Why ‘Zebras Spells Really Well 2’ is focused on teaching children to read and spell words with Double Vowels

There are many different combinations of double vowels within words and as the same letters can be sounded out differently they can cause specific problems for dyslexic children. As dyslexic children typically find it hard to distinguish and manipulate the specific speech sounds in words this then impacts on their ability to turn speech sounds into the letters that represent them. As different sets of double vowels can make the same sound, this makes the whole already complex process, even more demanding. And as the same sound can be created using different double vowels ‘homophones’ have evolved such as, ‘paws’ and ‘pause’ and ‘threw’ and ‘through’.

There is a maxim often used to guide the spelling and reading of double vowels in words which is, ‘When two vowels go out walking the first vowel does the talking.’

Unfortunately this only works some of the time; words such as ‘bead’ follow this rule, the first vowel is pronounced and the second sound is silent. When the ‘first vowel does the talking’ it takes its ‘long vowel’ sound, this is its capital letter sound, in this case ‘E’. 

But there are lots of words containing double vowels in which the sound is split and the second vowel is not silent, as in the words: ‘dual’ and ‘fuel’. There are also lots of words in which the double vowels in the words do not represent the sound in the word at all, such as the word ‘eight’ which sounds as ‘long a’ + ‘t’. Reading this article it seems amazing that the majority of us acquire literacy skills relatively easily! We gradually develop our skill over time. A lot of this happens as we start to intuit words from contextual clues and subliminally register the subtle differences in letter groups as we read.

Dyslexic children typically struggle to read and so their attention is distracted by the task itself and this is part of the reason why they struggle to spell words accurately. Focusing on the spellings themselves and placing words which include the same letter groups which create the same sounds into specific worksheets, takes away competing words and accelerates learning. And being tasked with selecting the correct words within the word group to complete sentences reinforces the meanings of the words alongside their spellings. 

Sarah Cowell, June 2020