Vowel Teams ai and ay

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 (for example igh, eigh, and ough are all vowel teams). Both ai and ay are additional spellings that make the long /a/ sound. It is a predictable vowel team.

When do I use ai or ay?

Ai is used in the middle of a one syllable word or syllable. Ay is found at the end of a one syllable word or syllable.

“Teams ai and ay love to go walking with the letters but ai likes to stay with friends in the middle of the line.  Ay is very independent and likes to walk a little slower, so prefers the end of the line.”

Prerequisite Skills:

Students have practiced the long /a/ sound in an open syllable (i.e. ba sic and  pa per) and with magic “e” (i.e. late, grape)


  • ai and ay color cards )copied onto two different colors (for example copy ai cards on green paper and ay cards on pink paper. Cut out the cards. You will need an ai and an ay card for each student. There could be laminated and put onto popsicle sticks for long term use. ai and ay cards
  • phoneme-grapheme grid paper

Ay and ai word lists


One Syllable: hay, tray, play, spray, gray, clay, stray, sway, slay, may, pay, fray, ray, say, way

Two syllables: decay, overlay, repay, portray, inlay, today


One syllable: wait, saint, quaint, rain, brain, snail, trait, aim, train, fail, paid, nail, raid, grain, chain, faith, jail, waist

Two syllables: ailment, complain, dainty, entertain, maintain, reclaim, waif, airplane, complaint, detain, explain, mislaid, railway remainder, sustain, wail, domain, repair, tailgate, contain, mailman, raisin, stairway

Phonemic Awareness Activity:

Explain to students that the ai us most commonly used if the long /a/ sound is in the middle of the word or syllable and the ay is used if it is at the end of the word or syllable.

  1. Give each child an ai and an ay card (copied onto two different colors of paper).
  2. Have the students hold the cards, one in each hand, with the ai and ay 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.
  3. Read aloud from the list of words (above) and have the student raise the appropriate card. If they hear the long /a/ in the middle of the word, they should raise the ai card (green).  If they hear the long /a/ at the end of the word, they should raise the ay card (pink).
  4. Mix the ai and ay words.

Scaffolding this activity:  If students are struggling with Phonemic Awareness, the activity can be broken down into multiple lessons.

Day 1: Start with the ay cards and read words which end in ay.  Have the students hold the ay card in their right hand and slide and punch the word (Heggerty), raising the ay card at the end of each word.

Day 2: The same can be done with the ai card, students hold the ai card in their left hand and “rollercoaster” (Heggerty) the word, stopping with the ai card at the top of the rollercoaster.

Day 3: Proceed with activity above.

By using handsigns, students are able to clearly identify where the sound falls within the word.



This activity can be extended by using oversized letter cards.  Have students come up to the front and build the words.  Each child holds a letter and lines up to build the appropriate word.  Two students hold ai and ay and the class has to decide which student is needed to complete the word.

Guided Practice:

Independent Activities:

  1. Use the vowel slide card for ai

k1_p049_vowel_slide.pdf (fcrr.org)

  1. Use the flip book for ay

k1_p050_flip_manipulating_books.pdf (fcrr.org)

  1. Create Word Rung ladders for ai and ay words


  1. Reading A-Z

Grade 1 Lesson 25 has picture cards, activities and lessons associated with ai and ay.

Texts using ai and ay vowel teams:

The following are a group of texts that students can read to reinforce the concept of ai and ay.

Activity Suggestions:

  1. Have students read the texts in pairs either taking turns or reading together.
  2. Have students highlight or underline all the words with ai and ay and practice these words before reading the text.

Sample Texts:


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 (heather.willms@sd71.bc.ca)


Reading A-Z

Grade 1 Lesson 26:

Book: Jake and Gail go to Spain


West Virginia Phonics

DisplayFile.aspx (sharpschool.net)

Explicit Instruction for Phonics Intervention Instructional Focus: Predictable Vowel Teams – ai, ay

Story Number: 1 The Stray Dog

The day is gray. It may rain. May and Gail want to play at the pond. They will meet on the trail to the pond. May gets to the trail first and waits for Gail. Gail finds a stray dog on the trail. The dog is in pain. The dog tucks his tail as Gail comes close. May sees Gail and runs to meet her. Gail stays with the dog and sends May for help. May will bring help. The dog will be okay.

Explicit Instruction for Phonics Intervention Instructional Focus: Predictable Vowel Teams – ai, ay

Story Number: 2 A Day at the Bay

Gail and May plan a day at the bay. May and Gail want to sail on the bay and lay in the sun. On the way to the bay, they see a frail snail and a plain frog on a log. The plain frog gulps the frail snail and May wails! Gail and May get to the bay. First they lay in the sun. They get so hot they start to feel faint. Then they go to the dock and get a boat to sail. As they sail on the bay, they cool off. May and Gail have a fun day at the bay.

Explicit Instruction for Phonics Intervention Instructional Focus: Predictable Vowel Teams – ai, ay

Story Number: 3  The Train to Spain

Jay drives a train on the main line. The train takes mail and grain to Spain. Jay pays for Ray and Clay to ride the train with him to Spain. The train sways and comes off the rails. The grain spills on the mail. Ray and Clay use pails to pick up the mail and the grain. Jay fails to get the mail and grain to Spain on time.


Ai and Ay words and stories

Ai/ay Word doc


Use phoneme-grapheme spelling grids to practice spelling ai and ay 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/
  • Ai and ay 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

Draw spelling words from the word lists above.


Grade level spelling lists are currently being built for this concept. Please contact Heather Willms (heather.willms@sd71.bc.ca) for further information.