Short a: The First Step in Teaching CVC Words

Where do you begin when teaching CVC words?  I prefer to teach them  in this short vowel order - a, i, o, u, e - saving e for last because it sounds so similar to i.

So, first step - Short “a” -  here’s how I taught my emergent readers to read and spell Short “a” words.

The first day, usually in small groups, I introduce/review the short a sound.  I tell my students that today we're going to practice the "a" sound that is in lots of words like animal, ant, alligator, but we will be listening for the "a" sound in the middle of the word, like in c-a-t, b-a-t, etc.

First I read a book with lots of short “a” words, while the kiddos listen for and acknowledge words with that sound. They practice sounding them out.

Hap and Cap by Margaret Allen and Dan, the Flying Man  by Joy Cowley are two great books my kids have enjoyed.  Both can be found on Amazon.

For a pretty penny, you can also get  Dan ,the Flying Man in a Big Book format, a six-pack of small books, and a CD to put in a listening center.  All is good, however, without these supplements unless you have extra money to spend. 

Anyhow… that my students are feeling pretty comfortable with short “a” CVC words, I pull out my Progressive Phonics Short Vowel "A"  Beginner Book set by Miz Katz N. Ratz.  These are 100% free downloadable ebooks.  The Short "A" set has 3-4 short stories for each of the four word families at, an, ad, and am. I make just one copy on card stock to read with my small group (you could also laminate it). 

On this first day, we will read the three -at family stories.  
Here is how we do it.  With the book pages facing the kiddos, I read the words in black print and they read the Short "a" words in red print.  

When we finish reading the stories, the kiddos use letters to build the "at" words from the stories as well as any others they can think of.  As they build, they write them in their literature notebooks, and when they're done, I ask them to spell and read the words. 

The following day, we do the same thing with the next word family group -  _an, and we do the _ad and _am families on subsequent days.  

Sometimes I make individual copies of the stories (copied in greyscale), and send them home for homework that week.  There are great parent instructions at the beginning of the

As the week unfolds, aside from the Progressive Phonics stories, we do other word building and fluency activities, too.

The second day, it's time for a picture/word matching game.  I make a copy of my cvc Short “a” word cards and a copy of the matching pictures (26 of each).  I give each student 5 or 6 picture cards, depending on how many are in the group.  I lay the word cards out in front of the group.  It is the job of each student to find the matching word card for each of his pictures.  When they have matched up their pictures and words, I ask them to spell and read each word and then write them in their literacy notebooks.  They may also draw pictures to go with each word if they choose to do so.

Throughout the week, there are many more center and pocket chart activities we do, as we practice building and reading cvc Short "a" words.

I copy several sets of the colored picture cards with the word cards printed on the back, laminate them,  and put a couple of sets together with a ring.  The kids use one set in a literacy center to practice spelling the pictures, then checking for accuracy on the back (with or without a partner).

In another center, they use the cards for checking as they play the board game Short "a" Trail.  They love this!

One set of the cards (without a ring) are used for the pocket chart center where the kiddos use large pocket chart letters to spell each picture. Again, they can check the spellings on the back of the cards.

Also, Word Family headings are used on the pocket chart for grouping the cards into 7 different Short "a" families.  I've never had a student who didn't LOVE working at the pocket chart!

At the Spell and Sort Short "a" Words literacy center, I provide printables with Short "a" pictures that have three circles beneath each.  There are also yellow and red counting discs; the letter "a" is written on all the red discs and consonant letters are written on the yellow.  A recording sheet is also provided where they are to write the words they make in the correct word family group.  This, of course, can be differentiated by leaving out the recording sheet.

And one of my favorite literacy centers is the Short "a" Word Family Fluency and Sequencing Activity.  For those students who are not yet ready to read independently, I do this with them in their small group (differentiation again).   

There are seven different word family passages with story pictures for this center.  I generally put just one of the seven passages out at a time.  Students are to read the passage, highlight the short "a" word family words, then cut and paste the three pictures in the correct order of story events.  After that, they glue the page into their notebooks and write the highlighted words below it.  Like this....

All of the word building, spelling, reading and sequencing activities we do with Short "a" can take up to two weeks.  It all depends on the class, time limits, and schedule.

If time allows, a culminating reading and word detective activity I like to do with the kids, after all the Progressive Phonics stories are done, is Zac the Rat from the Starfall website.  Zac the Rat can be downloaded in black and white print at Starfall

They also sell a full-color version in their boxed set of Learn-to-Read phonics books.  Again, a pretty penny, so I just use one of the black and white versions right along with the kiddos.  And, of course, I print one for each of them.

This is where we do some shared reading and word detective work.  We read Zac the Rat together first.  Then, depending on whether they are ready (differentiation once again), they either read it alone or with a partner while highlighting the Short “a” cvc words.

When coming back together, we go through each page again as they share the words they’ve found.  They LOVE this!  It makes them feel so smart!  (As I said before, if they are not yet ready to read and find the words independently, we simply read and highlight together.)  They still get excited and feel successful!

And, that's a wrap for my Short "a" lessons.  On to short "i"!

Thanks for stopping by!

But before I go, I leave you with a FREE copy of my Short "a" Trail game.  Just click on the image below to download it.



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to provide so much information for us. You are definitely relieving some back to school stress.

  3. This is beyond amazing...thank you so much!! So detailed and helpful!! I have used Starfall for several years and never even knew they had all those resources available, and the Progressive Phonics site is such a godsend! I can't even begin to thank you for sharing all your wonderful ideas and these resources with all of us, but you are truly appreciated!! :)


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