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How to Help Your Dyslexic Child and Have Fun! Long Vowel Sound 'ai'/'ay'; Vowel Digraphs, Building Words

Updated on July 20, 2019
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Ann is a retired teacher of literacy and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) to multi-national & dyslexic students, having a DipSpLD

Further suggestions to help you and your child

By now, I hope anyone with difficulties or worries has managed to get some answers from the suggested contacts in the two previous hubs in this series. If you need help outside the UK, the BDA have a contact list (see links below). If you go to their site and then search 'worldwide dyslexia contacts' you will find some suggestions.

For a quick screen checklist for dyslexia see the first of this series (or 'suggested contacts' above).

This hub deals with vowel digraphs - 2 vowels (vowels being a,e,i,o,u +y sometimes) or sometimes 1 vowel + ‘w’, each time making one vowel sound, of which there are many. They are not easy to learn, especially from the spelling point of view. There is also a difficulty where pronunciation may vary, either because of local dialect or because of the difference between English and American English. I’ll be dealing with English as I know it, referring to the basic received pronunciation without dialect or any foreign accent.

First, let’s look at the recognition of letter patterns, the reading; spelling always comes after recognition and familiarisation.


Helpful all along the way!
Helpful all along the way! | Source

Long Vowel Digraphs

When I talk about long vowels a, e, i, o and u, I mean the sound they make when you say their names, e.g. ‘a’ in the word ‘same’ says its long vowel sound, it says its name.

Vowel digraph examples (other sounds & variations exist but these will do for starters!)

  • ai, ay (long vowel a), au, aw (both saying ‘or’)
  • ee, ea, (long vowel e), ei, ey (long vowel a or e - eight, either, they, key)
  • ie, uy, ye (long vowel i or e - tie, buy, shriek)
  • oa, ow, oe (long vowel o)
  • oi, oy (as in boy)
  • oo (2 sounds - fool & boot), ou (soup & foul)
  • ow (owl)

Oh, what a complicated language we have! Don’t despair! You can only do one thing at a time, yes even if you’re a woman - multi-tasking is a myth!

It can seem like a minefield but

  • take a deep breath,
  • count to ten,
  • calm down and say,
  • ‘right, let’s go’.

When one pattern is dealt with, it’s under your belt, you’re laughing, you can go on to the next because you know you can do it!

2 choices for long vowel 'a' sound
2 choices for long vowel 'a' sound | Source

Long 'a' spelling choices: 'ai / 'ay'

I find the best one to start with is ‘ay’, rapidly followed by, or even at the same time as, ‘ai’. I usually say never do two patterns at the same time but here is an exception because they say the same thing and there is an easy rule.

Look at these words: main, rain, Spain, train, daily, say, pray, play.

You can see the rule already! When you hear the sound in the middle it’s ‘ai’, when at the end it’s ‘ay’, as a usual rule (there are always exceptions - sorry!). You will get ‘ay’ in the middle with words like crayon, daytime - because crayon has two syllables and a vowel to begin the second syllable, daytime is a compound word (2 words put together to make another), so ‘day’ is a word on its own and doesn’t change. However, you won’t get ‘ai’ at the end of a word, not in an originally English word.

There is, of course, an alternative way to spell the 'a' sound in a word, such as in 'same'; it is referred to as the split vowel digraph (a-e) but I'm not including that here. It's a pattern which needs to be dealt with separately.

Where were we? Oh yes,

we’re starting with ‘ay’ - it’s easier to deal with the ending of a word.

Change the initial letter for more words
Change the initial letter for more words | Source

Start with 'ay'

  • Find as many 3-letter words as you can (day, gay, hay, jay, lay, may, pay, ray, say, way).
  • Have a card with ‘ay’ on it in colour then add individual letters, in black, to place in front of ‘ay’. If you don’t want to keep writing out individuals letters on card, get a set of plastic alphabet letters, blue for consonants, red for vowels. There are several on the market (see links below).
  • Ask your child to say the sound of ‘ay’ Ask the child to think about the position of lips, tongue, mouth and any muscle feeling (the mouth is more open at the beginning of this sound than when it finishes)
  • repeat the sound a few times before adding each letter, then read the complete word.
  • Mention the fact that they rhyme.
  • When these have been practised, read them as a list.
  • Ask the child to make up a sentence (verbally) with 2 or more of the words.
  • When s/he is ready, s/he can write down the words - one under the other.
  • Again when ready, s/he can write down one (or more) sentence using the words.

As a daily fun task, see if your child can recognise any of those words on tv, in the street, in a paper or magazine, in school books - as always, give rewards for each 5 or 10 found.

There is also an extension task in this - finding the words inside other words, such as: anyway, runaway, daytime, maybe ..... (more rewards).

Build up the words
Build up the words | Source

Then tackle 'ai'

Now we come to words with ‘ai’ (gain, main, pain, rain, vain, fail, drain, mainly, daily).

  • Have ‘ai’ in colour on a card (or put together the plastic letters), say the sound and ask the child to repeat it.
  • Add the final letters before you add the initial letters. Thus, you get ‘ai’ + ‘n’ = ‘ain’ (mention this is not a real word, you’re just building up the real word), then add ‘g’ = ‘gain’, and so on.
  • When all are practised, read them as a list and repeat the final 3 bullet points above.

Building up words is a good exercise. It teaches that ‘chunks’ of letters, if put together in a certain way, make up a variety of words. It's important to look at the chunks rather than at the individual letters.

It’s also fun for children to make up ‘non-words’ because they’re practising their knowledge of sounds and knowledge of which letters represent those sounds. So if they come up with ‘zain’, then just say, ‘hey, good word, but it’s not a real one, it’s one of your own, so you tell me what it means. They can therefore have some words of their own, as long as they realise that no-one else will recognise them - one or two could even be used as code-words (but not too many because we want to concentrate on the real words). For example, ‘zain!’ could be used instead of ‘oh bother!’ or it could be an indication that the child does (or doesn’t!) like something but only you and s/he will know - all children love secrets and codes, as I'm sure you know.

The non-words do actually reinforce the pattern of the real words. In fact, non-words are used to test knowledge of phonetic patterns in reading and spelling.


I’m sure you have the idea now to be able to present and practise the other patterns in a similar way. You must make sure that you have

  • the correct sound and
  • that you always show the correspondence between the sound and the letters which can represent it.

To reinforce these patterns, use games such as Crossbow and SWAP (see links below). Games are always a great way to practise because they don't seem like work! You can always try to make up your own games with your child. The timeless games of Snap! and Pairs (or Pelmanism) never cease to please.

Good Luck and, above all, Have Fun!


Do you know any Dyslexics?

How many Dyslexics do You Know?

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Are there Dyslexics in your Family?

See results

© 2012 Ann Carr


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    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      LaurieNunley517 : thanks for the comment. The problems you say you have are those shared by many - it doesn't matter! If you function as a human being and people respond to you then who cares if you don't know which side things go on. I'm glad you found the hub interesting. As for the goofs, we all make those when we're new to something; in fact, it's part of the learning process and never something to be ashamed of or worried about. On the contrary, goofs can be very endearing. So keep on with your hubs and don't worry about any mistakes or lack of knowledge - I've been here nearly 3 years and I'm still making mistakes and learning, especially on the technical side. I'm happy to give support to you and anyone else who benefits by it. Have a great weekend! Ann

    • LaurieNunley517 profile image


      6 years ago from Deep South

      I thank you for your specific information on dyslexia. I have a real problems with numbers, write and left, and crazy things like which side things go on. Thank you for liking my profile. I'm new and have been making lots of goofs. :)

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      8 years ago from SW England

      Thanks again for your support Judi! There are so many programmes now, which is good, so that you can choose what works for you and your students.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      8 years ago from UK

      Good info and great resource list. I think our school is going to invest in the Read Write Inc programme soon. Went on the training a couple of weeks ago and found it very interesting, hope our students will benefit (I'm at a secondary school - oh, sorry, Academy!)

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      8 years ago from SW England

      You're quite right! Any structured multi-sensory method is brilliant for all; shame all schools don't use one. Thank you Dolores.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      You don't have to be a parent of a dyslexic child to learn something from this hub. The info you present would be a help[ to any child learning to read.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      8 years ago from SW England

      Thank you kelleyward. My research comes from 15 years teaching dyslexics and I feel that parents need all the help they can get, almost as much as the children. I 'm continuing the series and trying to concentrate on the basics and working forward from there. I'm very happy to deal with questions anyone has about dyslexia in general or about how to teach a particular pattern. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very well-researched hub. I really enjoyed reading this. I don't know much at all about dyslexia. Thanks again!


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