picture of flashcards highlighting the short vowels A, E, I, O, and U

What Are the Short Vowels? Plus 5 Practical Ways to Teach Them

If you have a child in school or it’s been a while since you’ve studied the English language you may be wondering, “what are the short vowels?”.


In all actuality, it isn’t hard to get vowel sounds mixed up between their long sounds, short sounds, and the schwa sound.


flashcards with the short vowels, a, e, i, o, and u in upper and lowercase with the words, What are short vowel? 5 Practical Ways to Teach Them
Learn about what short vowels are and the words that have short vowel sounds. Also, learn fun ways to teach the short vowels.

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What are the Short Vowels?


There are 5 short vowels in the English language. They are a, e, i, o, and u. Vowels can have a short or long sound and you’ll know the difference based on the sound the vowel is making within the word. 


Children will begin to learn about vowels as early as preschool or kindergarten. 


According to the Common Core Standards, Kindergarten students are expected to, know the letters and sounds of the vowels in kindergarten. Click the link below to learn more about the Common Core Standards.



What Are the Short Vowels and How to mark a Short Vowel Sound?


When teaching phonics, many teachers will teach children to “mark the word”. This is done because it forces the child to pay attention to ways in which words work or rather the rules of the language.  


Children will begin to identify the ways the letters are arranged within different words and how to read them in isolation. It will also support their ability to spell a word.


Let’s take the word, “dish” for example. The d in “dish” is considered the beginning sound. The “i” in the word is the only vowel and immediately after it is a consonant (s). Thus making it a closed syllable (more on that later) and “i” says its short sound. 


The sh ending in the word is a digraph. I teach children to mark a digraph (two letters that come together to make one sound) by underlining both letters. 


If you would like to learn more about digraphs, click the picture below to read my post, “What are digraphs”? 

a white board with the words ship, shed, and fish written on it
What are digraphs? Keep reading to learn all about them!

What is the Short Vowel Symbol?


When marking words with students, they will learn to identify the sound differences between short and long vowel sounds. 


Remember when I mentioned closed syllables? That is important because when syllables are closed, they make a short sound. 


Children will mark this sound with a breve. It looks like a small half circle above the letter. 

A picture with images that start with the short vowel sounds; apple, octopus, elephant, igloo, and umbrella. Plus picture of a breve to show how to mark short vowels in words.
Use a breve above the short vowel sound in words like cap, hat, fix, shut, got, and more to show the short vowel sound in words!


What are Some Short Vowel Words?


So you may be asking yourself, “what are some short vowel words?”. Short vowel words are words that make the short vowel sound when you read the word. 


Some examples of short vowels are;


  • Short A: Bat, after, mash 
  • Short E: met, egg, vest 
  • Short I: fit, igloo, fish
  • Short O: cop, octopus, chop
  • Short U: bug, up, push


If you are still wondering about short vowels, I have another post that may help you. I have a whole list of them found on my blog post all about CVC words.

A picture of consonant-vowel-consonant activity cards and a picture of a young girl working on writing CVC words at a table with books.
Find the answer to the question, what are the CVC words, and 7 easy activities to start practicing them today!


5 Practical Ways to Teach Short Vowel Words


There are many ways to teach short vowel sounds. Some of the ways to teach vowel sounds are listed below.


1. Connect the Short Vowel Sound to a Keyword: 


The keyword would be something that starts with the same sound as the short vowel. Some common keywords for the short vowels are; apple, alligator, egg, elephant, igloo, itch, octopus, off, up, and umbrella. 


You could draw a picture or tell the child that the letter makes the sound of the beginning of the keyword. It might sound like: 


  • I: igloo: /i/


If you could then show the child a picture of the short vowel it will help support their learning of the short vowel i. Sound drills where students say a letter, a related keyword, and the sound it makes are important to do on a regular basis. They will help children review sounds that letters make and support their ability to read words within the text. 


If you need visuals for support of these sounds, you can check my resource out below! They are great for kindergarten 

Picture with the words, Beginning Sound Flashcards. Image of flashcards that children can use to help remember the sounds that letters make including the short vowel sounds.
Flashcards with pictures for children to associate a word to help them remember the short vowel sounds.

2. Teach them In Families


Word families are popular because it helps the child focus on the sounds within the words and see how they easily connect to other words. Most of the time, word families are found within consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. 


Some common word families are: 


  • Short A: at (hat, cat, bat, rat) and ag (bag, rag, sag, tag) 
  • Short E: et (bet, set, met) and eg (let, Meg, peg)
  • Short I: it (sit, bit, lit) and in (bin, tin, pin)
  • Short O: ot (tot, bot, rot) and og (dog, log, fog)
  • Short U: ug (rug, tug, bug) and ut (rut, nut, cut)


There are a number of different ways for children to practice word families. One of my favorites is through a sort using pictures. This allows the children to focus on the sounds they can hear within the words. 



short vowel word families with the word families broken up by short vowel
Use this quick reference as a way to find all of the short vowel word families! Click the picture to go to my short vowel word activities that have a list of all the short vowel word lists.

3. Use Sensory!


I love using sensory for teaching students learning phonics. It gives them something tactile to help support different senses while learning about letters and sounds. Below are some easy ways to get sensory in when teaching short vowel words: 


  • Rice: Fill a small container with rice and then have students practice writing letters or words within the rice. You could provide a model of the word or letter to differentiate this. You can also give the child a picture and have them write the corresponding short vowel sound within the word. 


  • Jello: Similar to the rice, but use a packet of jello. 


  • Shaving Cream: This is also similar to the rice and jello but it’s typically done on a tabletop. 


  • Play-Dough: Children mold the play-dough to practice spelling words. You could give them cards or letters to practice spelling over. I would laminate some index cards if you wanted to use this for multiple students. 


  • Hide words or Pictures in a Sensory Bin: I love using a sensory bin filled with various objects to help support the need for sensory and movement. You could hide word cards, magnetic letters, or pictures within the bin. Then have children search for the particular item you are working with. You can have them spell words or find the vowels within the sensory bin. 


4. Complete a Short Vowel Sort


Students could sort picture or word cards that make different vowel sounds. This will help strengthen their ability to hear short vowels within words. 


5. Sound Boxes 


Sound boxes, like the ones in the image below, are great for children that are learning about how words work. They support their ability to focus on the sounds they hear within the words to practice reading and spelling. 


Pictures of sound boxes with an example of the word ship. SH share a box, then i gets a box, and finally p gets its own box.
Use sound boxes to help students hear the different sounds within words.


The important thing to note about sound boxes is that some letters when put with another letter make one sound. Digraphs for example have 2 letters but only make one sound which means they only use one soundbox. 


In terms of how to mark a short vowel sound, they would only get one box for each letter. Thus showing that each letter only makes one sound. 


I hope you no longer wonder, What Are the Short Vowels?


In short, I hope you have found some practical, easy ways to teach short vowels in your classroom or home. 


Picture of letters that includes the words, "What are the short vowel words? and Ways to teach them with a picture of letters.
Learn the short vowel words and get some practical ways to teach them!


As always let me know what strategy you’ll be using to teach short vowels and be sure to share this post with someone who is looking for more short vowel support!   


Love, Ashley E 

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Hi, I'm Ashley E!

I teach moms and teachers how to inspire a love of reading in the early years. I live in Ohio with my husband & two boys. Our favorite places to be are at the beach & Disney World. But most of the time you’ll find me at school teaching, working out in our basement, or blogging at home. So grab your favorite cup of coffee, tea, or (if you’re at all like me) water & let’s go through this thing called life together.