When teaching reading, it is quite common for teachers to not know about the schwa sound and therefore, not know to teach it. When a student is attempting to figure out the vowel sound in a word, and the vowel doesn’t say either its short nor long sound, then it is chalked up as not saying one of the normal foundational vowel sounds and is considered a vowel sound that does not follow the phonic rules. When in reality, the vowel is saying the “unknown” schwa sound which is a phonic sound we all need to know if we’re a reading teacher. The schwa sound is denoted by an upside-down .
It is a lazy sound and will occur on an unstressed syllable, and it’s sound is /uh/.
It is a good thing to know that a vowel can really has 4 possible options for students to choose from when reading a word. For example:
The vowel may say its short /i/ sound in bit.
The vowel may say its long /i/ sound in bite.
The vowel may copy another vowel’s sound such as -i saying long /e/ in “chili”.
The vowel may say the schwa sound /uh/ in “denim”.
Typically, it is best to teach the schwa sound the second semester of second grade. By this point, the student knows the 10 foundational vowel sounds – the vowels’ 5 short sounds and the vowels’ 5 long sounds. Therefore, when it is taught at this specific time, it does not confuse the students.
The schwa sound says /uh/ regardless of the vowel is -a, -e, -i, or -o. It usually sounds a little weaker than the short sound of u. I call the schwa sound the “third sound of vowels.” I choose to teach the schwa sound when I teach the Open Syllable because it seems to appear in this syllable type quite often. Also, you will find that the Schwa sound appears in the Closed Syllable quite a bit.
Download this FREEBIE which gives you an idea of the schwa sound being heard with the vowel -a: Which Vowel is Schwa FREEBIE
If you would like the to purchase the entire packet click this link: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Schwa-Sound-5066541. There are 64 word cards in this packet targeting the schwa sound in vowels a, e, i, o. After students work through this packet, they will become quite familiar with the “unknown vowel sound.”