In this post, I offer a free ai and ay phonics printable, and answer the question: is English spelling really all that irregular?
In this ai game, kids can review and practice ai and ay phonics. The “ai” sound is in words like: mail, rail, main, rain, tail, trail, wail. The ay sound is in words like: bay, day, spray, tray, May, bay. When you teach ai and ay phonics, you’re helping your student master long vowels.
Here’s the ai and ay phonics game:
In the above ai and ay phonics game, I follow the principle of constant review and interleaving.
Why is ai and ay phonics important?
The ai and ay sounds are relatively common in both small words like “sail” and bigger words like “maintain.” Without ai and ay phonics, kids will have a gap in their knowledge. If they’re missing a common phonics unit, they may revert to guessing. Develop your student’s decoding skills thoroughly. That way, they don’t fall into the habit of looking at the first letter and guessing the word.
Most of the English code is teachable
Though English is arguable the hardest European language to learn to decode, it is still an alphabetic language (Dehaene, 2009). By definition, alphabetic languages are decodable. With phonetic knowledge, English readers can decode words they’ve never before seen in print, like mantic or confabulate.
It may seem like English is highly irregular because sight words (words like does, they, would, could) are very common. There are only about 120 sight words young kids need to memorize. However, we use sight words all the time. These words are descended from Old English and they make up about “62 percent of the words most used” (McWhorter, 2003, pg. 95).
Sight word knowledge is not enough
Don’t be fooled though. Sight words are used commonly, but they only make up less than four percent of English (Moats, L. & Tolman, C. 2009). That means, words that are irregular are only a small percentage of the total number of words in English. Since we use this small percentage so often, we begin to think English is more irregular than it actually is.
To put this another way, we fail to see that about 96 percent of total English words have phonetic regularities (Moats, L. & Tolman, C. 2009).
Again, there are only about 120 or so common sight words that young kids need to memorize. Thus, these words can be memorized systematically. Furthermore, even sight words have phonetic components. For example, the “th” in “they” is phonetic and the “w” and “d” in “would” is phonetic as well. Even supposed irregular words can be decoded with pieces of the code.
Again, only about four percent of English is truly irregular (Moats, L. & Tolman, C. 2009). This is a shockingly low percentage. Though we use words descended from Old English all the time, most words in our lexicon can be decoded sound-by-sound. This means that if a child is armed with sight word knowledge and phonetic knowledge, she can read.
Phonetic words are numerous
If a child lacks phonetic knowledge, she will not be able to read words that inject real meaning into language. For example, pretend a child only knows sight words. This child reads a sentence:
The _____ _________ _______ __ through the ___ ___ into ___ mother’s _____.
The child can read the sight words in the above sentence. However, with only sight word knowledge, the meaning is indecipherable. With phonetic knowledge, a child can read the full sentence:
The baby kangaroo crawls up through the fur and into his mother’s pouch.
How foolish to toss out code-based learning just because less than four percent of English words are irregular!
As a teacher, ai and ay phonics will ensure that your student has a thorough understanding of long a sounds. Ai and ay phonics are a crucial stepping stone toward independent reading. Use the printable ai and ay phonics Read and Color activity pdf link above so your student can review olds sounds and learn ai and ay phonics.
Dehaene, Stanislas. (2009). Reading in the brain: the new science of how we read. Penguin.
McWhorter, John. (2003). The Power of Babel: a natural history of language. Perennial.
Moats, L. & Tolman, C. (2009). English Gets a Bad Rap. Retrieved from: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/english-gets-bad-rap