspraxic learners have some difficulty with sequencing and left/right direction.

A single Latin or Greek root word or affix (word pattern) can aid in the understanding (spelling and reading) of 20 or more words.
— Rasinski, Padak, Newton and Newton, 2008

The root word act means to 'drive', to 'do'.

Act: actual, active, activate, activity, actor, actress, activist, actually, attract, attractive, attraction, actualize, counteract, redact, deactivate, enact, interaction, radioactive, react, reaction, reactionary, reactive, inaction, reactionary, exact, character, characteristic, contractor, distract, impact, interact, interaction, manufacturer, practical, practically, practice, practitioner, transaction.


Whilst many will be unfamiliar with the meaning of the base word 'ject', they will have language experience with vocabulary using the root word 'ject'. From their knowledge of 'projector' they can gain an understanding of the meaning 'to throw'. 


The root word ject means to 'throw'. Encourage the learner to create a mind picture to help remember the meaning of the word, and this will help with vocabulary development when working with the root words. It will also help access the meaning more efficiently. Common words for the base word 'ject': object, project, deject, adjective, subject, inject, trajectory, eject, conjecture, jettison, interject. Play around with prefixes and suffixes to see how many different words can be built.

The root word rupt means to 'burst'.

Rupt: bankrupt, bankruptcy, corrupt, corruption, incorruptible, abrupt, rupture, erupt, eruption, interrupt, interruption, disrupt, disruptive, abrupt, abruptly.

The root word port means to 'carry' and again is a common root word that the learner can generate lots of words and easily understand the meaning.

Port: transport, deport, support, portable, airport, passport, report, opportunity, teleport

No Fuss Fractions

Just why are fractions so confusing?

What happens after you have coloured squares and cut and stuck endless circles, cut cakes, made pizzas, folded paper strips, made fraction walls, chanted rhymes . . . and they don't get it? Here are some clues and insights into the common misconceptions about fractions.

Fractions are introduced from the early years in school, yet it remains a difficult concept to secure. This is one of the most challenging aspects of fractions - to understand that ¾ is one number and using fraction number lines helps establish this concept. Annotation and visual representation are effective strategies in working with fractions. Reinforcement of the meaning of the denominator helps establish division or the breaking of a number. It is also helpful to introduce the Latin root word 'frac' meaning to break and create comic / posters. 

root word frac meaning of fraction to break
Fraction number line

It can take a lot of exploration to secure understanding of the part/whole relationship in fractions. After years of mastering the four rules of number (+, -, x /) learners with weak understanding of fractions will default to using the operations they understand and will frequently +, x the numerator and denominator when working with fractions. This gives strong diagnostic evidence of misunderstanding of the concept.

fraction addition thirds, fourths, fifths proper fractions
What appears to be critical in learning is that the use of physical tools leads to the use of mental models, which builds students’ understanding of fractions (Cramer & Whitney, 2010; Petit, Laird, & Marsden, 2010).

Here are some games that are highly motivating and the learner practically forgets they are learning - giving many opportunities for over-learning and establishing a concrete understanding of the constructs of fractions.

For a dyslexic learner the use of visual mapping is critical to developing concepts. The adage of 'multiply the top and the bottom by the same number' makes little sense and the overload on working memory makes the strategy less accessible. Exploration of fractions by modelling using diagrams and a wide range of manipulatives allows the learner to build experiential knowledge with concrete understanding of the relationship between the denominator and the numerator. Equivalent fractions are ways of describing the same amount by using different-sized fractional parts. 

Click here to download the games of snakes and ladders for improper fractions..

equivalent fractions


Establishing a mental framework of the comparable size of fractions is problematic when the learner does not understand that a fraction is a number, leading them to consider a tenth to be bigger than a fifth because 5 is less than 10. Generalising that the bigger the denominator the smaller the fraction leads to further confusion, for example thinking, 1/5 is more than 7/10.

fraction number line comparing fractions activity

Another area of difficulty is understanding that 2/3 means two equal-sized parts while not necessarily equal-shaped objects. Creating their own representations of fractions with lots of manipulatives and on paper helps establish this link. Lots of 'teasers' such as playing 'Would you rather. . . have 1/10 or 3/5 of playtime or fewer spellings for homework?' It is also helpful to do the same activity with two different representations and ask learners to make connections between them. For example, if asked who walked the furthest, a linear model is more likely to support their thinking than an area model.

Finally, understanding fractions means understanding all the possible concepts that fractions can represent; part/whole, measurement, division, operator, ratio.

Feel free to get in touch with any questions or to share ideas. 



Muscle memory tips for b / d letter confusion

letter confusion tip to develop muscle memory for confusion mirror letters b/d. Loads of advice, quick and easy activities for home and school.

Ask anyone what they know about dyslexia and they are bound to say something about b/d confusion which is considered to be a 'classic' sign of dyslexia.

It is quite natural for early writers to reverse letters up to around the age of 7. However, for the older child, part of the problem can stem from confusion with left / right direction that many dyslexic learners experience. Add in the extra problem of how similar the letter shapes are  - sometimes described as mirror letters (b d ,  p q  p d , n u, m w, and numbers 6 and 9) and confusion sets in. There is also the problem that for some, it is difficult to discriminate between the b /d sounds.

The confusion of these mirror letters, especially b d confusion, is a stubborn problem to resolve. 

The most effective strategies involve using two or more senses at the same time as research shows that this makes more connections in the brain aiding learning and retention of information. Multi-sensory approaches bind the experiences, make the learning more concrete and established in the long term memory. Using a 'whole body' activity is also very effective as it generates good sensory memory and reinforces orientation but remember to use other senses at the same time!

This multi-sensory activity is quick and easy to prepare. An inexpensive carpet runner and some duct tape to make the letter and off you go! Alternatively chalk the letters on the kitchen floor or outside in the garden path. I put coloured dots at starting and turning points to help reinforce directionality. It is important to say the chant whilst walking the letter shape. For variation the learner can 'hop' or 'dance' along the letter shape and use funny voices to recite the letter formation jingle whilst walking the shape. Knowing the jingles or rhymes for letter formation will also help establish the mechanics of letter formation. 

Effective activity to help with letter confusion b/d letters from

Because dyslexic learners need to 'over-learn', intervention programmes need to have a bank of activities to reinforce the concepts taught. Any intervention programme will include visual discrimination activities where the learner tracks letters in sequences, using dough to make the letters and tracing letter shapes using sandpaper letters. I like to use smooth and coarse materials in tactile activities and have found using foil strips very popular with learners.

Top tips for sorting b/d letter confusion from

Often a good starting point is establishing the anti-clockwise movement required to make the letter d. I like to use large strips of wallpaper placed at eye height on a wall and creating patterns - this requires the learner to use their shoulder and arm rather than the wrist to help establish the movement and anti-clockwise direction. The movement should be continuous and encourage the learner to stretch and repeat the movement across the page (landscape approx 60-100cm). Use different coloured pens to repeat the pattern and encourage close patterns to boost motor control.

In summary

  • Over-teach and establish one of the letters first
  • Observe the learner in order to establish the skills required to address confusion with mirror letters
  • Use whole body strategies + at least one other sense to make it multi-sensory
  • Repeat and reinforce frequently with short, targeted and varied activities
  • At first track one target letter in visual discrimination tasks, keeping the pencil on the page throughout before progressing to tracking b/ d letters in visual discrimination tasks
  • Use letter templates to make letters with dough (think about adding scents to the dough such as cinnamon or other scents)
  • Speed read activities challenging the learner to improve on previous best (make the word lists appropriate to the age of the learner).

Use a paper clip and pencil to make a spinner, print 2 play boards and enjoy!

Keep the pencil on the page and circle the target letters using a single continuous line.