Standard Lesson

The Two Voices of the ow Spelling Pattern

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 30-minute sessions; easily adapted to use in learning center or as partner activities
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This lesson can be used as part of a series of lessons designed to show students how, in the English alphabet, each vowel represents a different set of sounds when used in different spelling patterns. Nursery rhymes are used for the "word hunting" activity as they are generally familiar to children, easy to read, found in many cultures, fit into many themes, and have all sorts of possibilities for extensions.

From Theory to Practice

  • This lesson follows Jerry Zutell's 6-step framework, which includes the following components:

1.  Pretest for prediction and discussion

2.  Assisted word sorting

3.  Word hunting

4.  Cooperative and individual word sorting

5.  Practice activities

6.  Measuring and recording student success

  • Spelling is not arbitrary, but is based on a complex system of relationships. Helping students recognize these relationships through active comparison and contrast is a more effective method of teaching them to spell whole classes of words rather than rote memorization of individual words.

  • Effective lessons apply Vygotsky's recognition of the power of social engagement and encourage collaboration and discussion among students and their peers.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • At least one computer with Internet access
  • Blank index cards
  • Chart paper
  • Copies of the nursery rhyme "Little Boy Blue"
  • One notebook for each student



Prepare a set of eight index cards for each pair of students. Each card in the set displays a single word. Four cards contain ow words that have the same /ow/ sound as low. Four cards contain ow words that have the same /ow/ sound as wow. The following list of words can be used:

row cow
flow now
throw how
crow brown
low frown
know towel
mow owl
shadow crown

Student Objectives

  • Students who have previously learned about the short and long /o/ sound will learn another sound for o, the /ow/ sound.

  • Students will learn that the ow spelling combination can sometimes represent the sound /ow/ as in wow or the long /o/ as in low, and they exhibit their understanding through word sorts, word hunts, and a final spelling test.

Session 1: Pretest and assisted word sorting (30 minutes)

1. Begin by giving students a brief list of words to spell that use the ow combination, including words that sound like low and words that sound like wow. The following words might be included on this pretest:
row, how, now, throw, owl, flow
2. Ask students how they spelled each word and why they chose their spellings. After correcting any spelling errors, ask students if they notice anything about words that contain the letters ow.

3. Remind students that vowels can represent more than one sound depending on how they are combined with other letters in a word. In addition, the same letter combination can sometimes represent two different sounds.

4. On chart paper, write the following list of words:
cow, now, how
Ask students to generate examples of words that have a similar /ow/ sound to the words on your list. (If students suggest words with the ou spelling, acknowledge that they are correct and start a separate list. Explain that this lesson focuses on the ow spelling pattern and consider developing a future lesson that examines words with the ou combination that represent the /ow/ sound.)

5. Explain that the ow combination can sometimes indicate the long /o/ sound. On a separate sheet of chart paper, list some examples such as row and low. Ask students to generate additional examples for this list.

6. Summarize the lesson by asking students to explain what they learned about ow words. End the session by having students write down what they have learned and copying the two lists of ow words into their notebooks.

Session 2: Word hunting (20 minutes)

Word hunting is an activity that can be done by students working independently, with partners, or in a learning center. Students go through familiar books, magazines, or websites and make a list of the ow words they find. They record their findings in a notebook.

Students can use the following websites for word hunting:

Session 3: Cooperative word sorting (20–30 minutes)

Divide students into pairs and give each pair a set of previously prepared index cards that contain ow words. Include blank cards on which they can write the words that they collected from their word hunt in Session 2. Ask them to divide the cards into two groups: those that sound like low and those that sound like wow.

After they have completed the word sorting activity and you have checked their accuracy, have students write the two lists of ow words in their notebooks.

Session 4: Practice activities (10 minutes)

Give students a copy of the nursery rhyme, "Little Boy Blue," and explain that it contains lots of words with the letter o pronounced in different ways. In this session, students will examine only the ow words. Have them circle the ow words on their copy of the nursery rhyme. Then have them look at their notebook lists from Session 3 and place the words they circled in the correct category, matching the /ow/ sound heard in the word wow or the word low.

Session 5: Measuring and recording student success (30 minutes)

Have students prepare a test for their partner by picking five words from each of the two lists of ow words in their notebook. Have them scramble the order of the words and then test their partner. The partner who is being tested turns to a blank sheet in his or her notebook, divides the sheet into two columns, and writes the word low at the top of one column and the word wow at the top of the other column. The partner who has prepared the test reads each word out loud, while the other student writes each word in the appropriate column. After one partner finishes giving the other student the 10-word test, they switch. They then grade each other's tests and you can review their work as well.


  • Have students find all of the o words in "Little Boy Blue," and write each word on an index card. Working with partners, have them sort the words into the following categories:

–Short o sound as in rob

–Long o sound as in robe

–/ow/ sound as in wow

–Other o words [These other words can provide for lessons on r-controlled vowels (e.g., corn, horn, for), /oo/ sounds (e.g., do), and oy/oi words (e.g., boy).]

  • In addition to word study, use nursery rhymes for other areas of study. Rhymes can be found on most topics and in most cultures.

Social studies extension. Mama Lisa's World. Children's Songs and Rhymes of All Nations. Find out what nursery rhymes and songs are sung by or to children in cultures around the world.

Science extension. Science and Technology Through Nursery Rhymes by Margaret Kehoe (Technology Teaching Systems). Designed to help teachers enrich the science and technology curriculum. Familiar rhymes are imaginatively used as a stimulus for investigations into a wide range of concept areas.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Student self-evaluation. Students review their partner tests (see Session 5) and the section in their notebooks devoted to ow words. They write a sentence evaluating how well they understand how to sort, find, and spell ow words.

  • Posttest. For further assessment, administer a posttest similar to the pretest given in Session 1.

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