Lesson plan

Word Study: Understanding R-Controlled Vowel Combinations

Your students will love playing the game, “Race to the Farm” while also practicing how to decode and pronounce words that contain R-controlled vowel combinations.
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Students will be able to decode and sort /ar/ and /or/ R-controlled vowel patterns within words.

(10 minutes)
  • Gather students to the rug for the start of the lesson.
  • Show the class the five vowels written on the board, ask them what each short vowel sounds like. Say the short vowel sounds aloud together.
  • Ask the students if they remember the second sound each vowel makes, the long vowel sound. Say these sounds aloud together.
  • Ask them what makes vowels special. Answers might include, "Each letter makes two sounds," or "Vowels are sometimes silent within a word."
  • Say, "Today we are going to learn what happens when a vowel and the letter R meet. When a vowel is followed by the letter R, the vowel must change to a new sound. That’s why we call it the “bossy R."
  • In most short words with a vowel in the middle, the vowel sound is the short sound like in the words cat, fat, and fox. If we take the last letter of each word and change it to R, they become new words: car, far, and for. Ask your class: "Do you hear how the R makes the vowel sound change in each word?"
  • Play the "Bossy R" clip by The Electric Company using your classroom projector.
(10 minutes)
  • Ask the students what words they heard and saw in the movie. Review the words with the class by writing them on the board (e.g. smart, car, art, sport, galore).
  • Explain that when a vowel is followed by the letter R, the sound of the vowel changes. Tell the class that today you will be focusing on the /ar/ and /or/ combinations, like in the words “car” and “sport.”
(10 minutes)
  • Write the following words on the board: Park, art, bark, star, storm, corn, torn, for.
  • Ask students to notice the vowel followed by the letter R. Demonstrate how to read the first word, noting what the combination sounds like.
  • Go over each word by reading it chorally with the class and circle the R-controlled vowel combination on the whiteboard.
  • Ask students what happens if we take the R away in the word “art”: It turns into “at” and the A makes a short A sound.
  • Tell the students that they will now practice listening for the bossy R sound on their own.
(15 minutes)
  • Project the Race to the Farm Game worksheet and go over the instructions with the class. Then have the students play the game in pairs.


  • During the shared Race to the Farm game, group students who need additional support in a strategic partnership to support their reading and/or writing needs.
  • Gather students who need additional scaffolding in a small group and work together with the teacher or aide to play the game using the whiteboard as a game board and mini whiteboards to record the words used.


  • Ask students to go on an ar/or scavenger hunt to find more R-controlled vowel combinations. Give students a clipboard and pencil and ask them to search through a variety of books for words that contain the ar/or combinations and record them on their paper.
(5 minutes)
  • Walk around and check in with students to ensure that they are pronouncing and writing the ar/or combinations correctly.
  • Collect the Race to the Farm recording sheets and assess whether students were able to correctly sort each word by its corresponding sound and spelling pattern.
(5 minutes)

After the 15 minutes of independent work time has concluded, ask students to return to the rug and pass their recording sheets to the teacher. Show a few more ar/or words on the board and practice reading them as a class. Discuss student questions as needed. Close by saying, “Vowels can be tricky letters, so if you remember that when an A is followed by an R, it makes the “ar” sound like in “art,” and when an O is followed by an R, it makes the “or” sound, like in the word “sort,” then you’ll be able to remember how to read and pronounce words with the bossy R."

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