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Mastering ‘Silent e’ and Becoming More Fluent with Michael, Third Grader

Mastering ‘Silent e’ and Becoming More Fluent with Michael, Third Grader

Reading expert Linda Farrell helps Michael master the ‘silent e’ pattern to help him become a more accurate and ultimately more fluid reader. She begins with making sure that Michael can distinguish between short and long vowel sounds in spoken words, then teaches him a multi-sensory way to recognize the short vowel and ‘silent e’ long vowel patterns in written words. Ms. Farrell emphasizes the need to practice each skill to the point of mastery.

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Literacy terms

Multisensory instruction: Instruction that engages more than one sense at a time to help students learn. A multisensory activity can include seeing, talking, hearing, moving, and touching.

‘Silent e’ spelling pattern: A single vowel letter followed by a consonant and then an ‘e’ usually spells a long vowel sound. For example, make, theme, nice, bone, cute. The ‘e’ and the preceding vowel together spell the long vowel sound.  At the end of a multisyllable word, the silent e may spell a long vowel (e.g. parade, delete, beehive, remote, perfume) or a schwa sound (e.g., palace, cursive, lettuce).

About Linda Farrell

Linda Farrell is a founding partner at Readsters (opens in a new window), an Alexandria, VA-based firm that helps schools implement research-based reading instruction. She is committed to effective early reading instruction to help struggling readers become strong readers, and to ensure that strong readers achieve their full potential.

Linda works in schools throughout the U.S. training and coaching teachers and modeling effective reading instruction. She also has designed curricula in Niger and Senegal for children to learn to read in their local languages.

Linda is a former English teacher and she was a National LETRS trainer for seven years. She has co-authored assessments and curricula for teaching reading, as well as several other published works. Linda can be reached at:


Mastering ‘Silent e’ and Becoming More Fluent with Michael, Third Grader


Michael: I couldn’t find my house.

Linda Farrell: When you went back, you couldn’t find your house?

Michael: No.

Michael is in third grade at Windy Hill Elementary School in Calvert County, Maryland. Reading expert Linda Farrell will be helping him work toward mastering the ‘silent e’ letter pattern. It’s part of a plan to speed up his reading.

Linda Farrell:  When we assessed Michael, I found him to be a very interesting student. He’s in the third grade, and he’s a very slow reader. He was quite accurate … not perfectly accurate, but he did pretty well in text. And he understood what he read.

Linda Farrell: Just start reading right here, and you’re gonna read right to the number, okay?

Michael: Don was a lad. Pip was a pup. Don and Pip had a run. The sun was hot.

Linda Farrell: Okay …

Linda Farrell: And when we dug deeper into Michael, what we found is that he has almost mastered basic skills. But it’s the almost that’s keeping him from being faster and more accurate. The good thing about him is that he’s not a guesser. That’s why he’s slow. He’s trying to get it right. He’s not trying to race through and guess.

Michael can read many words accurately. But he reads slowly. To find out why, Ms. Farrell first checks to make sure that Michael knows his vowel sounds, both long and short.

Linda Farrell: What’s the short ‘a’ sound?

Michael: Short ‘a’ … /a/.

Linda Farrell: /a/. What’s the short ‘e’ sound?

Michael: /eh/

Linda Farrell: What’s the short ‘i’ sound?

Michael: /i/

Linda Farrell: The short ‘o’ sound?

Michael: /ah/

Linda Farrell: And the short ‘u’ sound?

Michael: /u/

Linda Farrell: You do know your vowel sounds — your short vowel sounds. Do you know your long vowel sounds?

Michael: [nods]

Linda Farrell: What are they?

Michael: /ay/, /ee/, /eye/, /oh/, and /you/

Linda Farrell: You got it. Okay.

Then she checks Michael’s phonemic awareness. That’s his ability to notice, to think about, and to work with the individual sounds in words.

Linda Farrell: Now we’re gonna stretch a couple of words, okay? The way you stretch words is you go like this. Get ready. Okay, sit up straight and get ready. Okay? I’ll say a word and you repeat it. Bake.

Michael: Bake.

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now we stretch it. /b, ay, k/ … bake. You stretch it.

Michael: /b, ay, k/ … bake

Linda Farrell: Okay. And I’m gonna ask you what’s the vowel sound in bake. Do you know the vowel sound in bake?

Michael: /ay/

Linda Farrell: /ay/. And what do we call that vowel sound? Short ‘a’ or long ‘a’?

Michael: Long ‘a.’

Linda Farrell: Great. Ready? Back. Repeat?

Michael: back

Linda Farrell: Stretch back.

Michael: /b, a, k/ … back

Linda Farrell: What’s the vowel sound in back?

Michael: ‘a’

Linda Farrell: ‘A’ is the name of the letter. Can you stretch back?

Michael: /b, a/ …

Linda Farrell: Stop right there. What’s that sound right there?

Michael: /a/

Linda Farrell: /a/. When I ask you for a sound, it has to be one of the sounds on your fingers. So the vowel sound in back is what?

Michael: /a/

Linda Farrell: What do we call that sound?

Michael: Short ‘a.’

Linda Farrell: Ready?

Linda Farrell: Even though Michael knew his short vowel sounds and he knew his long vowel sounds when I asked — pretty well for somebody who hadn’t really been having phonics lessons. And he could, I’d say stretch the sounds, /b/ /i/ /t/. He could stretch that. “What’s the vowel sound in bit?” “‘I.’” He wanted to go and give me the letter, which tells me he’s not thinking in terms of sounds. We have to straighten out all that. What’s the sound? What’s the name of the letter? What do we call the sound? And we worked with some of that with him so that when I went to this is an /a/, and this is an /ay/, he could think in terms of sounds.

Linda Farrell: Tight. Repeat.

Michael: Tight.

Linda Farrell: Stretch.

Michael: /t, eye, t/ … tight

Linda Farrell: What’s the vowel sound in tight?

Michael: /eye/

Linda Farrell: What do we call it?

Michael: A long ‘i.’

Linda Farrell: Ready? Fish.

Michael: /f, i, sh/ … fish

Linda Farrell: Vowel sound?

Michael: /i/

Linda Farrell: What do we call it?

Michael: Short ‘i.’

Linda Farrell: You got it. You’re getting it aren’t you?

Next Ms. Farrell has Michael read a passage containing consonant-vowel-consonant words like hat and ran, further checking that short vowel knowledge.

Linda Farrell: Try the gray box.

Michael: Don got a tan hat. He sat on a log. He had a nap in the sun.

Linda Farrell: I think this is just a little teeny tiny bit too easy for you. So we have to get harder.

Michael: Yeah, it was really easy.

Linda Farrell: It was.

But when Ms. Farrell gave Michael a passage with the ‘silent e’ vowel pattern – including words like ‘luke’ and ‘rice’ – his accuracy fell off.

Linda Farrell: Now I’m just gonna ask you to read this right here. Okay?

Michael: Mike went to a lake with luck. They rode, rode their bikes to the lake. They had rick, I mean, rike, lim, limes, chips, and cake in a blackpack.

Linda Farrell: A student who can tell you /i/ is the short ‘i’ sound, /eye/ is the long ‘i’ sound, can tell you all the rules, and yet they don’t read it correctly, the word correctly — that’s often a result of a slow print processor. What happens is … when print gets there, they have a slow reaction time to pulling out what that print is trying to say, whatever sound, whatever word.

Michael can get faster by fully absorbing and mastering the ‘silent e’ spelling pattern, so that when he sees a word with a vowel, a consonant, and an ‘e’ at the end – such as lake — he automatically knows that the vowel will be long. How can he master this?

Linda Farrell: Not teaching him rules. He knows the rules. I didn’t ask him, but he could have told me the rule that ‘e’ jumps over. What we do is get him to recognize the pattern. If it’s one letter, it’s a short sound. If it’s that letter plus an ‘e,’ it’s a long sound. And we’re trying to get him to recognize the pattern.

Linda Farrell: Now I’m going to do some teaching. And I’m gonna see if you can get this 100% next time, if you can get all the words right. And here is the teaching we’re gonna do. We are going to learn about ‘silent e.’ I bet you’ve heard ‘silent e’ before, haven’t you. Okay. So we’re gonna learn something called two-finger touch and say. So when you touch with one finger, you’re gonna say /a/. That’s the short ‘a’ sound, so touch with one finger. Are you — if you were to write your name, yeah. So touch with this finger, okay?

Michael: Okay. /a/

Linda Farrell: Okay. When we touch like this, we’re gonna say /ay/. When it’s an ‘a’ and an ‘e’ together, go /ay/. Can you do that?

Michael: /ay/

Linda Farrell: Okay, so go …

Michael: /a/, /ay/

Linda Farrell: Now watch me touch and say this word. /M, a, d/ … mad. You do it.

Michael: /M, a, d/ … mad.

Linda Farrell: So I used one finger to touch that ‘a.’ Now watch this. I have an ‘a’ and an ‘e’ here. So I’m gonna use two fingers, so watch me. /M, ay, d/ … made. You do it.

Michael: /M, ay, d/ … made.

Linda Farrell: Okay, and you go like this: /m, ay, d/ … made. You do it.

Michael: /M, ay, d/ … made.

Linda Farrell: Okay. So you know about two-finger touch and say.

Ms. Farrell thinks this multisensory technique will help Michael internalize his ability to recognize the ‘silent e’ letter pattern. It takes a while to learn this approach, but it will be worth it.

Linda Farrell: Now, we’re gonna just practice, right here. So I want you to practice saying /ay/, /a/, /ay/, /a/, /a/, /ay/. Okay.

Michael: /ay/, /a/, /ay/, /a/, /a/, /ay/

Linda Farrell: Let’s do this one again. Okay?

Michael: /a/, /ay/, /a/, /a/, /a/, /ay/, /ay/, /a/, /ay/, /a/

Linda Farrell: Ten out of 10. Okay. Now what we’re gonna do is we are gonna practice touch and say. So can you touch and say that word?

Michael: Rat.

Linda Farrell: Okay. And here’s how we touch and say. /R, a, t/ … rat. /R, ay, t/ … rate. You do it.

Michael: /R, a, t/ … rat.

Linda Farrell: Touch and say that one. Now what do you do when you have an ‘a’ and a …

Michael: /R, ay, t/ … rate.

Linda Farrell: Okay. Touch and say that one again.

Michael: /R, a, t/ … rat.

Linda Farrell: Okay.

Michael: /R, ay, t/ … rate.

Linda Farrell: Try that one again.

Michael: /R, ay, t/ … rate.

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now we’re gonna try something a little different. This time I’m just gonna go /a/, rat, /ay/, rate. You do it.

Michael: /a/, rat, /ay/, rate

Linda Farrell: Okay. Try it again.

Michael: /a/, rat, /ay/, rate

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now you’re gonna do these. Just like you did rat and rate, do these. Okay.

Michael: /a/ …

Linda Farrell: Watch me. I’m gonna do this. /Ay/, mate, /a/, mat, /ay/, tape, /a/, rack, /a/, tap, /ay/, rake. You do it.

Michael: /Ay/, matmate, /a/, mat

Linda Farrell: One finger. Do two fingers.

Michael: /Ay/, mate, /a/ …

Linda Farrell: [whispering] One finger.

Michael: /Ay/, tape, /a/, rack, /a/, tap, /ay/, rake.

Linda Farrell: You just got all those right. We’re gonna try something a little different this time. I just want you to touch the vowel sound. Say it. Don’t even read the word. So you’ll go like this: /ay/, /a/. Okay? You do it.

Michael: /ay/, /a/, /ay/, /a/, /a/, /ay/

Linda Farrell: Okay. Can you do that one more time? I wanna make sure you’re touching with one finger when you should and two fingers …

Michael: /a/ …

Linda Farrell: Wait, wait.

Michael: /Ay/. Wait. /Ay/, /a/, /ay/, /a/, /a/, /ay/.

Linda Farrell: Oh! It was perfect. Okay. Now go back and touch with two fingers and then read the word. Okay. And, uh, down here.

Michael: /Ay/, mat — mate.

Linda Farrell: Start again.

Michael: /Ay/, mate

Linda Farrell: Go /ay/, mate

Michael: /Ay/, mate, /a/, mat

Linda Farrell: [whispering] One finger. One finger.

Michael: /A/, mat, /ay/, tape, ra- … /a/, rack, /a/, tap, /ay/, rake.

Linda Farrell: Okay …

Linda Farrell: That skill is recognizing spelling patterns. It is incredibly important, because many people will tell you the English language is nutso. It — sometimes a letter is spelled this way and sometimes the letter is spelled that way. And the English language is not nutso. It follows patterns. It follows lots of patterns. Most of the time in a one syllable word when you have a vowel and then you have a consonant and an ‘e’ at the end, that vowel is going — with that ‘e’ — is going to spell the long vowel sound. It’s not random. It is absolutely not random. Strong readers — and especially strong spellers — pick up these patterns automatically. Those who struggle to learn to read or look like they’re struggling, who need more practice really, they don’t pick them up on their own; and that’s where we come in. We’re teachers. That’s when we get to teach as opposed to just guide. So understanding the spelling patterns in English will tell you with about 80% accuracy what that vowel sound should be.

Linda Farrell: See if you can do that whole row … 10 words. And you’re gonna do /ay/ and then read the word. Okay? And make sure you get your fingers right. You can go slowly. I don’t care how fast you go.

Michael: /a/, stack

Linda Farrell: Let’s try that — what happened? What happens when you …

Michael:  …/ay/, stake, /a/, stack …

Linda Farrell: [whispering] Touch that with one finger.

Michael:  … /a/, stack …

Linda Farrell: What?

Michael:  … /a/, mad, /ay/ — wait, I mean /a/, fat, /ay/, made.

Linda Farrell: You would see, even though he knew the word was shake, he would read shack, then he’d say, “No, shake,” because he wants that word to come out before his brain has processed. One of the things we would want to do if we were working with him long term is get him to slow down first, because if he’d slow down, he would eventually get faster, because he would be in the habit of doing things accurately. And he would be using the patterns. He has every ability to be an accurate reader if he can recognize the patterns — and to read at a reasonable rate.

So Ms. Farrell focuses on accuracy, knowing that speed will come later, once Michael has really mastered the skill.

Linda Farrell: That was 100% perfect. High five on this one, too. Okay, now you’re gonna read some — you don’t have to do the /ay/, /a/. You just read the words.

Michael: Okay.

Linda Farrell: Okay? Okay. So what, what line do you wanna do?

Michael: I wanna do that one.

Linda Farrell: Okay. Do number four.

Michael: Shad, glade, same, Sam, pane.

Linda Farrell: Okay. Now we’re gonna go back to that passage that we just read. Let’s see if you can read it again. Go.

Michael: Mike went to a lake with Luke. They rode their bikes to the lake. They had rice.

Linda Farrell: What you saw is that once we taught Michael how to read long and short ‘a,’ he applied it in the paragraph the next time. And we didn’t have him read a new paragraph. We had him read the same paragraph. Once he reads that paragraph accurately, we’re going to go to another one. But if it takes him 10 times to read that paragraph accurately, we’re going to keep reading that paragraph accurately, applying his new skill that he had used.

Michael: They also had Coke to drink.

Linda Farrell: 30 out of 30. You got 30 out of 30

Linda Farrell: He made an improvement. And had we had more time, I think we would have seen him making even more improvement as he practiced. Michael was a real good example of the importance and necessity of practicing to mastery. Even though he’s in the third grade, we need to make sure that we get his basic phonics and his even advanced phonics straightened out and that he’s accurate at those, automatically.


We’d like to thank the wonderful students and families at Windy Hill Elementary School in Calvert County, Maryland. We hope that sharing these experiences will help other children who are learning to read.

Special thanks also to Kelly Cleland, Julie Donovan, Joanne Harbaugh, and their outstanding colleagues at Windy Hill Elementary … and to Leanne Meisinger at Calvert County Public Schools.

We are deeply grateful to Linda Farrell, Michael Hunter, and Nicole Lubar of Readsters for their invaluable contributions to this project.

Produced by Noel Gunther

Edited by Christian Lindstrom

Graphic Design: Tina Chovanec

Camera: Richard Chisolm

Audio: Dwayne Dell

For more information about teaching reading, please visit (opens in a new window)

Reading Rockets is a service of WETA, Washington, D.C.

© 2019, WETA, Washington, D.C.