Teaching R-Controlled Vowels in First Grade


R-Controlled Vowels: What They Are and How to Teach Them

AR, OR, ER, IR, and UR are the basic R-controlled vowels typically taught in first grade. Sometimes you might hear them referred to as “Bossy R”. They are an important phonics skill for your students to learn! Around the middle of the school year, most first graders are ready to learn to read and write words with r-controlled vowels.

R-controlled vowel posters
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Before learning bossy R students should have a strong grasp of short vowels, blends, digraphs, and silent e words. I like to teaching r-controlled vowels AR and OR one week, and then teaching ER, IR and UR the following week. After that, all of the vowel patterns can be practiced together. One note, be cautious about asking students to write words with er, ir, and ur, as they all make the same phonetic sound and there isn’t a “rule” to teach for when to use each one.

Introducing the R-Controlled Vowels

Create An Anchor Chart

Picture clues are in important component for introducing any phonics skill! If you are using a curriculum, you likely have some sort of picture/sound cards to use to introduce each phonics skill to students. Another great option is to create an anchor chart.

You want to have one main key picture to associate with each sound! I like the following sounds/pictures to introduce the r-controlled vowel sounds: ar- car, or- horse, er-serve, ir-bird, ur- surf.

Use an anchor chart to introduce and teach r-controlled vowels to students.
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With an anchor chart, you create a visual on chart paper for students to be able to refer to. It’s important to build the chart with your students, not just show them the finished chart. Get students involved in helping to create the chart, they will remember it much better that way!

You can write and draw with markers. If you are less comfortable with drawing, you can use premade pictures to glue on the chart. The key to anchor charts is that once the chart is complete, it should be displayed for students to refer to. Ideally, this would be on a wall in your classroom or learning space.

Practice Reading R-Controlled Vowels with Word Lists and Games

Flip and Read

A simple game for practicing bossy r words or any phonics skill.
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Here’s a simple and fun game to play for teaching r controlled vowels! All you need is a set of word cards with the skill you are practicing. Spread the cards upside down on a table, desk, floor, etc. Students take turns flipping over a bossy r word card and reading the word. If they read it correctly, they get to “keep” the word until the game is over. If not, they flip the card back over. Try to keep the game fast paced to up the fun and excitement! This makes it a great option for working on phonics fluency.

Word Lists

Students practice reading a word list of bossy r words.
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Word lists are a simple and effective way for students to practice r-controlled vowels. The list should have between 15-30 words with the phonics pattern being practiced or reviewed. Students should read the list multiple times to increase their fluency. It can also be practiced over multiple days, and reviewed even weeks later, to help solidify learning. One way to make it more engaging is by having students work with partners and ready every other word.

Task Cards

Task cards are a fun activity to teach r-controlled vowels.
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Use task cards for teaching r-controlled vowels. It’s a quick and easy way to make skill practice feel a little more fun! Task cards involve a set of small cards with a task for students to complete. Students record their answers on a recording sheet.

In the set above, students look at the picture and decide which bossy r vowel pattern it has. You can use task cards in small groups and centers. Task cards also work great for activities like “Scoot” or “Write the Room”. I have a set available that includes 4 sets of activities for practicing r-controlled vowels.

Build Bossy R Words with Letter Tiles

Building words give students an opportunity to use both their phonemic awareness and phonics skills. Start by giving students a set of letter tiles or magnetic letters. I like using letter tiles because each tile has one sound (but sometimes more than one letter).

Have students build words with letter tiles.
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Orally tell a word to students, or use picture cards, and have them tap the sounds in the word. For example, say the word “farm”, students tap /f/ /ar/ /m/, hearing that there are 3 sounds in the word. Next, they use the tiles to build the word. Next, you can have them change only one sound- for example, they could change farm to form. Or, you can have them push the cards back up and start a completely new word. Both activities build phonics skills in unique ways.

Use Word Sorts to Deepen Learning

Words sorts are a great way to teach r-controlled vowels.
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Sorting words is a great way to help children become more aware of word features. There are many different types of phonics sorts students can complete. You can have students sort pictures by the vowel sound and then write the words, sort words by bossy r vowel, or have them write words in the correct columns based on the r-controlled vowel. Sorts can be used for whole group instruction, small groups, or independent work. The possibilities are endless!

Read R-controlled Vowels in Context

Students should read decodable text to practice r-controlled vowels.
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This set includes a decodable passage for each individual r-controlled vowel.

Reading connected text is the ultimate goal of any of our phonics instruction! Use decodable passages to practice new skills like r-controlled vowels. This is a great way to incorporate a variety of reading skills including phonics, fluency, and reading comprehension work.

Winter decodable passages for practicing bossy r and silent e.
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This set of winter decodables practices a mixture of r-controlled vowels.

I hope this post gave you some quick and easy ideas for teaching r-controlled vowels. If you want some ready to use resources, check out my Bossy R Bundle that includes many of the activities shared in this post.

A variety of activities for teaching bossy r.
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Hi, I’m Jaymie! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I taught for 17 years including 12 years in First Grade, 4 years as a Reading Interventionist, and 1 year in Pre-K. 

I have a passion for creating rigorous, easy to use primary resources that require little or no prep! I hope you find some easy ideas to take back to your classroom or use in your homeschool!

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