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Vowel Team Word List and Teaching Ideas (Free Printables)


After students master short vowels and CVCE patterns, the next thing they’ll learn are vowel teams. Kids are introduced to vowel teams when they’re ready for them, which is often in 1st grade. Here are all the lists and resources you need to teach vowel team words.

Grab our free printable vowel team word list and cards, then try some of the activities below!

Jump to:

What is a vowel team?

A vowel team (also known as vowel digraph or diphthong) is a phoneme (smallest sound in a word) that involves two vowels working together to make one sound. For example, /ai/ in the word “rain” or /ou/ in the word “cloud.”

Diphthong vowel teams are vowel combinations that seem like they should make one sound, but they actually make two. So, there are two vowel sounds in one syllable. Take /oi/. When you say “boy” or “toy,” your mouth moves as you say the /oi/ diphthong because you are saying two sounds instead of one.

anchor chart of vowel team words
Teaching With Haley/Vowel team anchor chart via teachingwithhaley.com

Not all vowel teams are the same. There are vowel digraphs and vowel diphthongs. A digraph is when two letters spell one sound (/ai/ and /ea/), and diphthongs are a special kind of vowel sound (/ou/ or /oi/). So, all vowel teams are digraphs, and some are also diphthongs.

Here are all the different types of vowel digraphs:

  • Long A Vowel Teams: ai, ay, ea, eigh, ey
  • Long E Vowel Teams: ee, ea, ey, ei, ie
  • Long I Vowel Teams: ie, igh
  • Long O Vowel Teams: oa, oe
  • Long U Vowel Teams: ew, ue, eu
  • Diphthong Vowel Teams: oi, oy, ou, ow, au, aw, oo

Some vowel teams almost always make the same sound, but some make other sounds as well. For example, “ea” can make the short /e/ sound like bread or the long /e/ sound as in beach.

Read more: What are vowel teams?

Why are vowel teams important?

Simply put, vowel teams are important because students can’t read without them. They’re an important part of understanding how to break words into syllables (separating sailboat into “sail” and “boat” rather than “sa” “il” “bo” “at,” for example). Especially as students get older and are reading more complex words, knowing vowel teams is an important phonics skill.

Watch as one teacher explains how to teach vowel teams:

Read more: What are the syllable types?

Vowel Team Word List

Printable vowel teams words list on square background.
We Are Teachers

‘ai’ word list

wait, paint, train, gain, chain, braid, snail, grain, plain, aim, fail, aid, laid, raid, bail, fail, hail, jail, mail, pail, quail, rail, sail, tail, wail, flail, trail, main, pain, vain, rain, brain, drain, sprain, strain, praise, bait, gait, waist

‘ay’ word list

day, say, pay, may, nay, ray, way, clay, gray, fray, play, spray, stray, tray

‘ee’ words

need, keep, sheep, queen, speed, sleep, street, sweet, feet, teeth, eel, screen, creep, flee, free, meet, seem, tree, three, speech, green, beef, teem, geese, freeze, coffee, cheese, needle, fleece, asleep, knee, peel, peep

‘ea’ words (long /e/ sound)

teach, please, beach, team, speak, sea, eat, mean, leave, lead, bead, pea, tea

‘ea’ words (short /e/ sound)

deaf, head, dread, health, sweat, spread

‘ew’ word list

few, pew, hewn, crew, grew, stew, flew, chew

‘ie’ word list (long /e/ sound)

chief, shriek, thief, field, brief, shield, grief, piece, niece, yield, fierce, believe

‘ie’ word list (long /i/ sound)

die, tie, pie, lie, tied, tried, spied

‘igh’ word list

high, night, might, fright, sigh, thigh, light, bright, fight, flight, tight, plight

‘oa’ word list

boat, loan, soap, float, groan, roast, throat, oak, bloat, croak, coach, boast, foam, goal, moan, load

‘oe’ word list

doe, foe, toe, woe, hoe, goes, poem, oboe, floe, aloe, toed, tiptoe

‘oi’ word list

join, oil, coin, oink, moist, broil, joint, spoil, soil, foil, hoist, boil, choice, voice, avoid, noisy, rejoin, toilet, turmoil, noise

‘oy’ word list

boy, joy, ploy, toy, ahoy, annoy, cowboy, decoy, deploy, destroy, loyal, oyster, royal, soy, troy, voyage

‘oo’ word list (‘oooh’ sound)

boo, spoon, bloom, room, boost, scoop, droop, moon, tooth, booth, cool, broom, too

‘oo’ word list (‘uh’ sound)

took, book, stood, shook, wood, hoof, crook, brook, good, foot

‘ou’ word list (‘ow’ sound)

house, shout, count, found, loud, pound, ground, mouse, mouth, cloud, grouch, out, couch, pouch

‘ou’ word list (‘uh’ sound)

 tough, touch, rough, young

‘ow’ word list (long /o/ sound)

throw, glow, show, slow, grow, snow, blow

‘ow’ word list (‘ow’ sound)

down, town, crowd, growl, cow, howl, brown

‘aw’ word list

saw, claw, draw, paw, yawn, thaw, dawn, awe, awesome, bawl, brawl, scrawl, drawn, fawn, flaw, gnaw, hawk, jaw, law, lawn, pawn, raw, shawl, sprawl

‘au’ word list

launch, vault, fraud, haunt, audio, audit, August, autumn, auction, applause, astronaut, automatic, auto, because, cause, clause, faucet, exhaust, gauze, haul, laundry, pause, sauce, trauma

How To Use the Vowel Team Word Lists and Cards

Printable vowel teams word cards.
We Are Teachers

Like other sounds, these are best taught explicitly. Teach students that two vowels in a team work together to make one sound so they can’t be split up. Two letters, one sound. Especially for struggling readers, teach one team and do not introduce a new one until students have mastered the first.

Visualize Vowel Teams

Have students identify vowel teams by highlighting the teams in a word list or passage. Point out to students that they will see some teams only at the beginning or middle of words, like /ai/, while others are only at the end, like /ay/. Other teams follow the same pattern—/oa/ is only at the beginning or middle of words, /ow/ comes at the end. (But it’s not helpful with other teams like /ee/ and /ea/.)

Use a Sound Wall

Use the cards to create a sound wall or anchor chart to teach students each team and how to read it. Each time you come across a vowel team when reading, have students refer to the sound wall or chart to prompt them for a word that has the sound or to show them how their mouth moves when they make that sound.

Check out: How To Set Up a Sound Wall

Use Elkonin Boxes

Reading vowel teams requires phonemic awareness (like all of reading), so use the lists to choose vowel team words for students to practice segmenting and blending so they can hear the vowel sounds as they learn to read the vowel pairs.

Check out: Elkonin boxes and how to use them

Sound Sort

After students have learned vowel teams, reinforce the skills by having students sort the word cards by each sound. Do this activity before students have learned how to spell each sound, so they can add the knowledge about which letters make each sound to their phonemic awareness skills.

Beach Ball Reading

Choose words from the vowel teams list to write on a beach ball. Have students read the words out loud while tossing the beach ball.

Roll and Read

Write words that have vowel teams in columns on the board and label each column 1 to 6 at the top. Students roll a die and choose a word from the column to read.

Vowel Team Ladders

Vowel team ladders are a great way to practice one vowel team by changing one consonant at a time to make new words. Or for a more advanced ladder, change the vowel team as well. So, turn sail into mail and then main and then moan and so on.

Get Your Free Vowel Team Words Printable

Printable vowel teams words list with flashcards on square background.
We Are Teachers

Print copies of the word list and cards to keep on hand for spelling lists and instructional examples, as well as games and activities like the ones described above.

Also, check out 33 Phonics Games for Early Readers.

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