The Best Activities for Teaching Short Vowels to 1st Graders


Are you struggling when it comes to teaching short vowels to your 1st graders? You are NOT alone. The key for teaching ANY phonics skill to 1st graders is practice, practice, practice.

The Best Activities for Teaching Short Vowels to 1st Graders - anchor charts, small group activities, phonics activities, centers, whole group ideas and small group ideas

Timing for Teaching Short Vowels

When introducing or reviewing teaching short vowels to your 1st graders, you will want to GO SLOW to get the best gains. I spend an entire week teaching each vowel sound, sometimes even more.

  1. Short A CVC Words
  2. Short E CVC Words
  3. Short I CVC Words
  4. Short O CVC Words
  5. Short U CVC Words

You will also want to KEEP IT SIMPLE! When teaching short vowels, only focus on CVC patterns. Unless students are really showing they are reading for blends and digraphs, keep it to simple 3 letter short vowel CVC words.

Planning the Best Activities for Teaching Short Vowels

Whole Group Activities

Typically, I read over the word lists each day with my entire class.

We do the same words each day to promote fluency and to help students start to recognize the words. Typically, I start with the word lists with pictures and then move toward a list without pictures.

We start by segmenting the words with our fingers (tap it out – cat = c-a-t) then we practice blending the words together (c-a-t = cat).

We do this each day with our word list, and then read the whole list all at once without tapping. This can feel repetitive, but repetition is key for the littles to remember!

Some fun ways to read the short vowel CVC words as a whole class are:

  • Monday – echo reading (teacher reads, then students read)
  • Tuesday – choral reading – everyone reads it altogether
  • Wednesday – choral read in a silly voice
  • Thursday – buddy read – take turns reading with a partner
  • Friday – buddy read in a silly voice

Small Group Fluency Activities

During my small groups, I like to practice word fluency. Depending on where students are at with the skill, some might breeze through it and some might need some more time.

Teaching short vowels in small groups can look like:

  • Daily segmenting and blending with a list or cards that have picture clues
  • Daily WORD fluency practice – students can practice reading as many short vowel words as they can. They can mark the paper each day to see how many they have done in a minute, and try to get better each day. Remember, accuracy is just as important as speed here.
  • Sentence fluency – students who are flying through word fluency are ready to practice reading the words in sentences. I use the same sentences all week. Make it fun by having students read in different voices or with a partner. I use the same sentences all week.
  • Passage fluency – More advanced students will be ready to read the short vowel words in decodable passages. Be careful that the decodable passages you choose do not include patterns you have not previously taught, as this part of the passage will no longer be decodable.
The Best Activities for Teaching Short Vowels to 1st Graders - CVC word activities for fluency practice and phonics centers

Independent Activities & Centers

When students are working in centers around the room, I have TONS of center options for them to pick from. Students can do certain centers independently, can work with a buddy or can work in groups.

The best independent centers for teaching short vowels:

  • Sound It and Blend It – students will read each sound out loud using cards that already have the sounds separated. Then, students will blend the word altogether
  • Squish and Sound – this is an absolute student favorite! Using play doh or some other type of manipulative, students will build the words, and then squish the sounds as they say them aloud.
  • Say It, Find It, Clip It – students will read the word on a card and then look at three images. They will use a clothespin or some kind of clip to mark what word is shown in the picture. Teachers or partners can help check their work when they’re done.
  • Write the Room – get students moving with a fun write the room game. Students will have to look at a picture and determine what short vowel word it is. Then, students will have to sound the word out and write it down.

The best partner or group centers for teaching short vowels:

  • Short Vowels Roll and Read – partners or groups will take turns rolling dice and reading the words aloud. This makes a great buddy game or a fun small reading group warm up.
  • CVC Word Attach Four – partners take turns “dropping” pieces to the bottom of the game board. Before they can place their piece, they have to read the short vowel CVC word aloud. Their partner checks to make sure they read the word correctly. Take it to the next level by having their partner cover the word and having the player spell the word aloud as the partner checks their work.
  • Short Vowels Snakes and Ladders – partners or groups can take turns rolling a dice and moving through a game board. Just like above, have students read or spell the word as they land on it. Be careful not to land on any snakes! The first player to the end of the game board wins.
  • CVC Word Race to the Top – partners or groups will take turn rolling dice. Students have to place a piece on the very most bottom part of the board based on what number they roll. They need to spell or read the word in order to cover the space. The first player to put a piece on the trophy on the top wins that column. Play until they get to the top of one column or until the board is full!
  • Short Vowel Worksheets – have students continue working with words by doing short vowel sorts, rainbow writing words, slowly building words and more. Remember.. repetition is key!

Assessing Short Vowel CVC Words

There are TWO ways to assess how your students are doing with your short vowel units.

Assessing Decoding Short Vowels

Decoding is a student’s ability to READ words. You can assess this by having students read through a word list, and the teacher can mark what words students need more practice with.

If more than 80% of your class can decode the short vowel skill, you should move on but keep repeating decoding practice with the students who were unable to read the words.

If less than 80% of the class is decoding the short vowel skill after your week of teaching it, you should consider re-teaching the unit.

Assessing Encoding Short Vowels

Encoding is a student’s ability to write down the individual sounds that students are hearing in a word. You can assess this by having a traditional or nontraditional spelling test.

You can challenge students to see if they are able to spell words that were not practiced during the week.

Follow the same 80% rule as above before moving on to the next short vowel skill or the next unit.

Challenge Words When Teaching Short Vowels

I firmly believe that ALL students should be exposed to the challenge words, but not held accountable to learning the challenge words in each unit.

This is important because if students are never exposed, they are never given the chance to prove how much they know.

However, I also think including challenge words each week is a great way to introduce advanced topics or skills and it keeps all of your learners engaged. Typically, I use 10 basic words and 5 challenge words each week.

Resources for Teaching Short Vowels and CVC Words

Looking for the best resources for teaching short vowels to your 1st grade students? Grab these 5 weekly units below, or skip the weekly activities and grab an entire year of phonics!

What questions do you have about teaching short vowels? Drop them in the comments below!

Need additional help setting up your reading block? Check out the ultimate guide to setting up your reading block in your elementary classroom!

Emily - The Mountain Teacher

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