Silent E: CVCe Isn’t the Whole Story

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

Silent e is a familiar lesson in first and second grade classrooms all over. I’ve even taught it in kindergarten. We LOVE the magic e, silent e, bossy e, and any other kind of e we can think of…but that isn’t the whole story.

Did you know there are actually 7 reasons for the silent E. We tend to focus so much on the CVC E pattern that we convince ourselves that that’s the only reason we put a silent E at the end.

I’ve even heard a lesson where the teacher said the E on the end of this word doesn’t follow the “rule” for silent E. That’s such a limiting way of teaching the silent E.

Do I think we need to teach all 7 rules to students from the beginning? No. But when we are come across words in writing that have that silent E that don’t follow the “the final E makes the short vowel long” lesson, we should take a moment to explain to students the reason that E is there. Because yes, there is a reason.

There are actually 7 reasons. And if I’m being honest Denise Eide author of Uncovering the Logic of English, says there are 9 rules we’re only going to discuss 7 but I’ll tell you about 8 and 9 at the end.

Silent #1

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

The silent E lesson we are all most familiar with occurs in 50% of the words with the silent E.

This rule says the vowel will change from short to long with a silent E at the end. This is where we tend to call these silent ease the magic E.

It magically transforms a short vowel word to a long vowel word with just the addition of the magic E.

It changes can to cane, rob to robe, and tub to tube. I used to teach the refrain, “ the E makes the vowel say its name.”

I would like to propose to you that we change that refrain. We should say, “the E makes the o say o” (as in mope) or “a makes the a say a (as in cape).” I believe there is a big difference in the two quotes.

When we tell students “E makes the vowel say its name,” we are asking students to then find the vowel in the word and know how to change the sound to say the name of the letter. When we tell students “E makes the i say i,” we are telling them right away which letter is being affected by the E. It allows student to reserve brain space for decoding.

There are many ways to practice changing a short vowel word like “cub” to the long vowel “cube.” Students can practice word building with adding the E.

We can practice opening the flap to reveal an E and a picture depicting the long vowel word. We can practice decodable dictation sentences using both the long vowel and short vowel versions. For example: I can tap the can. I can tape the box. This can also match pictures to each sentence.

Check out Flip the Vowel, CVCe Building Long Vowel Patterns, CVCe Phoneme Boxes Set 5, and CVCe Bee-Bot Activities for activities practicing this skill.

Silent #2

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

The second rule of silent E is based on the understanding that no words in English can end an u or v.

Understanding that rule of English help students understand the need for the edit the end of the words.

I was exited during my LETRS training to see a video for writing the heart word “have.” The teacher in the video said to her students (I’m paraphrasing) because no words in English can end in a v, we have to add the e to the end.

It changes blu to blue and giv to give. Eide says, “Notice that without the E, word such as hav and giv can be sounded out just fine. The E is not present to change the pronunciation but to prevent the words from ending in V.”

Silent #3

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

Understanding rule #3 comes with understanding the soft sounds of C and G. Students are taught that when C is beside e, i, or y the sound becomes /s/.

Likewise, students are taught if the G is beside e, i, or y the sound becomes /j/. When using this in the middle of a word it helps students pronounce and spell words such as “cent” or “gym.”

This rule is also applied when the C or the G comes at the end of a word.

If we have the word dance without the silent E it would be “danc” and sound like “dank.” By adding the E after this c, we create “dance” with a soft C.

Similarly, if we have the word cage without the silent E the word would be “cag” as in bag. Adding the E to the end of “cag” changes the word to “cage” with a soft G.

Silent #4

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

This rule is actually all about syllables. Typically we think of this rule as the consonant + le rule. Students are taught that every syllable needs a vowel. When we add the silent E to the consonant and L at the end of a word like “puzzle,” the 2nd syllable has a vowel.

Originally, this role also applied to consonant plus the r because the British spelling of “center” would be “centre.” This would require the silent E in the second syllable.

However the American spelling of center adds the phoneme “er.”

Silent #5

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

This rule helps students distinguish A singular noun from a plural. When we add an “s” to the end of words, we make them plural. For example, “chair” becomes “chairs,” “table” becomes “tables” and “book” becomes “books.”

The suffix -s is added to the end of the base word. If we did not have the silent E at the end of words like “house,” “purse,” or “moose,” these words would appear plural (hous, purs, and moos).

And adding a suffix S to make them plural would really make no sense (houss, purss, mooss). Adding the E’s allows us to add the S to form plurals (houses, purses, and mooses).

Silent #6

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

Silent rule #6 is about the voiced an unvoiced sounds of the digraph /th/. Adding the E makes the /th/ a voiced sound, therefore creating a vibration while saying the word. It changes “breath” to “breathe,” “cloth” to “clothe,” and “bath” to “bathe.”

To show students a physical example of this have them put their hand gently on their throat and say the word “teeth.”

This is the unvoiced TH and there is no noticeable vibration. Afterwards asked them to say the word “teethe.” This is the voiced TH and there is a noticeable vibration.

Silent #7

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

The final rule we will be discussing is a spelling rule that clarifies meaning. The example in the picture shows a book where a students would see the word “by” to designate the author.

And it shows a boy waving “bye” to designate that he is leaving. The silent E helps to designate the meaning.

It is the difference in these two sentences.

                  My mother has many types of teas.

                  The older brother would tease his little sister.

The lack of the E in the word teas, talks about different flavors of a drink. When we have the silent E at the end of the word tease, we know we are talking about someone’s being mean.

silent e #8 and #9

I know I said at the beginning there were 7 rules of silent E these rules are widely accepted and are written about in many pieces of literature including Eide’s book Uncovering the Logic of English. However Eide goes on to add two more rules. These are often not taught.

Rule #8 is the E makes the word bigger (changing “ry” to “rye”). She says, “many two and three letter words have a silent final E to make them bigger.”

Rule #9 is the “unseen reason.” I guess this means we just don’t know. Eide says, “the silent E holds a story that has been lost over time.” Interestingly enough words that we commonly use like come, some, done, where, were, and giraffe fall into that rule #9 oddity.

See it’s not that hard (lol). There’s just seven completely understood rules and two not completely understood rules and why wouldn’t this need explanation.

As I said in the beginning we should not consider teaching each of these rules to students in set timed lessons but as they come up in their reading and writing lessons.

By incorporating these seven rules of silent E into your phonics instruction, you can empower K-2 students to become confident and proficient readers.

Through targeted teaching strategies, interactive activities, and ample practice opportunities, you can lay a solid foundation for their future literacy skills. As educators, we need to make sure our students know that Silent E #1 (CVCe) isn’t the whole story.

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

Mentor Text: The MIghty Silent e!

Silent e: CVCe isn’t the Whole Story Cathy Collier

I recently discovered The Mighty Silent E! This book, like most other vowel pattern books sticks to the CVCe rule of Silent E.

The might silent e isn’t appreciated by his classmates until he’s absent one day and they can’t make “a word for a type of dessert” with c, a, and k. It just spelled “cak.”

Ironically, this book is a great word hunt for the other rules of E. The book contains plenty of Rule #1, but also contains Rule #2 (7 words), Rule #3 (3 words), Rule #4 (3 words), Rule #5 (1 word), Rule #8 (1 word) and Rule #9 (3 words).

Happy Hunting!

Cathy Collier

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