by Elinor Boeke
Reading Specialist
Dayton, Ohio

Vowels vs. Consonants

A good reader must understand the difference between vowel sounds and consonant sounds.


Vowels are sounds formed in the throat with the assistance of the tongue and mouth. Vowels can be spoken alone.


Consonants are formed by controlling the breath flow and shape of the mouth and tongue. Consonants cannot be spoken alone. Those who think they are teaching a consonant sound are usually adding the schwa sound "uh", such as pronouncing "b" as "buh." Pronouncing a simple word such as cat by sounding "kuh-ay-tuh" confuses many students. By practicing consonants with different vowels, students can avoid saying "uh" with each consonant.

Pronouncing Consonants

One way to help students understand that consonants are spoken with vowels is to spell out "words" for consonant sounds: a, bee, see, dee, e, ef, gee, ach, i, jay, kay, el, em, en, o, pea, keyue, ar, es, tee, yue, vee, double-yue, ex, wi, zee.

Pronouncing Vowels

A single vowel letter can represent many sounds. This can be very confusing for new readers, but Reading with Color makes the vowel sounds easier to identify and understand. For instance some of the uses of A, can represent these sounds:

  • a long vowel a, as in ape

  • short vowel a, as in apple

  • short u (called schwa), as in around or about.

  • joined to an l or r it can have several more sounds.

  • with a w, as in draw.

  • silent, as in meat.

Learning Words Related to the Letter Sounds

As students learn the letters of the alphabet, it is very helpful for them to associate pictures related to the shape and sound of the letters. By using The Alphabet in Rhyme and Song, by Elinor Boeke, you can teach students the related words and sounds for each letter of the alphabet. Each rhyme has an audio file to allow students to listen to the sounds. Verses are sung to the tune of the song, Are You Sleeping Brother John. For young children, these alphabet rhymes are an easy and fun way to learn the alphabet sounds and shapes.