Vowel Teams ea and ee
Introducing the team:
A vowel team is when two or more letters make the vowel sound. The team does not need to consist of vowels only: igh, eigh, and ough are all vowel teams). Both ea and ee are additional spellings that make the long /ē/ sound.
When do I use ea or ee?
There is not a rule dictating when to use ee, ea or e at the end of a syllable, nor e with a silent e to spell the long /ē/ sound. At the end of a syllable within a base word, e is most common (as in he and cedar), but ee and ea are still permitted (agree, tea), so this is not an absolute rule.
It’s really important to keep this in mind when teaching students. During spelling analysis in particular, the teacher must always cue which one to use when long /ē/ is heard at the beginning or in the middle of a syllable, because otherwise students have no way of knowing which phonogram to choose. You should also expect them to need clarification for awhile until they master a particular word, and this is normal and fine. Simply prompt them (“use ea–ee–e“) whenever they ask for clarification, or gently correct (“Good guess. Actually, in this word we use /ea–ee–e/”) when needed. This site offers a slide show with examples of the many letter combinations that make the long /ē/ sound.
The notion of homonyms will come up frequently in your discussions of ea and ee.
There are a few exceptions to the rule that ea says /ē/. Ea can say ĕ (examples here) and ā as in “steak”.
Students have practiced the long /e/ sound in an open syllable (i.e. cedar and regal) and with magic “e” (i.e. theme, athlete)
- ee and ea homonym materials
- ee and ea generalities visuals
- ee and ea cards
ea and ee word lists
One Syllable: tea, flea, seal, meal, eat, cream, stream, steam, beach, leak, real, creak, peak, mean, leap
Two or more syllables: beneath, repeat, reveal, season, treaty, creature, guinea, chickpea, undersea
One syllable: feet, meet, steel, free, seek, weed, deep, steer, breeze, sweet, reel, speech, steer, sheep, bleed, screen, cheek, feel
Two or more syllables: between, thirteen, fourteen, engineer, volunteer, coffee, degree, committee, absentee, chimpanzee, guarantee, referee
Phonemic Awareness Activity:
Explain to students that ea and ee are both often found in the middle of words and at the end of one-syllable words and multisyllable words. Unfortunately, we usually have to memorize these spellings. Students will need to be introduced to homonyms before being able to complete this activity, and word context will have to be given (e.g. “heal as in the cut will heal”)
- Give each child an ea and an ee card (copied onto two different colors of paper).
- Have the students hold the cards, one in each hand, with the ea and ee letters facing them. You will be able to tell which card they are using by the color, while they are able to focus on the letters on the cards.
- Read aloud from the list of words (above) and have the student raise the appropriate card. If they hear the long /e/ in the middle of the word, they should raise the card that best matches the meaning of the word (i.e. ee for meet but ea for meat. If they hear the long /e/ at the end of the word, they should raise the ee card (pink) with rare exceptions ( e.g. guinea or any compound words that are written as single words [chickpea, undersea]).
- Mix the ea and ee words.
- To eliminate the challenge with homonyms and focus only on the /ē/ sound, have students hold up their ea card only when they hear the ea phoneme in a word (e.g. steam versus stem).
Scaffolding this activity: If students are struggling with Phonemic Awareness, the activity can be broken down into multiple lessons.
Day 1: Start with the ee cards and read words which end in ee. Have the students hold the ee card in their right hand and slide and punch the word (Heggerty), raising the ee card at the end of each word. The same can be done with the ea card and the few words ending in ea.
Day 2: Use the ee and words that contain ee. Students hold the ee card in their left hand and “rollercoaster” (Heggerty) the word, stopping with the ee card at the top of the rollercoaster. The same can be done with the ea card and words containing ea.
Day 3: Proceed with activity above.
By using handsigns, students are able to clearly identify where the sound falls within the word.
Alternate Phonemic Awareness Activity: Chains
Read aloud a list of words that require students to substitute initial, medial and final sounds targeting ea and ee. Let students know when ea changes to ee as they will not be able to hear the change. Emphasize the different meaning of homonyms such as peek/peak. Students write each word on dry erase white boards. Let students know that only one phoneme will change each time, but do not segment for students.
Scaffolding this activity: If students are struggling with Phonemic Awareness, they may need extra practice with noticing where the phoneme substitution is taking place. Encourage students to say first the old word then the new word, noting where the change takes place: “Say real then sweep the finger under the word saying meal and notice where the sounds do not match up.”
Study ea/ee homonyms such as heal/heel; cheap/cheep; reel/real and steal/steel. Wordwall.net features many online games and activities targeting ea/ee: Wordwall.net/ea&ee
- Use the vowel slide card for ea and ee
- Use the flip book for ea and ee
- Create Word Rung ladders for ea and ee words
- Reading A-Z
Grade 1 Lesson 18 has picture cards, books, activities and lessons associated with ea and ee.
Texts using ea and ee vowel teams:
The following are a group of texts that students can read to reinforce the concept of ea and ee.
- Activity Suggestions:
- Have students read the texts in pairs either taking turns or reading together.
- Have students highlight or underline all the words with ea and ee and practice these words before reading the text.
Phrases are an excellent way to move beyond word reading without having to deal with complete sentences.
Samples like these are quick and easy to create:
If you would find it helpful to have grade level phrase lists built for this concept, please contact Heather Willms (email@example.com)
Grade 1: Lesson 18
Book: The Bee and the Flea
Teachers Pay Teachers
West Virginia Phonics
Use phoneme-grapheme spelling grids to practice spelling ea and ee words.
- Say the word
- Have students count the phonemes on their fingers
- Circle the correct number of boxes on the grid to correspond with the number of phonemes in each word (model on the board)
- Have students write the words in the grid, using the appropriate letter/s/
- ea and ee will be in the say box as they create one phoneme: long /a/
- Check the words together and complete the model on the board or screen
ea/ea Spelling Word lists available at Spellzone.com
Sometimes ea says ĕ as in head or ā as in steak. Help students generalize ea = /ē/ with the Wet Words and Dinner Words from the Orton Gillingham approach. Available from https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Vowel-Teams-eaee-Orton-Gillingham-Distance-Learning-6342370
Grade level spelling lists are currently being built for this concept. Please contact Heather Willms (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.