The letter <r> becomes very bossy when it follows a vowel! This letter affects the sound a vowel makes, giving a vowel followed by an <r> the name “r-controlled vowel.”
Tricky R-Controlled Vowels: ‘er’, ‘ur’, and ‘ir’
In the Kendore Kingdom, we call these three r-controlled vowels “growling r” vowels because rather than letting the vowel say its sound or name, the <r> makes the vowel growl like a tiger. Growling r vowels are vowel digraphs since they are two letters representing one sound.
Since <er>, <ur>, and <ir> all sound the same, spelling these digraphs can be tricky. It helps to know that <er> is the most common spelling of the /er/ sound (40%), <ur> is the second most common (26%), and <ir> is the least common (13%). When all else fails and the student does not know the proper spelling, knowing frequency will help students make an educated spelling guess.
‘ar’ and ‘or’
While <r> still controls the sound of /ar/ and /or/, these r-controlled vowels have unique sounds — making them easier for children to spell.
Teaching R-Controlled Vowels
The Kendore Kingdom features a memorable story about Growling ‘r’ tiger. Poor Growling ‘r’ hasn’t learned his manners and he growls when introduced to new friends. Children remember the adventures of Growling ‘r’ tiger and translate this story into an understanding of r-controlled vowels. If you are a Kendore-trained teacher, be sure to refer to your manual for instructions on using Growling ‘r’ tiger to teach your students r-controlled vowels.
When writing/spelling a word with an r-controlled vowel, students will often incorrectly reverse the <r> and the vowel. In many words, reversing the two letters will still produce a real word (barn/bran, arm/ram). Dot and Jot (phoneme/grapheme mapping) can help students prevent these transpositions.
Tiger Trek Card Game
Tiger Trek card games are a fun, multisensory way to reinforce r-controlled vowels. Tiger Trek can be used to play many games, including war, rummy, memory, go fish and more! The Tiger Trek deck contains both real and nonsense words in order to assess concept knowledge and discourage rote memorization. Students should be able to decode nonsense words such as ‘fram’ and ‘terk’ as well as real words.