From the archives...
A customer sent us the following message on the (now obsolete) LOE Forum:
Is there a rule to know when to use ee, ea, or e when spelling a word?
There is not a rule dictating when to use EE, EA, E at the end of a syllable, or 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 that lets you know for sure.
It's really important to keep this in mind when teaching students. During spelling analysis in particular, you as the teacher must always cue which one to use when long E is heard at the beginning or in the middle of a syllable, because otherwise they have no way of knowing which of of the phonograms 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 /ē-ĕ-ā/") whenever they ask for clarification, or gently correct ("Good guess. Actually, in this word we use /ē-ĕ-ā/") when needed.
If you'd like to see the Spelling Analysis process modeled, the some of our YouTube spelling list videos model it nicely. For example: Logic of English Spelling List 3. You can also find spelling analysis videos for each Logic of English lesson in our Online Courses.
Another user joined the discussion:
Would this also apply to ow and ou? I know that only ow can be used at the end of the word, but it seems to be about half and and half for which one to use in the middle of the word. Is there one I should teach to go with first, or will the student learn (almost memorize) when to use ow or ou (as in down/round)?
Yes, it applies there and to many other sounds! Once you understand the rules and phonograms, knowing which phonogram to choose in a given word in which multiple options are permitted is the one remaining area in which memorization is needed. So when you are dictating the spelling list you always need to cue which spelling of these sound to use, and after that you should let your students ask for clarification to as long as they need to (in other words, until that word is memorized). To see clearly that the rules can't always dictate one and only one spelling, we need look no further than our many homonyms in English: see sea, made maid, meet mete meat.
With OU and OW specifically: you are right that both OU and OW are used frequently within words. The rules limit where OU used, but not OW. During spelling analysis, your kids shouldn't have to guess at all, because you are teaching them the word and thus providing all the information they need. When they are writing it later, if they can't remember, they should simply ask you or look it up. (Or, if neither option is available, simply guess either one - in which case, unless they've had plenty of practice to master it, I wouldn't recommend penalizing them in any way if they guess wrong. It takes practice, and that's normal.)
If you are using Foundations, keep in mind that the focus on mastering spelling increases some in C and D, but it is still much less of a focus than reading fluency throughout Foundations. Students do a lot more spelling practice in Essentials and spend much more time learning about which spellings of a sound are more common, which one they should guess first (when applicable), and how morphology often shapes which phonogram is used. So in Foundations they learn how words are spelled and why, but the focus is primarily on using this knowledge to strengthen reading, as well as to build a strong, accurate foundation on which to gradually build spelling mastery. They should be able to read any word using the phonograms and rules they've learned, and to make a good educated guess (one that follows the rules) on how to spell any of them - but we don't begin to emphasize the greater level of spelling practice needed to master which one to choose in a given word until the students have gained all the tools they need for reading.