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Common Phonics Spelling Rules: Unlocking the Mysteries for Literacy Success

You’re in a spelling lesson, and you start teaching your students words like “magic” or “bicycle” which are both major rule breakers! Your student might look confused and start to second-guess what they know about phonics. Spelling can be a tricky part of learning, but it doesn’t have to be! These common phonics spelling rules go way back to when I was in school. I used them with my own students over the past 25 years and guess what, they worked! Need to know more? Keep reading! 

Why Teach Common Phonics Spelling Rules 

Spelling is like a labyrinth of letters, sounds, and words students need to learn how to navigate. That’s why I, as a Gen X teacher, used what worked for me as a teacher. However, until recently, I haven’t seen these rules or patterns really used much by teachers. So, let’s pull them out of the vault and help your students become better spellers. When students are better spellers, they become better decoders; when students are better decoders, they become better readers. Let’s help them along the way with 11 common phonics spelling rules that have patterns that often predict how we use letters to spell words. 

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Cracking the Code: ‘K’ or ‘C’ 

Out of all the rule breakers, c is one of the biggest! It can make the ‘k’ sound or the ‘s’ sound depending on how it’s used. So, how do you know when you’re supposed to use ‘k’ or ‘c’? We’ve all seen it before. We are teaching students to spell simple CVC words and a student has to decide whether “cat” starts with a ‘c’ or ‘k.’ This is where we unveil one of our common phonics spelling rules. We usually use ‘c’ before vowels ‘a’, ‘o’, and ‘u’ (as in “cat,” “cot,” and “cut”). On the other hand, we use  ‘k’ before ‘i’, ‘e’, or ‘y’. When teaching the /k/ sound to my students, I always tell them both K and C can make the /k/ sound. Then, I teach them the chant “K before e,i, or y. C before a, o, u…and other consonants too.” 

Common Phonics Spelling Rules with The Chameleon Y: E or I? 

The next big time chameleon is ‘Y’. The common phonics spelling rules for this tricky letter will takea bit of practice. This letter is a master actor and act as a consonant and a vowel. The letter ‘Y’ loves to play the role of the long /e/ and the long /i/. But we have an app, or common phonics spelling rules for that! In single syllable words where “y” is the only vowel, it makes the long /i/ song. Think of words like “fly” and “try”. When “Y” moves to the end of a multi-syllable word, it’s time for the long /e/ to shine! Words like “happy” or “candy” are great examples of that!

Let’s not forget that in the middle of a word or a closed syllable, it can even change into a short /i/ sound. That tricky “Y” takes practice. However, with these common phonics spelling rules, your students have a better idea! 

Jolly /j/ sound: ‘-dge’ or ‘ge’? 

When it comes to spelling the /j/ sound at the end of a word, our young writers might be wavering between using “-dge” or “-ge.” A fun trick to use to spell words correctly is this: if the /j/ sound follows a short vowel, it’s often spelled “-dge” as in “badge” or “bridge” or “judge.” If a long vowel or a consonant comes before the /j/ sound, “-ge” takes the stage! Words like “rage” or “change” show this. It’s important to note that the /j/ sound will never be spelled with a j at the end of a word. You also need to note that when the /j/ sound is used at the beginning or in the middle of a word, you use the soft sound of /g/ rules which we will talk about more later. 

Double Trouble: The Doubling Rule Before a Suffix 

Suffixes can be tricky to add because sometimes that means you have to add an extra consonant. When do you add that double consonant? Well, this common phonics spelling rule will come in handy! If a one-syllable word ends with one vowel followed by one consonant, double the final consonant before adding a suffix that begins with a vowel. Using the example “run” can be helpful. The word “run” has to sprint ahead to become “running.” When a word ends with a consonant preceded by two vowels or another consonant, the last letter does NOT get doubled. For example, “need” becoming “needed” or fall becoming “falling.” 

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I like to teach my students a little chant to go with the rule because it can sound confusing. The chant goes as follows: 1,2, double I do; 123 no doubling for me!”

Essentially a student will look at the base word, starting at the vowel, and count. Using our words from above, “run” would be 1,2 double I do, with 1 on the u and 2 on the n. The word need would be 123 no doubling for me because counting from the first vowel, there are three letters before we add the suffix. 

To Drop or Not to Drop…That is the Question 

Suffixes are just tricky for doubling; sometimes, they require you to drop a letter. When you’re trying to decide whether to drop a letter or not, here’s common phonics spelling rules. If the base word ends with a silent ‘e’, drop the ‘e’ before adding a suffix that begins with a vowel. For example, “bake” drops that “e” and turns to “baking.” However, if the suffix begins with a consonant, that silent “e” stays on! For example, “rare” becomes “rarely” or nice becomes “nicely.” 

The C’s Secret: Hard or Soft? 

Coming back to that tricky /k/ sound from earlier, the letter /c/ wears two hats in the phonics world. The hard ‘c’ sounds like a /k,/ and it's clear-cut when it comes before ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘u’ or any consonant, as in “cat” or “crunch.” However, that “c” isn’t always so hard. It can soften up and make the /s/ sound before ‘i’, ‘e’, or ‘y’. This can be seen in words like “cereal” or “cycle.” Knowing what vowel is coming after the “c” helps decipher its secret identity. 

The G’s Guise: Hard or Soft? 

Another consonant that has a hard and soft sound is that sneaky letter “g.” How do you know when it makes the /j/ sound or the hard /g/ sound? Just like the c, you just need to know what letter is coming after it. The letter “g” is hard before an ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘u’, or a consonant, sounding like “gate” or “goblin.” However, it softens up before ‘i’, ‘e’, ‘y’, taking on the /j/ sound like in “gem” or “gym.” Teaching students about the phonics rules for g can help them become stronger spellers. 

Common Phonics Spelling Rules Challenge: ‘ck’ or ‘k’? 

Speaking of common phonics spelling rules, ‘ck’ and ‘k’ make the exact same sound every time. So, how do I know when to add the “c” to make the /k/ sound? Well, I follow this rule. When you have a one-syllable word after a single vowel, “ck” take its place on the stage. This is seen in the words “duck” and “kick.” On the other hand, “k” tends to follow a vowel team like “peek” or “book”. It also follows a consonant like “milk”. When  using this rule for reading and decoding, I like to teach my students that -ck says /k/ and the vowel before the /ck/ and /k/ is ALWAYS short! 

Choosing Sides: ‘-tch’ or ‘ch’? 

The choice between “-tch” and “-ch” is a lot like picking “-ck” or “-k.” If you hear the /ch/ sound right after a short vowel in a one-syllable word, “-tch” is your best bet. This can be seen in words like “catch” or “hatch.” Otherwise, “-ch” is the best choice. This is especially true after a long vowel, a consonant, or a vowel team, as in “school” or “beach.”

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In reading and decoding, I teach my students that “-ch” says /ch/, “-tch” says /ch/ and the vowel before “-tch” is always short. 

Common Phonics Spelling Rules: Adding Suffixes to words ending in ‘y’ 

Sometimes when we add a suffix to a word, you have to change the base word. This is especially true with the letter “y.” When a “y” waves goodbye, it often transforms into an “i”. This is always true unless the suffix begins with “i”. For example, “hurry” becomes “hurried,” but you keep the “y’ when adding “-ing” to make “hurrying.”

A simple chant I like to use goes as follows: “Y flies and changes to “i” when there is a consonant before the y..but when -ing is around, y stays on the ground.” 

Seeing Double? F, L, S, or Z at the end of a word! 

Finally, our seeing double rule! Many teachers have picked up a piece of student writing to see words like floss, ball, stuff, or buzz spelled with only one of the consonants at the end. To help students when spelling words that end in f, l, s, or z, I teach them that if it is a one-syllable word with a short vowel sound, they have to double the final consonant. However, this one can be tricky! There are a few words that are rule breakers such as gal, pas, yes, bus, and a few others. I simply list the short list of rule-breaker words for students to reference on an anchor chart. 

Using Phonics Activities to Reinforce Common Phonics Spelling Rules 

Phonics is one area all students really can’t get too much of. The basic phonics rules are a huge part of being a proficient reader which is why knowing common phonics spelling rules is just one part. That’s why at Farrah Henley Education we have created a Phonics for All Bundle that will last all year PLUS a Phonics Intervention Bundle. This is the ultimate ally in your mission to conquer all your students’ phonics challenges. This bundle is a game changer because it offers the following: 

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  • Real-Life Images: No more puzzled looks that clipart can sometimes bring. With real images, ALL of your learners can connect words to the world around them in snap. This makes learning authentic and relatable. 
  • Complete Coverage: With this great bundle, there are 14 designed units that take your students from the basics of short vowels all the way to the complexities of final blends. 
  • Standards Aligned: Just like the stars, this bundle is aligned with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Standards are clearly listested, making planning, cross walking, and tracking progress a breeze! 
  • Engaging Activities: Who said learning can’t be a blast? With games and activities throughout your day, your students will be learning without even realizing it because they will be so engaged. They’ll be too busy playing their way to phonics mastery to realize how much they are growing. 

With all of these awesome common phonics spelling rules plus our Phonics Bundle, your students are going to be unstoppable. To help your students remember all the rules, make sure to use visual cues like anchor charts and always review with fun phonics activities to reinforce learning.

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