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All About R Controlled Vowels + Free Printable Chart

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Read all about R-Controlled vowels, sometimes referred to as Bossy R. Here you’ll learn how to improve your students’ phonics skills to read and spell words with R-Controlled vowels. Then, download the FREE printable chart to reinforce R-Controlled vowels.

Purple graphic featuring R Controlled Vowels/Bossy R chart with keywords and pictures

What are R-Controlled Vowels?

R-Controlled vowels are any vowel (a, e, i, o, u) immediately followed by the letter R. When there is a Vowel + R, the vowel no longer makes its long or short sound. The vowel sound is influenced or controlled by the letter R. As a result, a new sound is created. We sometimes call this The Bossy R.

When you teach the R-Controlled vowels, you expose children to 3 new phonemes (sounds) in the English language.

AR = /ar/ like car

ER, IR, and UR all make the same sound = /er/ like her, bird, and nurse 

OR = /or/ like corn

Even though you’re only teaching three new phonemes, knowing these R-Controlled vowel sounds will help kids read thousands of words accurately.

How to Teach R-Controlled Vowels

In order to be proficient readers and spellers, children need to know R-Controlled vowel sounds. They have to quickly notice the vowel+r combination and read it with ease as one sound.

👩‍🏫 Teaching Connection: Use a previously learned concept, digraphs, to help explain R-Controlled vowels to your students. This will help make the Bossy R seem less daunting!

Write a word with a digraph on the board, like the word chin. Ask your students “What word is this?” and “How many sounds do you hear in the word?”

By the time you’re teaching R-controlled vowels, your students should be comfortable in reading digraphs so this should be easy for them, so they easily answer “Chin,” and “Three Sounds.”

Now explain that they didn’t always know how to read words like that. Becuase back in kindergarten, their teacher taught them that the letters c+h come together to create a totally new sound.

Now, though, their brain quickly and automatically recognizes the letter combination c+h as one sound /ch/. They don’t even need to think about it!

And the same is true for R-Controlled vowels. Two letters are combined to make a totally new sound!

👉 How to explain the Bossy R to students: Make it fun and say something like this: “The R is so bossy that it won’t let the vowel say its own sound. But even though it’s bossy, it’s still a little bit polite because it allows the vowel to go first.” Kids love that bossy, but also polite, letter R.

Bossy R Syllable Type

The Vowel + R combination serves as the vowel in syllables (Every syllable must have a vowel). This creates a new syllable type to introduce: the R-controlled syllable.

Bossy R Anchor Chart

Using a chart with keywords is important so children make connections to these new phonograms and sounds. We created a simple chart with the R-controlled vowels, keywords with pictures, and sounds.

ar – Car 🚗 /ar/

or – corn 🌽 /or/

er – her 👩 /ər/

ir – bird 🦜 /ər/

ur – nurse 👩‍⚕️ /ər/

👌Tip: Enlarge to 18X24 size and hang the chart in your classroom as a reference for kids. You can also print the chart on regular paper and glue it into your students’ phonics notebooks.

For further practice, use our lists with 150+ R Controlled vowel words for continued dictation, cut and paste sorting, and more!

Bright Pinterest graphic featuring R Controlled Vowels/Bossy R chart with keywords and pictures

Print & Download

How do you teach Bossy R? Leave us a comment below and share your best tips or tag us on Instagram @literacylearn.

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