Robyn Shields
Beginning Reading

“A” All Around!

Rationale: In order to become fluent readers, children must learn to break the alphabetic code. After they learn individual phonemes, they are ready to learn digraphs. This lesson will help children learn the vowel digraphs ai and ay. They will recognize that in the middle of words ai /A/, and at the end of words ay /A/. They will learn this by spelling and reading words containing the ai and ay.

Materials: Elkonin letterboxes and a set of needed lowercase letters for each student, list of ai and ay words for teacher (listed below), poster with tongue twister, James and the Good Day, an index card for each child with ai printed on one side and ay printed on the other.
Letterbox words: day, say, play, gain, bait, tray, spray, train, chair, strain
Letters needed: a,y,i,d,s,p,l,g,n,b,t,r,c,h

1. Introduce the lesson by explaining that when two vowels are side by side in a word, they make only one sound instead of two individual sounds. "Today, we are going to learn the sounds that ai and ay make. Would you believe that they actually make the same sound? We will practice spelling and reading some words with ai in them, and some words with ay in them so you can see how each of these work to make the same sound."

2. "When a and i are side by side, they say /A/. Can you guess what sound the letters a and y make when they are side by side? That’s right, they say /A/ too! Ai says /A/ in the middle of a word, and ay says /A/ at the end of a word. Say this with me: ai and ay both say /A/. Do you hear /A/ in stay or go? Pan or pain?"

3. Let’s try a tongue twister [on poster]. “Clay was on a train when the rain came to stay.” Everybody say it three times together, Now, let’s say it again and every time you here the /A/ sound, stretch it out. Claaay was on AAA traaain when the raaain caaame to staaay. Try it one more time, and this time, break the /A/ sound apart from the rest of the word: Cl /A/ y was on /A/ tr /A/i n when the r /A/i n c /A/ me to st /A/y. Very good!"

4. "We are going to use our letterboxes to spell words with ai and ay. Together, a and i only make one sound, so they will go in the same box. The same is true for a and y together. Let’s spell some words and see how ai and ay are different in words. Spell rain with me. You spell it out loud as I spell it on the board. (Teacher draws three squares on the board. The first box contains r, the second box contains ai, and the third box contains n.) Now, let’s spell stay. (Put s in the first box, t in the second box, and a and y in the third box) Now, take out your letterboxes and letters, and I am going to let you spell some more words with ai and ay.

5. "Fold your letterboxes so that you have two squares showing for two sounds. Now spell rain. Now spell day and say. (Give them time to finish and then write the word on the board. Move on to the next word.) Now fold your letterboxes so that you have three showing for three sounds. Spell gain, bait, chair, play, and tray. Now fold your letterboxes so that you have four boxes showing for four sounds. Spell train and spray. Now fold your letterboxes so you have five showing for five sounds. Spell strain. Put away your letters and letterboxes. Now read the words as I point to them. (Students read the word list the teacher has written on the board.)

6. Now we are going to read James and the Good Day. I am going to call on each of you to read at some time so be sure and pay attention to where we are. Read the story aloud again and have the students raise their hands when they hear words with the /A/ sound in them. List their words on the board. Have each student write a message about what makes his/her day good using invented spelling. Display their work.

7. For assessment, each student will be given an index card with ai one side and ay on the other. The teacher will erase the words from the board and read them from her list. Ask the students to raise their card showing the ai side when they hear a word with ai in it. Raise the card showing the ay side when they hear a word with ay in it. (The students should be able to do this because the teacher will teach the rule that ai is in the middle of words and ay is at the end.)

References: Murray, B. A., & Lesniak, T. (1999). The letterbox lesson: A hands-on approach for teaching decoding. The Reading Teacher, p644-650.

Click here to return to Breakthroughs.

Questions?  Email me at