Beginning readers have to start somewhere, and for most, that is with letter sounds (also known as phonemes). Once early readers have mastered individual letter sounds, it is time to start stringing them together to form words. And the best way to begin that is with CVC words.
CVC stands for consonant-vowel-consonant. CVC words are three-letter words beginning and ending with a consonant. In most cases, the vowel in the middle of a CVC word will use short vowel sound. Some examples of CVC words include cat, vet, lit, bog, and pug.
Pro Tip: When teaching CVC words, be sure to listen to the sound the vowel in the middle makes. Though most words that follow the CVC pattern will sound as you expect them to, there are some notable exceptions, such as the word put, which uses a different sound for the U than the short U found in the words pup or cut.
Below are more examples of CVC words. For a comprehensive list of CVC words, see the activity section after this article.
Most CVC words are predictable, with the vowel in the middle making a typical short vowel sound. But there are exceptions to this rule. The word put is a true exception to the CVC rule, as other words with the UT ending do follow the CVC rule, but there are other exceptions as well.
The letters AY actually make a long A sound, as in the words pay and say. Because these letters work together to form one sound, they are known as a vowel team.
The letters OY are what is called a diphthong. Here the two letter sounds can both be heard, but they cannot be separated,
Words that use these spelling patterns are not true CVC words and are best avoided until your child is ready for more advanced spelling patterns.
As with OY, the letters AW cannot be separated from one another, and are therefore a diphthong sound, not part of a CVC word. This is true of the letters OW as well, when used in words like cow and frown, while the same letters become a vowel team in words such as know and grow. The letters EW are part of an advanced spelling pattern that makes an “oo” sound as in the words grew and flew. When teaching CVC words, avoid these spelling patterns, as they will only lead to confusion.
The letters AR, ER, IR, OR, and UR are known as R-controlled vowels. An R-controlled vowel is a vowel sound that is changed, or “controlled” by the R following it. Some examples include car, tern, bird, fort, and curt. These vowels do not use the typical short vowel sounds, and as such should not be taught with CVC words.
Reading ultimately comes down to learning how to blend letters together. This can be hard for new readers to do, and attempting to hold multiple letter sounds in their heads can be overwhelming. Most teachers begin blending with CVC words because they are short. Reading CVC words only requires a child to remember 3 letter sounds at a time. A true CVC word also uses only the first sounds a child learns: basic letter sounds and short vowel sounds.
CVC words are also good for new readers because they do not require that a reader understand the sounds formed by multiple consonants together (whether that be letter blends such as BL or GR or digraphs—two letters together that make one sound, such as SH or CK.) Because each letter in a CVC word can typically only represent a single sound, it is easier for a new reader to identify the sounds that go into the word, and therefore decode the complete word.
Pro Tip: Some letters do make multiple sounds. The S for example, can make either an S sound or a Z sound. The /s/ most often appears at the beginning the CVC word (as in sit) while the /z/ sounds appears at the end (as in his.) When working on CVC words, make sure your child knows all the sounds a letter can make.
Reading CVC words requires readers to have strong phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness means not only understanding that letters make a sound and knowing what sound(s) each letter makes, but being able to manipulate those sounds—to break them apart and put them back together again. Doing so allows readers to decode the sound each letter makes individually and then blend them together to form words.
Pro Tip: The sound a letter makes is called a phoneme. The English language has 44 phonemes. In written form, a phoneme is represented as as the sound a letter makes between two slash marks: /f/.
The same letter can be represented by more than one phoneme. For example, the letter C can be represented by /k/ as in cat or /s/ as in celery.
The way a letter (or combination of letters) is written is called a grapheme. The same phoneme can be represented by more than one grapheme. For example, the phoneme /f/ can be written either with the grapheme f or with the grapheme ph. The phoneme /j/ can be represented with the graphemes g, j, or dge.
Beginning readers do not need to understand or be able to recognize all 44 phonemes and the graphemes associated with them. Many of these are more complicated and will be introduced as their reading journey progresses. What is essential when beginning to read is understanding the sounds made by the 26 individual letters that make up the alphabet.
Beginning readers with a strong foundation in letter sounds who can successfully blend CVC words will then move on to blending more difficult words (often words with two consonants sitting together in a CCVC or CVCC pattern, such as grin or wisp.
When teaching CVC words, it is a good idea to focus on a single short vowel sound at a time. Short vowel sounds can sometimes sound similar to one another, which can lead to confusion for new readers. Focusing on a single sound at a time allows a reader to master that sound before moving onto the next. Below are some ways to work on CVC words with your child.
Begin by asking your child identify the sounds each letter in a word makes. Then work on blending these sounds together to read the CVC word. This can be done orally or on paper.
Below is an example of a CVC blending activity you can try with your new reader.
Begin by asking your child identify the sounds each letter in a word makes. Then work on blending these sounds together. This can be done orally or on paper.
Below is an example of a CVC blending activity you can try with your new reader.
Learning to read doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work and a lot of practice to learn how to decode text. More and more, we see parents and teachers turning toward structured literacy and decodable text as a way of teaching children to read.
Focusing on a single vowel at a time is a great way to cement a child's recognition of what sound a letter makes. For more practice short vowel sounds and CVC words, check out the Charge into Reading Short Vowel Decodable Reader Set.
Once your child has begun to read CVC words, try giving them fluency grids to practice on. A fluency grid is a chart featuring multiple words that use the same spelling pattern, in this case CVC words. Repeated exposure to these words will build fluency, allowing children to more quickly map these words to their brains.
Below is a sample fluency grid using only Short A CVC words.
Offer these grids one sound at a time until your child has mastered each individual short vowel sound. Then move on to mixed fluency grids like the one below.
A word chain is a series of words in which one letter is changed at a time to create a new word. These can be long or short. Word chains encourage a child to focus on the sound a letter makes and how it is physically represented. After each letter change, encourage your child to read the new word that has been created. Below is an example of a word chain using CVC words.
Charge Mommy Books is committed to getting children the resources they need to learn how to read. But we know that not every parent and teacher around the world has access to our printed books. That's why we offer free beginning reader books and resource on our site. Sample resources include:
Children learn to read by blending sounds together. One of the best ways to work on this skill is through the introduction of word families.
A word family is a set of words that share a common feature. For early readers, that common feature is typically the ending sound of the word. For example: -AT, -EN, -IG, OX, or -UB.
Below is an example of the -AT word family.
Being able to blend single CVC words is a great start to reading, but it's not enough. As your child becomes more comfortable blending words, trying introducing decodable text. Decodable text means words that your child has the skill set to read. In the case of CVC words, this would be text that largely features VC and CVC words. Below is an example of decodable text featuring these words:
The cat is in the tub.
It is a big tub.
The tub is hot.
The cat hops up.
The cat runs!
The cat is wet.
The cat is mad.
Here, the only words a child would not have the skills to read are the word the and a. These words are known as high-frequency or sight words. High-frequency words are words that appear often in text and tend to be memorized by new readers.
Pro Tip: Unfamiliar words begin as high-frequency words. They are not considered sight words until a child has committed it to memory and knows it by sight. Avoid introducing your child to a list of complicated sight words early on. Instead focus on truly high-frequency words such as the, put, to, and he.
One of the best ways to practice short vowel sounds is by reading short vowel specific books. While printed passages are good start, the sense of accomplishment a child feels from completing a physical book cannot be rivaled. This achievement can make a child feel like a "big kid."
Grounded in the Science of Reading and designed in consultation with Orton-Gillingham trained literacy specialist Marisa Ware, the Charge into Reading Decodable Readers take the guesswork out of learning to read!
The Short Vowel Beginning Reader Set is perfect for children who know their letter sounds and are ready to begin decoding or "sounding out" words. Each book in the set focuses on a single short vowel sound, building reading confidence one sound at a time. Compelling storylines paired with a strict scope and sequence make for a series that children won't just be ABLE to read, but that they will actually WANT to read.
Spelling and reading go hand in hand. While learning to read the words on a page is easier than understanding the letters that go into forming a word, CVC words are also an excellent tool in learning to SPELL a word. For students working on how to spell words, here’s a good activity.
Begin by saying a CVC word aloud, or by showing your child a picture of a CVC word and asking them to say the word aloud. Then ask them to tap out each individual sound in the word. Once they have identified the letter SOUND, ask them it identify the letters that make each sound. If they’re ready, ask them to write out the word so they can see it spelled out. If they are not ready, write the word for them so they can read what they have just spelled.
For extra fine motor practice, ask them to draw their own picture of the image.
Below is an example of a completed CVC Word Builder activity by my son, Sammy Vitale. For a downloadable version, including cut-out letters and pictures, see the activities listed below the article.
Rhyming word families enable early readers to develop a base on which they can build by supporting greater predictability with reading and spelling. This CVC activity encourages children to match words and pictures that belong to the same word family, putting a focus not on the spelling of a word, but on the sound it makes.
Understanding rhyming words is rooted in understanding what makes two words the same and what makes them different. This CVC activity encourages children to create a new rhyming word by changing a single letter at the beginning of a word.
Drawing a correlation between phonetic sounds and the letters that appear in words is one of the first steps in reading. This short E activity encourages children to recognize beginning letter sounds by matching the beginning sound they hear when saying the word with the correct beginning letter
One of the earliest steps in reading is recognizing the sounds that go into a word—and identifying the letters that form each sound. This CVC activity encourages children to determine the letters that make up a word and find them within the line of letters.
Being able to figure out what letters are missing from a word is important for building word recognition and fluency. This CVC activity provides the short vowel sound for each word, but asks the child to identify the beginning letter (also called the “onset”) and ending letter of the word.
Sounding out words (and ultimately reading) begins with understanding letter sounds. When several words all end with the same spelling pattern, this is called a Word Family. This CVC activity encourages children to identify picture words that belong to the -AT word family.
Decoding text is an important part of reading comprehension. That means asking a child to read sentence without any visual cues, and then asking them what it said or what it meant. This CVC activity uses similar words to engage children in decoding and understanding the full sentence, rather than just a single word.
The ability to sound out words and figure out what letters they include is one of the first steps in reading and spelling. Ask your child to say each picture word. Then work with them to figure out what ending sound the word makes and match it to the words in the word bank. This CVC activity focuses on -AN, -EN, -IN, and -UN word families.
Rhyming word families are groups of words that feature either a common spelling pattern or a combination of letters with the same sound. This short CVC activity focuses on encouraging children to identify the different words formed and match them to the appropriate pictures.
One of the first things children learn is how to sing their ABCs, but being able to sing a song and being able to put letters IN ORDER is not the same. This CVC activity encourages children to actively think about the alphabet and the order in which the letters appear.
Kids learn to hear rhyming words early on, but being able to find them in writing isn’t always as easy. Learning to recognize patterns in words is a major step toward building a vocabulary of easy-to-read words. This CVC activity focuses specifically on learning to identify words that fall into the -OG word family.
One of the earliest steps in reading is recognizing the sounds that go into a word. Often this is achieved by tapping out each letter sound in a word. This CVC activity encourages children to sound words out and determine which letters work together to create a word.
One of the first steps to reading is learning not only what their letters look like, but the sounds they make. This CVC activity encourages children to find only the CVC words by saying the name of each picture out loud and then following the path of CVC words to the end.
Writing letters means understanding how they are formed. And that means understanding how big or small a letter should be, and how high or low a letter should extend. Try drawing the sky, plane, grass, and worm lines for your child. Then teach them what lines each letter should touch!
Decoding words is about being able to break a word apart into its phonetic components and then blend them together into a word that can be understood. This CVC activity encourages children to decode three similar CVC words to identify which matches the picture.
A CVC Word template that enables children to tap out, spell, write, and draw CVC Words. Includes cut-out, letters, and pictures of CVC Words.
A comprehensive set of CVC word lists broken out by vowel.